Tag Archives: service

Friday Photo Blogging (the MidPhase Sucks edition): British Sea Power

Are British Sea Power the most eccentric band in the country?

British Sea Power

Quite possibly; I think you could certainly make an argument to that effect. They certainly make a compelling racket on stage and on record, as well.

I took about three hundred shots during the three songs I was allowed to shoot in. I got about eight pictures that were of even the vaguest use. There’s a homily about life in that, I’m sure.

Another homily about life in general that I’ll interject briefly before the usual “what I’ve been doing” entries is the old one about best laid plans.

This week was going to be my marathon catch-up-on-stuff and clear-the-decks week, making good use of my time off from the day-job … suffice to say that events conspired to prevent me from getting anywhere near as ahead as I had planned.

Writing about music

What I have done a great deal of this week is writing about music. Mostly record reviews, clawing ahead on my schedule for The Dreaded Press. It’s inevitably a game of attrition, though – just when you think you’re sorted, an album turns up on your doorstep that needs to be reviewed by Monday, as happened this morning.

But even so, it’s been a crazy week; I’ve been to two shows as a reviewer (British Sea Power, as above, and Explosions In The Sky, who were absolutely fantastic) and done one interview (with Scott from British Sea Power).

On Sunday I’m off to The Wedgewood Rooms again to interview and review Stone Gods, who are basically (and literally) The Darkness minus the pint-sized falsetto-ing egotist frontman.

Writing about books

For reasons already hinted at above, I’ve done little or no concerted writing about matters literary. I hope (but don’t promise) to redeem this state of affairs over the weekend.

Other busy-work

I don’t feel too bad about not having cleared as much writing work as I’d hoped, as I have managed to transplant my rather precarious “stuff it in a pile/box/cupboard” archiving system to a fully organised GTD-style filing cabinet. Go me!

Filing cabinet

It took about twelve hours in total, but it’s a huge weight off my mind, and should enable greater productivity in future.

Other miscellaneous trickiness, aka – MidPhase Hosting sucks

[Readers uninterested in rants designed as revenge for poor customer service may wish to scroll down approximately one screen-length straight away.]

The main source of my problems this week has been Futurismic, which regular readers may have noticed has not only been running sluggishly of late but also suffering intermittent down-times.

The hosting company where Futurismic was located, MidPhase, had been repeatedly telling us that our WordPress installation was using CPU resources in spikes of 40-50%, and they had suspended our service a few times as a result. This is fair enough – on a shared server, one site caning the CPU isn’t fair on the others.

However, MidPhase’s tech support people were unable (or, as I suspect is more likely, unwilling) to share the reasons for these CPU spikes, instead supplying us with advice on how to enable a site to survive “the Digg effect” – which, given Futurismic’s rather gentle traffic levels (500 visits a day, 1200 RSS subscribers handled by FeedBurner) and lack of Slashdottings or similar, seemed a little pointless.

But we complied; we activated caching plugins and SQL query caches, and deactivated a number of perfectly normal plugins that thousands of WordPress users employ on a daily basis with no trouble at all.

And yesterday the CPU use spiked again, so MidPhase killed our account.

So yesterday I upped sticks (or files, rather) and moved Futurismic to the server where VCTB and TDP live. It’s already running faster and smoother than before.

I suspect MidPhase were either trying to up-sell us to a bigger package, or had overstrained the server which Futurismic was parked on (either by overstraining cheap hardware or not realising there had been some sort of compromise or attack elsewhere). Whatever they were doing, or thought they were doing, customer service it was not.

So, please tell everyone you know: if you’re thinking of changing your hosting provider, and you want one that will actually work with you to resolve problems rather than simply cut and paste passages from a set of standard responses, do not host your website with MidPhase.

MidPhase hosting sucks. ANHosting (the same company) also sucks. Both MidPhase and ANHosting suck. And, for SEO purposes, I will repeat it once more:


We now return you to your scheduled programming*.

Books and magazines seen

Interzone #214 has arrived, yay**!

My seemingly-never-ending F&SF subscription rolls on relentlessly, with the March 2008 edition arriving a mere week behind the February. [shrug]

The Orbit people sent out a fantasy doorstop***, a Tom Holt (who I’ve never really gotten onto, though he’s not bad), the obligatory vampiresexdetectiveOMG novel, and:

Elizabeth Moon's The Serrano Succession

The Serrano Succession by Elizabeth Moon

Elizabeth Moon is one of those names I hear quite often, but whose writing I’ve never actually experienced. Anyone care to suggest whether I’ll like her work?

Also arriving this week was the production-run version of Stross’ Halting State, reminding me that despite having received an ARC nearly six months before, I’ve failed to write my review of it before it’s publication date. Bah.


So, not much clever or interesting to say here, having burnt out my verbosity in informing the world that MidPhase Hosting sucks****.

There’s still much to be done before kicking off back at the day-job next week, so I shall bid you all a fond farewell and hope you have a good weekend. In the meantime, I’m going to skip out and fetch The Friday Curry – because some traditions never take a holiday.

Hasta luego, people.

[* I always knew that I’d find a use for my reasonable PageRank and a bit of SEO knowledge one of these days. Chew on that, shysters. ]

[** I’ve now had a chance to re-read my Iain M Banks piece as it is on the page, and (unusually for me) can find less things wrong with it than I had thought there would be, which is rather gratifying. ]

[*** I don’t complain or feel guilty about these any more, having discovered that I can send them on to my mother who appreciates them greatly. Thinking about it, perhaps I should encourage her to review them for me – it’d save me time and bring me traffic … 😉 ]

[**** Every iteration counts. ]

[tags]friday, photo, BSP, British Sea Power, music, bookstores, writing, blather, MidPhase, ANHosting, hosting, sucks, poor, customer, service[/tags]

Book review: The Big Switch – Nicholas Carr


The Big Switch by Nicholas Carr – W. W. Norton & Co, Feb 2008; ISBN 978-0393062281

The Big Switch is tech journalist Nicholas Carr’s attempt to peer a very short way into the future where, instead of a World Wide Web, we will have a World Wide Computer.

It’s a brisk and engaging book, ideal for anyone interested in technology and its interactions with our culture, society and economics.

But in addition to that, it’s written in an almost science fictional mode. Carr is playing the classic game of science fiction writing – the game of “what if this carries on?”

Hence The Big Switch is a great read for sf writers, especially those interested in Mundane SF* and the near-future scenarios familiar to readers of Stross and Doctorow, among many others.

Carr is a respected journalist, but unpopular among the computer industry for making claims that they don’t like. His previous book Does IT Matter? postulated that perhaps the modern business focus on “IT first, everything else second” isn’t the essential path it is often made out to be – probably not the best way to endear yourself to the tech evangelists.

Like its predecessor, The Big Switch turns a critic and skeptical eye on the development of this World Wide Computer, or “The Cloud” as Carr refers to it (a name I would like to claim to have been the first fiction writer to steal and use in context**). The Cloud is the ultimate end-point of web-based applications like GMail, Picnik and so on: software as service; a ubiquitous cloud of computation.

Carr’s central thesis is that computing is becoming a utility. Like electricity before it, computing is a technology that completely revolutionises economic paradigms on a global scale, and Carr samples liberally from the history of electrification to lay the foundations for his arguments in the first third of the book – the whole of which is soundly rooted in simple economic principles.

The idea that we are approaching a world of ubiquitous software-as-service is not what Carr is out to challenge, however. Indeed, he seems to consider it a given, as do most of the detractors he quotes later on. What they and Carr are questioning is whether it will produce McLuhanville, the shiny happy global electronic village that the blue-sky thinkers would have us believe awaits us just around the next corner.

For change is inevitable, but comes with consequences. The increasing penetration of electricity into daily life – both at work and at home – brought greater convenience and a reduction of drudgery, but it also reduced workforce sizes at the same time while replacing many skilled jobs with more menial tasks in service to the more efficient (and tireless) machines, not to mention producing a whole slew of new household tasks that were never considered essential before.

Carr argues that computing-as-utility is already having a similar effect and will continue to do so, and it’s hard to claim he’s wrong. That said, I think he’s overstating some of the problems.

For instance, he worries about the shift among younger consumers to online news sources, where every page has to be monetised on a pay-per-impression basis, leading to an increase in sensationalist stories that may have little relation to neutrality and objectivity, especially in the case of local media.

Which leads me to assume that local media in the US must have been of an infinitely higher standard than ours here in the UK – which has always been exactly the sort of hype-laden fact-free eyeball saccharine that Carr seems worried web media will make ubiquitous. I suspect (and quite understand) that Carr may be unconsciously repeating the fears of an industry he has long been a part of.

The death of investigative reporting is of far greater concern. But it seems curious to me that Carr – a man who uses economics as the engine of his arguments – doesn’t believe that the desire for investigative reporting will create a market for it.

Sure, the old business model of the newspaper ads paying for the bold scribe to head off to the warzones or poke around in the soiled innards of evil corporations and governments is probably finished.

But there is still a significant section of society that wants to learn those things, as well as a section who will want to be the people who find the story and spill the beans. The payment channels will emerge somehow; the market will find a way … though I’m not so ignorant of economic principles as to suggest that there won’t be any blood on the carpet in the process.

But what if the web, instead of bringing us into the global village of mutual communication, actually enhances the societal rifts that already exist? Carr cites studies of political bloggers (left and right) in the US that suggest the vast majority of them read and link strictly within their own spheres of belief, rarely linking to dissenting views. Which is almost certainly true – but there’s wiggle room in that interpretation.

It doesn’t seem to take into account that people blogging on politics are generally the sort of obsessive axe-grinders who had no interest in dissenting views before the internet arrived***. It also skips the fact that the hypothetical “clean slate” reader (if such a person can even exist) can get both sides of the picture if they so choose, from the same screen using the same search engine**** – something that no newspaper has ever enabled before.

Carr’s concerns are justified – but overemphasised, perhaps. Only time will tell. But enough of my opinions – I’m no economist, nor a politician. The point of the above paragraphs is to indicate that this is the sort of book that gets your brain working overtime. By suggesting potential futures, Carr makes you test them, examine them, poke them with metaphorical sticks – and come up with your own in response.

And as such, The Big Switch is a great book for science fiction writers and readers who like to adventure beyond the stories and into the technology from time to time.

I mean, come on – if even ten years ago you had suggested that one of the world’s most respected technology journalists would write a book in which he not only declares that the CEOs of the world’s biggest computing company are obsessed with turning that company’s infrastructure into a huge artificial intelligence, but also claims that he thinks they have a good chance of achieving it***** … well, you’d have filed it under sf straight away, wouldn’t you?

Times change, quickly – The Big Switch lets us look at what might be around the next hairpin.

Meanwhile, there’s a brief interview with Carr at Wired, and his blog Rough Type is a good addition to the RSS collection of any genuinely open-minded futurist.

[* If it’s not an oxymoron to be interested in Mundane SF, as some people claim.]

[** Though some bugger has doubtless beaten me to it decades ago in a story I’ve never read.]

[*** Political blogs generally tend to horrify me, regardless of the side of the spectrum they are written from. And if the writers are scary, the commenters often make me ashamed to be human.]

[**** Although here the spectre of search engines voluntarily self-censoring for oppressive regimes does raise its head, but that’s a very complicated issue.]

[***** Not quite the way we think of AI, granted, but close enough.]

# Full disclosure – received my ARC of The Big Switch from Nicholas Carr’s publicist after applying for one in a giveaway at Rough Type (Carr’s blog). I was under no obligation to review it, and have only done so because I genuinely believe it will be of interest to my readers here at VCTB. #

[tags]Nicholas Carr, The Big Switch, software, service, computing, cloud, futurism[/tags]

UK libraries update

Remember my despairing posts about the decline of UK libraries? Thanks to Tim Coates, a man who has campaigned against the decay of the service to the point of losing his livelihood and home due to being blackballed by the industry, here are some figures that illustrate the number of books that UK libraries have loaned out, compared with the amount of money spent on the services, and the percentage of that amount spent on books over the last decade: Continue reading UK libraries update

Daily links problem

Hey there, link-fans.

It looks like del.icio.us is having some issues this evening, namely telling me that I’m trying to hit its servers too often – which makes no sense, because I’ve tried five times in the last hour, and those are the first five times in the last 24 hours. The end result of this fact is that I can’t actually submit any bookmarks this evening, let alone hope they’ll get dumped here later, so we can only hope that I’ll be able to do some sort of marathon upload tomorrow (because I have spare time coming out of my arse, you know). Continue reading Daily links problem