Shocking how much you can remember with a little help.

Loss of memory as one ages has been increasingly in the news. I found this superb story in the Independent today about an accidental discovery by scientists that electrically stimulating a deep part of the brain can improve memory radically.

Scientists performing experimental brain surgery on a man aged 50 have stumbled across a mechanism that could unlock how memory works.

The accidental breakthrough came during an experiment originally intended to suppress the obese man’s appetite, using the increasingly successful technique of deep-brain stimulation. Electrodes were pushed into the man’s brain and stimulated with an electric current. Instead of losing appetite, the patient instead had an intense experience of déjà vu. He recalled, in intricate detail, a scene from 30 years earlier. More tests showed his ability to learn was dramatically improved when the current was switched on and his brain stimulated.

Scientists are now applying the technique in the first trial of the treatment in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. If successful, it could offer hope to sufferers from the degenerative condition, which affects 450,000 people in Britain alone, by providing a “pacemaker” for the brain.

Three patients have been treated and initial results are promising, according to Andres Lozano, a professor of neurosurgery at the Toronto Western Hospital, Ontario, who is leading the research.

Professor Lozano said: “This is the first time that anyone has had electrodes implanted in the brain which have been shown to improve memory. We are driving the activity of the brain by increasing its sensitivity – turning up the volume of the memory circuits. Any event that involves the memory circuits is more likely to be stored and retained.”

The discovery had caught him and his team “completely by surprise”, Professor Lozano said. They had been operating on the man, who weighed 190kg (30st), to treat his obesity by locating the point in his brain that controls appetite. All other attempts to curb his eating had failed and brain surgery was the last resort.

The treatment for obesity was unsuccessful. But, while the researchers were identifying potential appetite suppressant points in the hypothalamus, the part of the brain associated with hunger, the man suddenly began to say that memory was flooding back.

“He reported the experience of being in a park with friends from when he was around 20 years old and, as the intensity of stimulation increased, the details became more vivid. He recognised his girlfriend [from the time] … The scene was in colour. People were wearing identifiable clothes and were talking, but he could not decipher what they were saying,” the researchers write in Annals of Neurology, published today.

The man, who has not been identified, was also tested on his ability to learn lists of paired objects. After three weeks of continuous hypothalamic stimulation, his performance on two learning tests was significantly improved. He was also much more likely to remember a list of unrelated paired objects with the electrodes turned on than when turned off.

Speaking to The Independent yesterday, Professor Lozano said: “His performance improved dramatically. As we turned the current up, we first drove his memory circuits and improved his learning. As we increased the intensity of the current, we got spontaneous memories of discrete events. At a certain intensity, he would slash to the scene [in the park]. When the intensity was increased further, he got more detail but, when the current was turned off, it rapidly decayed.”

The discovery surprised the scientists as the hypothalamus has not usually been identified as a seat of memory. The contacts that most readily produced the memories were located close to a structure called the fornix, an arched bundle of fibres that carries signals within the limbic system, which is involved in memory and emotions and is situated next to the hypothalamus.

Professor Lozano is a world authority on deep-brain stimulation who has undertaken 400 operations on Parkinson’s disease sufferers and is developing the technique as a treatment for depression, for which he has performed 28 operations. He said the discovery of its role in stimulating memory had wide implications.

“It gives us insight into which brain structures are involved in memory. It gives us a means of intervening in the way we have already done in Parkinson’s and for mood disorders such as depression, and it may have therapeutic benefit in people with memory problems,” he said.

The researchers are testing the approach in six Alzheimer’s patients in a Phase 1 safety study. Three have so far had electrodes surgically implanted. The electrodes are attached via a cable that runs below the skull and down the neck to a battery pack stitched under the skin of the chest. The “pacemaker” delivers a constant low-level current that stimulates the brain but cannot be perceived by the patient.

Professor Lozano said: “It is the same device as is used for Parkinson’s disease. We have placed the electrodes in exactly the same area of the hypothalamus because we want to see if we can reproduce the findings in the earlier experiment. We believe the memory circuits we are stimulating are close by, physically touching the hypothalamus.

“It is a very effective treatment for the motor problems associated with Parkinson’s disease and it has been used on 40,000 people. We are in the early stages of using it with Alzheimer’s patients and we don’t know if it will work. We want to assess if we can reach the memory circuits and drive improvement. It is a novel approach to dealing with this problem.”

British researchers welcomed the discovery. Andrea Malizia, a senior lecturer in psychopharmacology at the University of Bristol who is studying deep-brain stimulation as a treatment for depression, said: “If they had said let’s stick an electrode in the hypothalamus to modify Alzheimer’s disease, I would have said ‘Why start there?’ But, if they have had a serendipitous finding, then that is as good. Serendipitous findings are how a lot of discoveries in science have been made.”

Ayesha Khan, a scientific liaison officer at the Alzheimer’s Disease Society, said: “This is very cutting-edge research. It is exciting, but the initial result is in one person. It will need much further investigation.”

Deep -brain stimulation has been used for more than a decade to treat a range of conditions including depression, chronic pain, Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders.

It has been so successful in treating Parkinson’s that 40,000 patients worldwide now have electrodes implanted in their brains driven by pacemakers stitched into their chests.

As the devices become smaller, requiring less risky surgery, and the target areas of the brain requiring stimulation are more precisely identified, demand for the treatment is expected to leap. Although it is expensive, the potential savings in care and treatment costs are immense. It does not lead to dependence on drugs and is reversible.

The electrodes are implanted under local anaesthesia while the patient is awake. Before the operation, the neurosurgeon performs an MRI scan and establishes the target location for the electrodes. He then carries out a craniotomy – lifting a section of the skull – and inserts the electrodes and leads. By stimulating the electrodes and checking the patient’s response, the surgeon can check that they are positioned in the right place.

Different areas of the brain are targeted for different conditions. For Parkinson’s disease, they are placed in the subthalamic nucleus; for depression, in area 25 of the cingulate cortex.

Deep-brain stimulation was developed in France and first licensed by the Food and Drug Administration in the US in 1997 as a treatment for tremor. In the UK, the surgery is performed at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London, in Bristol, in Oxford and at a handful of other centres.

The name of the procedure is in some ways a misnomer as it often involves inhibiting electrical activity in an area of the brain rather than stimulating it. The technique is as much about restoring balance between competing brain areas which leads to the tremor characteristic of some types of Parkinson’s disease.

The man who broke the bank at…..another part of France

One of Societe Generale’s traders had a position, or placed a “bet” worth about 50bn euros that was actually worth more than the entire value of the bank he worked for – about 35bn euros. Incidentally, 50 bn euros is about the size of France’s annual budget deficit. That’s what’s at the root of the story it seems. The Telegraph tells us the latest in this in a story by Henry Samuel and Nick Allen

The French “rogue trader” accused of the biggest banking fraud in history has claimed that he was being made a scapegoat by his employers who had “tolerated” his risky deals as long as they made money.

Jérôme Kerviel, 31, has been placed under official investigation but allowed to walk free on condition he remained in the country. He faces multiple charges of forgery, computer hacking and breach of trust, but the charge of attempted fraud was not pressed.

Kerviel says he wants to co-operate fully with the authorities.

Prosecutors said that he had behaved “like a financial drug addict” as he bet wildly on stock markets. They said they would appeal against his release.

But in a series of counter accusations against Société Générale, France’s second biggest bank, Mr Kerviel said he and other traders had regularly exceeded trading limits set for them by the bank.

Prosecutor Jean-Claude Marin said that the £75,000-a-year junior trader had not stolen money from the bank but had hoped to secure a higher salary and large bonus and to boost his reputation as an “exceptional” trader.

Mr Kerviel admitted concealing deals but told investigators he was a loyal employee who only wanted to raise the bank’s profits.

Mr Kerviel claimed his strategy had been hugely successful, that he was almost £1 billion in profit in December and that he had been rewarded by the bank with a guarantee of a £200,000 bonus for 2007.

He claimed to have begun his activities in late 2005, whereas the bank has said they only stretched back a year.

SocGen faced further embarrassment after it was disclosed that the bank had been warned about Mr Kerviel’s massive trading volumes in November by a derivatives exchange. He produced a fake document which threw his bosses off the scent, Mr Marin said.

Several shareholders also filed a complaint with the French financial markets watchdog yesterday after it transpired that a member of SocGen’s board sold shares worth €86 million on Jan 9 – shortly before the scandal broke.

Mr Kerviel claims SocGen then brought the disastrous situation on itself by hastily selling his positions last week when they discovered the scale of his trades. At that time he held positions worth about £37 billion, more than the market value of the bank.

Mr Kerviel’s version of events is very different from that given by SocGen head Daniel Bouton, who has compared the young trader to a lone “terrorist” in the bank’s midst and a “great pretender”.

A hunt for possible accomplices began with police focusing on calls and text messages Mr Kerviel sent and received on his mobile phone.

But Elisabeth Meyer, one of Mr Kerviel’s lawyers, said: “It’s a lynching. He has been thrown to the lions before being able to explain himself.”

The scandal has added to the deep distrust the French have of free market capitalism, at a time when President Nicolas Sarkozy is trying to push through relatively liberal economic reforms and encourage the French to embrace financial success.

Big and small brother are watching you.

The civil rights group Liberty are in the news today with a statement about intrusion into people’s private lives brought about by the ready accessibility of cheap CCTV kits. Maplins the electronics retailer – see this 5 mm square beauty for £25 there – reports a 260% rise in sales of these kits last year. When I looked for more info, I found this good story on the subject written by Jay Rayner from the Observer . It’s over 12 months old but it hits the nail on the head better than today’s stories.

I am walking through London Bridge Underground station when a public announcement brings me to a halt. It starts politely – ‘Ladies and gentlemen …’ – before lurching into something a New York shrink might well call passive-aggressive: ‘Please be aware that, for your safety, this station is monitored with closed-circuit television.’ You do not need to be a professor of linguistics to be intrigued by the circumlocutions of that one. There’s the stern tones of ‘please be aware’ chased by the motherliness of ‘for your safety’. Finally, there’s the blatant threat of the hardware. This was clearly two messages in one. What I was supposed to hear was: ‘This place is safe.’ What the criminals thronging around me were supposed to hear was: ‘Oi! Bad people: don’t even think of doing anything dodgy in our station because we are watching you.’

And they are. I scan the ceiling and quickly find more than a dozen cameras, some obvious in their rectangular white housing with the tube logo on the outside, others disguised behind black domes. I should not be surprised to find them here. There are more than 6,000 CCTV cameras across London’s tube network, which transport bosses say will rise to 12,000 over the next five years. I step outside the station and look up at the ‘CCTV Zone’, that space six feet above our heads, between ground and first floor, where the cameras seem to grow like so much mould on year-old jam. Again they are everywhere: peering down at bank doorways and over cash machines; looking down the aisles of my local supermarket; tucked into the ceiling at the newsagent’s. There is a man near where I live who has one on the outside of his house.

Again, I shouldn’t be surprised. Britain is CCTV nation. We have more of them than anywhere else in the world. How many more nobody can say. It has been claimed, time and again, that there are four million cameras in Britain and that we are each of us likely to be caught on them 300 times a day, though even the academic who came up with those numbers admits he doesn’t know for sure.

Ask the Austrians whether they think CCTV is a good thing, and only 24 per cent of them will say yes. Ask the British the same question and 90 per cent will give the thumbs up. More than half of us are happy to have them in public toilets, as against just 1.5 per cent of the Austrians. Two-thirds of us want them on our street. We like to be watched. We want to be watched. Or at least you do. Me, I’m not at all happy about it. Conventional wisdom has it that if you’re not up to anything bad you shouldn’t have a problem with being on camera. ‘In terms of providing people both with security and a sense of security, this is a good investment,’ Lord Falconer has said, on behalf of the government.

Surely, though, there are levels of naughtiness? Yes, if I’m mugging old ladies or car jacking, I should be in fear of the law. But what if this impeccably liberal Observer journalist wanted to sneak out and buy a copy of the Sun or Nuts magazine so I could look at pictures of girls in their pants without anyone knowing? Or slack off to KFC to load up on the Colonel’s fat-and-carb combo, as a little light relief from the prissy platefuls I have to swallow as a restaurant critic? These aren’t criminal acts, but they are things I might not wish anybody to know about. And yet I probably couldn’t get away with them today because somewhere there will be a camera watching me. I suddenly feel like my private space has shrunk and that the Great British Public has allowed it to happen. And I want to know why.

Croydon might be able to offer some answers. at its peak, Croydon council operated a network of nearly 500 cameras, reputedly the largest single system in the country, though, as ever with CCTV, no one is entirely sure. ‘We don’t blow our own trumpet,’ says Norman Whalley, the council’s systems officer, ‘But yes, it’s pretty big.’ When he came here 13 years ago there were just 30 cameras, but he has built it up gradually over the past decade at a cost of £7m. Recently, National Car Parks took back the management of around 200 of those cameras, but Whalley still oversees 96 fixed and 145 so-called ‘pan, tilt and zoom’ cameras, which can be directed from the security control room at the council offices here in the centre of Croydon.

He talks enthusiastically about the various systems used. Those that are close by broadcast on microwaves straight into the control room. Others come in on the equivalent of broadband. Some of the cameras are the council’s own. Others belong to Transport for London and are used for traffic monitoring, or enforcement of bus lanes, but they can all be watched here. The police have access to them, too. Next to us, Paul, who has worked here for 19 years and his colleague Vince, who has done it for three, flick between screens: traffic rumbling through the suburbs, or mothers pushing toddlers in buggies. Beside us is a wall of video tapes, six feet high and the same across. Whalley says they hold everything for 31 days.

Nevertheless, is it really possible to catch everything that’s happening, sat in front of the monitors hour after hour? ‘You don’t focus on the same image all day,’ Paul says. ‘You’re flicking with your eyes all the time. After a while it becomes intuition. What draws your attention is someone’s walking pattern.’ Whalley agrees: ‘If a man is walking too close to a girl it might be a pickpocket,’ he says, and the others nod. ‘You notice things other people don’t,’ says Vince. ‘People just lead their lives going from A to B. They don’t see what happens in between.’

They talk about the crimes they have seen and the way they can tell the police exactly what’s going on, if a fight breaks out on a Saturday night, so they know how many officers to send over. It helps them deploy resources. Paul isn’t there to interfere with what people are doing, he says. He’s looking after them. Sometimes in the early hours on a weekend he’ll see a group of young women, clearly drunk, on their way home. Often one will peel off to go home alone. ‘I stay with her,’ Paul says. ‘Following her on each camera as she passes by it, just making sure she’s OK.’

Norman takes me to the new control room, and lets me operate a camera. These are powerful pieces of kit, as they should be at over £4,000 each. The pictures are in colour and are almost of broadcast quality. ‘Each camera has the ability to identify someone of 1.5m in height at a distance of 150m,’ he says, proudly. We use one to close in on the menu outside a cafe. The camera is more than 100m away from the sign but I can still tell that lasagne and chips costs £3.90. Now I pick up a woman walking down the street towards the lens. Simply because I can, I begin to follow her, using the joy stick to pan down.

I don’t admit it to Norman, but there is something deeply intoxicating about being able to do this; to sit here so many miles away, moving a camera to watch in detail as someone goes oblivious about their day. It feels somehow as if I am not just controlling the camera, but controlling the woman, too. Norman rests his hand on my shoulder and says, ‘I think you should stop that.’ I shove the camera away from the woman so it looks back up the street. I think about Paul, looking out for those lone women on their way home, an electronic version of the angels in Wim Wenders’s Wings of Desire. And I wonder whether the problem is not with CCTV or the way it is used but with the way that I, with my tendency to paranoia, imagine it might be, which is a different thing entirely.

And then I remember Sally Anne Bowman. Sally Anne, a promising model, was sexually assaulted and knifed to death last September, a short distance form her home in South Croydon. There was CCTV footage of her that evening: she was seen at Lloyds Bar in Croydon. She was seen leaving a club at about 1am. She was seen coming back into Croydon by taxi, where she was picked up by her ex-boyfriend who drove her home. All of this was captured on CCTV. After that, the pictures stopped. Sally Anne was killed on a quiet street where there were no cameras. Police are still hunting for her killer.

Though the cameras failed to help in the case of Sally Anne, CCTV is still seen as a Very Good Thing and, to understand why, we have to go back 13 years to the murder of Jamie Bulger. ‘When the abduction happened and we got those incredibly grainy images of Bulger being led away,’ says Peter Fry of the CCTV User Group, ‘the cameras became a major player in a horrific event.’ For a week, those pictures came into our homes and we came to understand that, through these images, the police had been able to establish that the toddler’s abductors were children.

Clive Norris, professor of sociology at Sheffield University, has undertaken detailed research into the use of CCTV in Britain. ‘A moral panic about rising crime rates and what could be done about it accompanied the Bulger case,’ he says. ‘But those pictures also held promise.’

Up to that point, CCTV was rare in Britain. A few cameras were introduced in the Fifties to watch traffic and, by the early Nineties, a couple of local authorities, led by entrepreneurial local politicians, had introduced small schemes. Now, officials within the Crime Prevention Unit of the Home Office began looking at what CCTV could do for them. In 1994 a set of guidelines called CCTV Looking Out For You was published by Michael Howard’s Home Office. On the back cover it announced a city challenge competition, offering a fund of £2m for new CCTV projects which had to be matched with local money. ‘We were completely overwhelmed with applications,’ says Philip Edwards, a former Dixons executive who had been seconded to the Home Office and who co-wrote the guidelines. So there were more competitions and each one was over-subscribed. Between 1994 and 1997 £45m of government funds was pledged to CCTV, all of which had to be matched locally. Since then, New Labour has spent another £170m.

‘This is one of the reasons CCTV grew so strongly here as against in other European countries,’ says Norris. ‘It was centrally funded.’ The other reason was a complete lack of regulation. In places like Germany or Scandinavia a right to privacy is written into the constitution. Here, the only legislation that affected CCTV was a relaxation of the planning laws. Among other things the legislation was designed to make it easier to put up mobile-phone masts to help the networks spread. As a result, the CCTV cameras spread, too. ‘The planning laws also resulted in the death of town centres,’ says Norris. ‘And out-of-town shopping centres became the icon of the age.’ Town centres wanted to look as shiny and secure as the out-of-town shopping centres to attract the retailers back. A thrilling CCTV system seemed to be the best way to make that impression. It was Norris who, in 1998, came up with the estimates of how many cameras there then were in Britain – more than 4m – and how many times each of us might be caught on them – 300. ‘It’s interesting to see those numbers repeated in the media, because they can be described only as guestimates,’ he says.

In the Nineties, before heading up the CCTV User Group, Peter Fry was director of operations for Hart District Council in Northamptonshire. ‘We had a lower-than-average crime rate but our local councillors were still very keen on having CCTV.’ The story was repeated across the country. It didn’t matter whether it actually did reduce crime – they wanted it anyway. In 1996, after Thomas Hamilton killed 16 children in Dunblane, Philip Edwards at the Home Office received countless requests for CCTV to be installed in schools. When he asked why, they said it would stop another Dunblane happening. ‘I told them it wouldn’t. All it would have done at Dunblane was let you watch it happen. CCTV doesn’t solve problems. It’s the people who catch criminals, not the cameras.’

The statistics on crime bear this out. It is true that since 1995 overall crime rates have been dropping in the UK. But a major survey of 14 CCTV schemes published last year showed their impact on local crime rates was either negligible or that crime rates actually went up. At the same time fear of crime has also gone up. Meanwhile, clear-up rates – the number of crimes that the police solve – have gone down.

Of course, only a fool would argue that CCTV can have no impact on crime. We all saw the images after the London bombings of 7 July. Rarely does a week go by without an aspect of some grisly outrage or other being picked up on cameras. As Norris puts it, ‘If you ask leading policemen whether they would rather have CCTV than not, they will always say yes.’

All that aside, one thing is certain: we, its subjects, genuinely do like some of what those cameras pick up. In 2001 an enterprising video producer released Caught in the Act!, a compilation of people shagging in doorways, as recorded by CCTV cameras. It sold very nicely, thank you. Likewise TV shows full of footage of drivers doing stupid things on the roads get huge audiences and then came the phenomenon that is Big Brother. Indeed, CCTV may be one of the first pieces of technology to have directly influenced fashion: after all, what better way is there to hide your identity from the cameras than inside a hoodie?

To see the future of CCTV we need to go to Spitalfields in east London, where the Shoreditch Trust, a local regeneration agency, is piloting a new initiative: CCTV for the masses. Instead of the images only being seen by the likes of Norman Whalley and his team, local residents will be able to watch them, too, on a broadband connection. For all its hip associations, the area is actually the second most deprived in London. The Shoreditch Trust, set up under the government’s New Deal for Communities programme, works with residents to improve everything from education and housing to opportunities for businesses.

One of the problems is that, because of low incomes, few households have access to technology. Hence the Digital Bridge, a cheap broadband connection offering everything from video on demand to email to, yes, CCTV images of the local community. The hardware and all the services will cost around £3.50 a week.

The cameras are part of a channel called Safe and Sound. In the pilot there will be 11 cameras. Eventually there will be up to 400 across the area. ‘The demand for this comes directly from the residents,’ says Dan Hodges of the Shoreditch Trust. ‘Crime is falling but fear of crime is rising and the moment we suggested we could do this the response was really positive. It surprised us.’ In the middle of the screen is a shot of a local high street. At the bottom are other images which the viewer can bring up. But here’s the thing: they will not be able to zoom in using the cameras. They will not be able to tilt and pan. They can only look at what they’re given and that’s not very much. ‘There have to be safeguards,’ Hodges says. ‘People won’t be able to watch each other’s homes. There are clear civil liberties issues involved.’

Later, I go for a walk around the area with Michael Pyner, chief executive of the Shoreditch Trust. He wants me to understand what this patch of the city looks like; that it’s really not just warehouse apartments and design consultancies. ‘This is an opportunity for people to empower themselves,’ he says of the CCTV project. ‘We’ve had accusations that it’s Big Brother, but it’s not. It’s Little Brother. Everyone gets to look.’ Except that, because of the restrictions, it won’t actually help solve crime. ‘No, but it may help solve the fear of crime. Look, it may not work. In two years’ time people may still be scared. At which point we’ll say this wasn’t the solution.’ Now, though, local residents are very keen.

Afterwards I return to Haberdasher Street, one of the roads which will be part of the scheme. It seems to me a CCTV camera is only a substitute for being able to stand in that location watching what’s going on for yourself. Thus, Christopher Isherwood style, I will be a camera. I want to see what is so intriguing about this street, what exactly will make it so damned watchable. I stand there for half an hour. It all seems pretty innocent.

Then I realise there is something suspicious here: it is a large, dark man in a black jacket. He has a notebook in his hands and he is staring up and down the street. That man is me. Other than that Haberdasher Street is now empty. No people, let alone any crimes. It’s time to go home.

CCTV nation: you’ve been framed

February 2003
Geoffrey Peck receives over £7,000 in compensation from his local council because they gave the media CCTV images of him taken on a night he wandered along Brentwood High Street, in a depressed state, and attempted suicide. The council wanted to publicise the value of CCTV. Mr Peck argued successfully that his privacy had been infringed.

July 2004
London nightclub Sound in Leicester Square loses its licence after cameras record footage of its own security guards assaulting clubbers. ‘The men were all licensed as door supervisors,’ says a police spokesman, ‘but clearly they were not doing what they should have’.

April 2005
A unnamed member of the Scottish parliament is caught on CCTV ‘with a male aide performing a sex act on him,’ according to the Scotsman. ‘He is not thought to be openly gay’.

August 2005
A man is convicted for stealing a £650 computer from a shop selling CCTV cameras. The robbery is picked up on the shop’s cameras. The shop’s owner reports a surge in business following the conviction.

September 2005
Two thieves are caught on CCTV digging up nine Leylandii trees in Leicestershire, a year after they were planted, to replace others stolen in an earlier theft.

November 2005
Wayne Rooney is caught at a club, allegedly kissing a woman who isn’t his girlfriend. The images end up in the Sun.

March 2006
A Sheffield man’s £50 fine for having oral sex in a bank foyer is quashed in the appeal court. His lawyer argued ‘there had been no act which outraged public decency since there had been no public to outrage’. The only witness was a CCTV camera.

Thank you Jay, nicely written.

Online scrabble squabble.

One of my friends recently confessed he had been obsessively playing online scrabble. Hence this article caught my eye – about the version of Scrabble that’s been used by half a million people on facebook – and the implications thereof. The cartoon at the top is by Doug Savage, the article from the New York Times by Dan Mitchell.

S-q-u-a-b-b-l-e By DAN MITCHELL

THIRD-PARTY applications are supposedly the secret to Facebook’s success.

So far, though, the applications fall mainly into two categories: the silly and the annoying (and sometimes, both). Users can throw virtual sheep at each other or take part in zombie attacks on their friends. Recently, many users received a message entreating them to “click ‘forward’ to see what happens.” After clicking, users discovered that nothing happened except that they had annoyed their friends with a pointless message.

Many Facebook applications are “for toddlers,”writes Kara Swisher, the technology journalist and blogger for All Things Digital. The “kazillion users of these widgets are pretty much just acting like little children,” she wrote in October.

But there are some applications that levelheaded adults can enjoy, even if they are still just a waste of time. One example is matching knowledge of movie trivia with that of friends.

Another example is also one of the most popular, Scrabulous, which is clearly a knockoff of the board game Scrabble. It is a wonder that Hasbro, which owns Scrabble in the United States and Canada, and Mattel, which holds the rights for the rest of the world, took so long to take action. But this week, they finally sent a letter to Facebook asking that Scrabulous be removed from the site.

Scrabulous was developed by two brothers in India. Its popularity is a major driver of traffic to Facebook, where a reported 500,000 members log on to Scrabulous each day.

Dozens of Facebook groups have been created to “save Scrabulous.” The biggest had more than 23,000 members late this week, days after the letter from Hasbro and Mattel was made public. Most group members seem to understand that the companies are merely protecting their rights, and many think that the game makers will reach some sort of understanding with the developers of Scrabulous, allowing the game to stay. A Hasbro spokesman said as much in a statement, asserting that the companies are seeking an “amicable solution.”

Josh Quittner of Fortune magazine’s Techland blog thinks that is just what should happen. “If I were an evil genius running a board games company,” he wrote, “I might do this: Wait until someone comes up with an excellent implementation of my games and does the hard work of coding and debugging the thing and signing up the masses. Then, once it got to scale, I’d sweep in and take it over. Let the best pirate site win!”

As for Facebook, Scott Nichols, a blogger for PC World, sees the dispute as the latest in a string of embarrassments for the company. “Another Facebook gaffe,” he called it.

What the papers – or should I say, screens, say.

The second of the two articles featured here appeared in the online edition of the Guardian today, but it was actually about the Telegraph. Journalists of my acquaintance have complained bitterly about the bloodletting and culling done at the Telegraph, which used to be one of the bastions of good journalism in this country. The jolly tone of the Guardian article does not match the dark mood of the journalists. So I have done what papers (screens?) sometimes do and balanced this by preceding it with an article from a journalist from another source. It’s almost like seeing a government-sponsored article against one from a more radical perspective. And in a savagely ironic twist the incredibly well written feature on journo life by the Grey Cardigan, from the press gazette website, is now only available in print.

The Grey Cardigan: 2007.10.5

5 October 2007

A FEW weeks in and here at the Evening Beast we’re finally getting to grips with Crystal Tits and Alistair – our new editor and her fey, handbag-carrying deputy. (That’s her handbag, by the way.)

Conference still takes an age. You can actually watch the bowl of flowers on the table wilt as we stagger from indecision to impasse. (The exotic flowers are replaced daily and the fridge is restocked with expensive varieties of mineral water every night, a matter of little amusement to our van drivers, who’ve just had their hours cut as another tranche of our print run is handed over to wholesalers.)

Nervous Nigel, the current news editor, reckons he’s got it sorted, slipping in a supermarket story at number four on the list. We discuss the first three contenders – ongoing murder, council cock-up and overcrowded trains – for what seems hours before she takes the bait. “Ah, this story about Tesco selling clothes online. That’s interesting.”

A features department functionary points out that it’s hardly a local story. Yes, we’ve got four different varieties of Tesco on the patch, but this is all about the internet. And yes, it’s worth a run, but not on the front … His shins are viciously hacked beneath the desk until he subsides. So, bang, in it goes and we can all crack on with the job in hand.

Later that day, Crystal Tits takes delivery of her company car. She climbs into the back while Alistair gets behind the wheel as they set off on a test drive. One of the aforementioned van drivers swears that, when they went past him on the bypass, Alistair was wearing a chauffeur’s cap.

AS EXCLUSIVELY revealed here a couple of weeks ago, our old friend Liz-f*****g-Jones has been given Peter Dobbie’s prime slot at The Mail on Sunday – and I’m not sure it’s working.

(my asterisks)

Apart from the eyebrow-lifting admission that she’d had a breast reduction at the age of 20 for “fashion reasons”, it’s been run-of-the-mill stuff. (Do we need hyphens there? If the publishers of the Shorter Oxford Dictionary feel they can dispense with 16,000 of the buggers willy-nilly, so changing our written language without as much as a by-your-leave, then I’m going to stick them back in wherever I fancy.)

Of course, it’s difficult to maintain standards when you’re still eking out the pitiful detritus of your miserable marriage in You magazine – and presumably still entertaining the mad and abandoned 40-year-old divorcees who live their lives vicariously through your jousts with the toy boy – but I do fear that the Derry Street bigwigs might have overestimated Liz’s appeal to mainstream readers.

This week, Liz was upset that people were constantly being rude to her. I obviously wouldn’t stoop that far, but has it occurred to her that anyone who admits to feeding her “fur babies” human food, stalking other women and wearing gloves and socks to bed might be regarded as a sandwich short of a picnic by the rest of the population?

MEANWHILE, mother-of-three Lowri Turner admits that if she’d known how much fun dogs were, she’d have thought twice about having children.

“Having a dog is fun in a way that having children is simply not. When I return from work, my four-year-old is apt to wail ‘Where have you been?’ in a pathetic yet accusatory tone. Vanilla just runs round in circles, barking excitedly – always pleased to see me.

“There are no nappies or bottles to sterilise with puppies. No teething granules or measuring out Calpol while a mewling infant struggles in your arms… puppies do have a habit of disgracing themselves on your carpet, but when you’ve dealt with dirty nappies for seven years you are battle-hardened.”

Surely I can’t be the only one who thinks that if only dear Lowri had been introduced to the delights of canine ownership a decade ago, she would have been spared the anguish of childbirth.

NOT A great day for The Guardian last Monday. Hence the following day’s Corrections and Clarifications column, which had to: apologise over a picture of a completely innocent man being used in a story about a fake drugs gang; wring its hands over the mysterious re-use of a story that was actually first published in the paper last November about a council selling off a Lowry painting; and shuffle shamefaced towards the dunce’s corner after over-estimating by almost 90 per cent the number of boys who leave school each year without a GCSE to their name.

(Do they have subs any more? Do they care? Don’t they read their own paper? Don’t they check difficult sums?)

But worse, much worse than this, was the fact that the Inkies on the press also stuffed them by leaving out the page carrying the Media Monkey Diary from that week’s supplement. Again, why did no-one notice? It is, after all, the only thing worth reading in that section.

Things weren’t exactly looking up by Friday: “We misspelled the word misspelled twice, as mispelled, in the Corrections and Clarifications column on September 26, page 30.”

Roll the acid tones of that around your tongue then spit it onto your screen while you read this more restrained piece from the guardian page –

Much has been written about the hub-and-spoke editorial floor of the Daily and Sunday Telegraph — but I have to say that it is a terrific working environment, not least because of the wall of giant ever-changing screens and the lofty space. From the inside it has the vitality of an old-fashioned newspaper but with the benefits of a 21st-century building. Down on the floor, with 4pm conference approaching, there is a familiar hubbub as a newspaper nears deadline. Although, of course, the paper now has many deadlines following editor Will Lewis’s famous “big bang” integration.

The group that is credited with having been the first to introduce a national paper website — and subsequently fell way behind in the online stakes — decided it needed to take a giant and swift stride into the future. In a breathless couple of weeks it moved offices, dispensed with scores of staff, and announced itself as a multi-platform, all-singing-all-dancing integrated paper. Now it is engaged in another form of integration by gradually merging the staffs of the Daily and Sunday titles.

My visit came in the wake of the decision to create a seven-day business division under the leadership of Damian Reece. He gave me a detailed hypothetical example of how a writer is expected to treat a running story. Stage one: a quick text story on the website to break the news. Stage two: updates as and when necessary on the site. Stage three: if a video or audio clip seems appropriate then he/she will go into the studio, located on the same floor. Stage four: as the day progresses the writer gets both extra background and reaction, some of it from contributions to the site. This will help in the writing of a more analytical and contextual piece for the paper.

That is a rather mechanical description of what tends to happen. As Reece says, it’s fluid in practice. He was also at pains to stress that the seven-day coverage by what amounts to a pool of business journalists will not rob the Sunday title of its distinctive quality. It does retain a dedicated City editor.

Lewis, for internal political reasons, avoids the “seven-day” phrase. For him, the quest for integration between screen and newsprint has built what he calls “brand reciprocity”. He says: “The biggest issue we face is serving a growing market across the globe. Integration helps us pursue this aim, providing us with a structure that makes best use of our resources.”

Both he and Reece stress that writers are discovering a new rhythm to their working day as they adjust to new rotas and the continual deadlines. Many journalists work on two screens. Chris Lloyd, the assistant managing editor, explains that staff find it helpful to move between the two, having one permanently logged on to the content management system, the other for email or a TV channel. Evidently, the Sydney Morning Herald is considering a two-screen approach too.

Meanwhile, all the staff know which are the most popular stories online from a projected wall screen which provides instantaneous feedback.

There was no discernible panic. But I did get the feeling, enhanced by some private comments from staff, that the Telegraph had tried to accomplish too much too quickly. I’m also unconvinced by the double-screen approach. But Lewis, backed by the owners, has bounced the papers into a new multi-platform era from which there can be no turning back. “There is a virtuous circle between print and web,” he says.

War veteran says “no” to £10million for his £60K house. There’s hope for us all.

I heard this story on the Today programme and later found it in Metro.

Jack Holsgrove has created a one-man property gloom after vowing to stay firmly beached in one of the world’s most expensive coastal retreats, Sandbanks shown above in Dorset.

He has been bombarded by multi-million-pound offers from estate agents and developers eager to buy his home of 35 years.

Sadly for them, Mr Holsgrove is refusing to budge. After all, his three teenage granddaughters probably wouldn’t approve.

‘They could offer me £50million, but I won’t change my mind. My granddaughters love coming on holiday here. They’d kill me if I sold up,’ said the 86-year-old.

The World War II veteran, who helped develop the bouncing bomb, paid £60,000 in 1972 for his five-bedroom beachfront house in Sandbanks in Poole, Dorset.

In 2001, a £1million flat sale made it the fourth most expensive neighbourhood in the world behind Hong Kong, Tokyo and Belgravia.

‘Britain’s Monte Carlo’ soon had the super-rich jostling for a view of the world’s second-largest natural harbour after Sydney.

It is now home to the likes of Portsmouth football manager Harry Redknapp, son Jamie and his pop star wife, Louise. Mr Holsgrove’s neighbours recently sold up for £12million and he now receives offers of up to £10million.

But the former property developer has shown each frustrated estate agent the door.

‘I’m just not interested. What would I do with £10million?’ he asked.

January 15th. First flood warnings of the year for Britain.

The areas of Britain most affected by floods in July of last year – the picture shows sandbags being delivered then, perhaps a little after the event – are now receiving their first flood warnings of the year. A word or two from local residents from the bbc report this morning…..

Kelly Bartlett, of the Longlevens Flood Committee in Gloucester, one of the city’s worst-affected wards, said the council had begun last-ditch efforts to widen and deepen the brook which runs through her area and residents were busy lining the streets with sandbags.

“We’ve only just moved back into our homes after the flooding last summer,” she said.

“It’s ridiculous. We can’t live like this, every time it rains we’re running home to save our possessions.”

Many flood warnings have remained in place since Friday, when flash flooding brought roads and railways to a standstill.

The agency said it expected the number of flood warnings to increase as the bad weather crossed Britain.

A spokeswoman said people in areas where warnings are in place should take action against potential flooding of homes and businesses.

The agency advised people to continually check the flood information section of the Environment Agency website, which is updated every 15 minutes.

Cliff top hero falls to health and safety issue

A volunteer coastguard who in my view is a hero and was nominated for an award for risking his own life whilst rescuing a schoolgirl from a cliff has resigned after a subsequent row over health and safety.The original story is here on gazettelive

The Skinningrove Coastguard Cliff Rescue Team was called out, along with the emergency services in January 2007, after three girls became trapped by rising tides.

Faye Harrison, 13, attempted to climb up the cliffs, but when a ledge gave way she was left hanging on to tufts of grass by her fingertips for 45 minutes and was about to fall 200ft (60m) at Salburn-on-Sea, Teesside

Mr Waugh was one of three team members who arrived at the scene on foot, as their vehicle was trapped behind locked gates a field away.

They left safety equipment in the vehicle because they wanted to reach the scene as quickly as possible.

The 44-year-old from Skelton Green climbed down and held on to her for 30 minutes until she could be winched to safety.

Faye said “I think he is a big hero. I think I would have died if he hadn’t been there.

“I was thinking about my funeral. I thought no-one was going to come.”

He said: “I understand I broke a rule, but I felt it was a matter of having to because she only had minutes to live. She said that herself.

“When you see a little frightened face looking up at you, all you want to do is help.

“There’s no way I’m going to stand back and watch a 13-year-old girl fall off a cliff.”

Faye later nominated him for a life saver award as her “guardian angel”.

However, Mr Waugh, who has been with the MCA for 13 years, was later told that the organisation had carried out an internal investigation into the team’s handling of the incident.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said it was not looking for dead heroes.

He said: “I’m leaving now due to the hassle I’ve had over the last nine months. In fact, I’ve been depressed over it.

“Yes, fair enough, I broke a rule, but when I started my training a long time ago, I was told, one time, you’ll work outside the box. And in this case I had to help her, she was ready to fall.

He added: “I’m very, very sad. It’s a shame I’m having to go.”

‘Minimise risk’

The MCA said in a statement that it had not received an official notification from him, but was very grateful for his past activities and wished him well in the future.

The statement said: “Our responsibility is to maintain the health and welfare of those who we sometimes ask to go out in difficult and challenging conditions to effect rescues.

“As such we ask our volunteers to risk assess the situations they and the injured or distressed person find themselves in, and to ensure that whatever action they take does not put anyone in further danger.

“We are proud of our safety record and we will seek to maintain the safety of our volunteers, and minimise risk in what can be inherently difficult situations.”

Cyclists jumping red lights meet the blues and twos.

I’ve seen quite a few stories today about cyclists and red lights. Somewhat sheepishly I admit to being amused at the sight of mountain biking policemen chasing cyclists down who had jumped red lights and booking them. It’s mainly to do with the comment of the AA man who rescued me off the hard shoulder on the A3 two days ago. What did those mountain biking policemen do in a previous role that caused them to endure such demotion? In a spirit of even handed-ness (not usual for me) I have included the views of a raving Tory from Chelsea and opposed them with those of radical bikers soon after…..

I was crossing the street with a friend this morning. The traffic light was red and the pedestrian cross signal was green. There was literally no traffic on the road except for one bicyclist. We step into the crosswalk- does cyclist stop? Yeah right. These days, I would be more surprised if he had. Upon almost being mowed down by this idiot, my companion said ‘Hey that’s a red light, mister!’ The cyclist stopped long enough to yell ‘F*** you!’ and pedal off. Did I mention my companion was my 4 yo daughter?

Sadly, this is not an isolated incident, as my wife tells me cyclists run red lights all the time when she walks our children to and from school.

That appeared on the bbc site. Followed by….

Car drivers are killers, some of them are quite open about their pathological hatred of cyclists. It is ridiculous to try to “deal with those motivations one by one” These are people who are so selfish they are destroying the whole planet just because they are too lazy to walk or pedal.

Cyclists should always have priority because we aren’t polluting the planet and our vehicles do not endanger anyone. The right to jump red lights should be enshrined in law, that would stop motorists complaining about us breaking the law.

Comment by Jake — 12 March 2006 @ 3:09

the old Stop Sign debate
car drivers exceeding the speed limit always yell at me to stop at the stop signs
when I am doing just as they are doing… modifying the laws a bit
the only difference is that I have not removed common sense and common courtesy out of the equation
I am viewing the sign as a yeild sign
giving other users the right of way, the right to their space, and most importantly their right to safety
speeding cars move about the city as if they were old steam engines with cow catchers attached to their front bumpers
forcing pedestrians and cyclist to fend for themselves

for the most part…
a cyclist running the stop sign is moving to everyone’s advantage
the momentum favors the movement of traffic
if I made complete stops at each and every stop sign
not only would it defeat the purpose of moving about the city via bicycle
there would be a line of cars waiting for me to make my complete stop
the for me to slowly regain momentum and then top speed

I would like to see cars make a complete stop at stop signs…
rather than rolling through the stop line
walkers, joggers, women with strollers, small children, and cyclists are all at risk from the ignorant movement of the average car driver (I can only speak of the assholes in the united states)
seems that the car drivers here in the states are all stuck in auto-pilot
and they have lost some of their sensibilities
I think that they need to
hmmmm… was it the beastie boys that said
“you better check yourself before you wreck yourself”?
or worse yet
before the wreck someone else

the worse case scenario is aweful
but someone blocking the box is bad enough

Comment by gwadzilla — 13 March 2006 @

These are from the velorution site. For me, gwadzilla’s comment reads like a modern poem. Call me pretentious. Go on, I know you want to.

New Year and resolutions.

Lots of people over what is loosely referred to as the festive season have asked me – have I made a New Year’s resolution – and I have asked them the same question in return.
I always say the same thing. You can make a resolution any time of the year – and I feel if you want to, you can stick with it and indeed are more likely to stick with it if it’s not at New Year.
It seems apposite for me to consider the issue today and look at other people’s NYR stories and thoughts.

One of my first resolutions was to be tidier – and this image of Steve Jobs in his decluttered environment way back in 1982 which was chosen by Paul Stamatiou in his blog really hit it for me.

declutteredPaul writes: As I prepare to get in the California/startup life mode, I plan on having less and thus leading a simpler life. I just have too much crap, for lack of a better word. I keep telling myself I’m going to move to California with just my laptop and a suitcase of clothes. I’ve started decluttering in the last few months by throwing out stuff I didn’t need and sending home the more valuable but still useless things I own. By having less clutter, I feel I have to less things to worry about and less stuff floating around in my mind.

Loads of people think about getting fit – but in an oddly ambiguous way. This was summed up for me perfectly by Emma Cowling in the Scotsman

THE other day I sneaked a peak at the fitness resolutions I made last new year in this column, and was surprised to see how many of them I had managed to keep. I no longer work out in front of the TV, my handweights are still used regularly, I have made up several playlists to listen to on my iPod when I work out, and, perhaps most importantly, I found out what glutes are (bottom muscles. Aren’t you glad you asked?).
This does not mean, however, that I can rest on my laurels. After all, there’s always room for improvement, isn’t there? So here are my fitness resolutions for 2008:

1 Buy a new pair of trainers: Much as I love my black, pink and silver sparkly pair, they are the only ones I have purchased in the past year, and the only pair I have owned in the previous 15. They’re lovely, but it’s time to cut the cord. In addition to which, they are starting to smell.

2 Remember how crappy I feel the first time I exercise after a “break”: Ah, the exercise “break”. A euphemism if ever I heard one. Usually it’s because I’ve been ill, or too busy to work out, and the longer I leave it, the more I build up the hatred as I know how grim it is to start exercising again after some time off. To which the answer is, of course, not to take time off.

3 Find a new way to exercise: My routine bores me, and I’ve been thinking for a while that I’d like to do something more challenging to keep fit. Over Christmas I did some walking in the Perthshire hills and enjoyed it immensely, so perhaps that’s an avenue I could explore further. Just something, anything, to stop me endlessly jogging on the spot to that annoying Fedde
le Grand song.

4 Actually go for a run rather than just lay out all my running gear five days in a row. This one is depressingly self-explanatory.

5 Get my exercise ball fixed: As I detailed a few weeks back, some well-meaning soul used it as a chair at a dinner party recently, and it is now the size of a beach ball. I’ve relied on this monstrous thing for months now, so getting it repaired is an essential component of the 2008 fitness arsenal.

6 Set myself a goal: A half marathon maybe, or a walking holiday. I’m not sure what yet, but having a fitness-related target for later this year would, I suspect, be a good way to fire up motivation.

7 Get fit(ter): Last year my resolution was to get fit. While I have certainly made great strides in that direction I’m still not in marathon condition. Yet again, it’s the only one that really matters.

Happy New Year to you all.