Flash! A-ah!

December 31st 2020 marks the end of an era. A massive upheaval, one which will affect all of our lives and change the way we look at the world.

I’m referring, of course, to the End of Life date for Adobe Flash Player. Not only is Adobe ceasing updates to the software, after nearly a quarter of a century, it will also actively prevent Flash content from being displayed in your browser.

The effect this will have on the average user is negligible. Most websites migrated away from Flash years ago in favour of newer technology. But for internet “old hands” like me, it is a significant moment, and one which stimulates the old nostalgia glands.

Flash burst onto the scene in 1996. At the time, the web was a text-only affair, primarily used for monitoring coffee pots. JavaScript existed but was mostly used for displaying annoying pop-ups and blocking users from right-clicking to copy and paste content (usually implemented on websites whose content you would never want to copy).

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Pandemic! At the Disco

On 15th March I met my friend for lunch. That was just over two weeks ago, but it feels like ten years. In the intervening fortnight, life as we know it slowly ground to a halt.

While most of the world was celebrating New Year’s Eve, the WHO China Office was made aware of a new type of Coronavirus.

Nobody else noticed for a few weeks. Even as reports came out of China about mounting numbers of deaths, most people in this part of the world (myself included, I must admit) seemed complacent. When those first coachloads of unfortunate tourists arrived at Arrowe Park Hospital, I didn’t really think much of it. In early March, European countries started announcing restrictions on movement and border closures, but at the same time, I was cheerfully planning a trans-continental train trip for June, confident that it would all be over by then.

Three months after that first report to the WHO, there can be few people on Earth who are not aware of COVID-19.

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Europe: The Final Countdown

In a matter of hours, Brexit will take effect and the UK will be out of the EU. An eleven-month transition period begins, where everything carries on more or less as normal until the end of 2020. But after 11pm tonight, there is no going back to the European Union. Nothing has changed, and everything has changed.

Even as we leave, the rest of Europe tries its best to say a cheerful goodbye – singing Auld Lang Syne in the European Parliament and holding a farewell party in Brussels city centre. They can’t quite understand why we’re doing it, but Europeans have shown us immense respect and goodwill – far more than we deserve after the last three years.

I have no idea what happens next. Frankly, I am exhausted after three years following the twists and turns from 23rd June 2016 to today (long story short – we could easily have undone Brexit, but the Remain side simply wasn’t smart enough). Suffice to say, I don’t trust Boris Johnson, and his merry band of Brexiteer charlatans, one bit. We are heading for a future arrangement which will damage the economy and sell out the most vulnerable in society.

Scotland may become independent. Northern Ireland may end up joined to the Republic of Ireland. Can I blame them? Not really; I want to get away from England too.

“You lost, get over it” – I wish I could.

Fucking hell

I voted after work on Thursday night, venturing out in the cold and dark to cast my ballot. I’m in one of the safest Labour seats in the country, but one can’t be too careful.

I was nervous. The polls had narrowed in the run-up to polling day, and there was chatter of another hung parliament. On Twitter it was suggested that big names like Dominic Raaaab and even Boris Johnson himself were in trouble, thanks to tactical voting in their constituencies. Even so, it was hard to ignore the opinion polls which still showed a big lead for the Tories.

I tried to distract myself by keeping busy. I answered some emails, wrote out my Christmas cards, scrolled through some photos from my sister’s wedding on Facebook. By 9.45 though, I was nervously pacing up and down, unable to concentrate on anything else. This election was a battle for the soul of our country, and would have effects far beyond this one Parliamentary term.

Then at 10pm, the bomb dropped:-

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The Porn Identity

Picture of Trekkie Monster from Avenue Q

An announcement slipped out today by the Government (no doubt hoping that the Brexit circus would distract everyone) confirms that the plans for compulsory age-verification checks for adult websites will not be going ahead. The plans had already slipped twice – originally planned to roll out in late 2018, it was postponed to July 2019, then was pushed back again to October due to incompetence. Now, Culture Minister Nicky Morgan has confirmed that the plans have been shelved (on the top shelf, presumably).

It does seem to be a universal rule that, as soon as something is invented, it will inevitably end up used for filthy sex stuff. Computers were no exception – I certainly remember the thrills some lads at primary school got from an illicitly-obtained copy of Sam Fox Strip Poker for the Commodore 64. The fact that none of us knew how to play poker hardly seemed to matter. The introduction of modems opened still more horizons – if you knew where to look, bulletin boards offered BBC Micro users a cornucopia (pornucopia?) of pixelated 8-bit erotica, as uncovered a few years ago by John Hoare (VERY NSFW LINK!).

Porn has been on the web for as long as the web has existed. In the olden days of dial-up, it was less of a problem, as postage stamp-sized RealPlayer windows playing at 5 frames per second did not offer much of a thrill. The content that was available was generally locked behind a paywall, requiring a credit card, beyond the means of most under 18s.

However, with the arrival of broadband, and the proliferation of free sites which offer (legally or not) hours of content completely free of charge, it has become a lot easier to find rude videos online. When I was at school, there was one lad at school who found one of his dad’s naughty magazines and brought it in for his mates to excitedly pore over. Now, with a smartphone in every pocket, everyone has instant access to stuff far more potent than a magazine, with no need to worry about the pages getting stuck together.

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Culture, Clubbed

UK: “Brexit means Brexit”
EU: “OK, you can’t be in the Capital of Culture contest any more.”
UK: “Wah, not like that!”

The website Politico had a minor scoop on its hands this morning, after it got hold of a leaked letter from the European Commission stating that the UK can no longer be part of European Capital of Culture.

What is amazing is how so many reputable news organisations (and Sky News) happily went along with the meme that rapidly developed on Twitter, implying this was a pure act of spite by the European Commission.

The above tweet is rather disingenuous. The rules are perfectly clear: to host the festivities, a country must be in the EU, or part of the EEA/EFTA, or be a candidate for membership. The “outside the EU” countries that have previously hosted have all met those requirements.

I will concede that the timing of the EC’s letter is poor, coming after the five potential host cities spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on bids. However, the UK government did warn last year that Brexit may have an impact on the bids. And given the reckless way the UK has been pursuing its exit, determined to take the UK out of any organisation with the letters E-U-R-O in its name, it can’t be too surprising that the European Commission have pulled the plug. Better now than in 2019 when even more money has been spent, I suppose.

Liverpool, of course, was the last (possibly ever) European Capital of Culture in the UK. I remember the joy I felt listening to the radio when the announcement was made in 2003. Five years later, I was shivering in the crowd outside St George’s Hall to watch the opening ceremony. Giant spiders, Paul McCartney playing Anfield, The MTV Europe Music Awards and many more events, large and small, contributed to a wonderful year.

Small wonder that studies after the event put the benefit to the local region at £750 million, not to mention the boost to the city’s image. It made a refreshing change to see camera crews in the city who were not doing yet another report on social deprivation. The benefits are still being felt nearly 10 years later.

On a personal level, the boost to my own opinion of my home town was incalculable. The received wisdom was that you had to move away from Liverpool to be a success at anything. That changed for me after 2008. Suddenly, it felt like anything was possible in this city (except Everton winning a title).

Thanks to myopic, shortsighted attitudes, no other city will receive that same boost to its economy and cultural life. It’s a sad indicator of what this country will lose by turning its back on Europe.

I do want to write a longer post on Brexit at some point. I need to get to the point where I can think about it without becoming angry and tearful, so you may be waiting some time.

I heard Today, today, oh boy

Radio 4’s Today programme turned 60 today and decided to hold a special programme of self-congratulation. Unfortunately they decided to invite Michael Gove on, and that’s where it all went wrong.

Asked to describe his previous experiences of being interviewed on the programme, Gove responded thus:

What is especially horrible is that fellow panellist Neil Kinnock chimed in with his own “joke”, and the studio audience responded with laughter and applause.

Gove has apologised, but this seems to be a problem with so many areas of public life right now. On an issue which has caused distress and affected the lives of many people, the men in suits can all yuck it up and treat it as a joke. To them, this is all just another game. It’s awful.

Today is 60 years old – so maybe it’s time for it to be retired?