What about a Netflix for newspapers?

As newspapers and magazines vanish behind paywalls, I find myself in a conundrum. See, I understand the economics, and it’s one of the few areas I agree with Rupert Murdoch. Quality journalism can’t be free: someone has to pay for the journalists to go places and ask questions and to professionally report on that news. Everything can’t be free.

But here’s the problem: I’ve been spoilt. I want to read more than one newspaper and I don’t want to pay €20 subscriptions for a single one. I want to read The Economist, and New York magazine, and The Daily Telegraph and The Times and the New York Times and The Washington Post and The Guardian and The Independent and Der Spiegel.

So, what am I willing to pay for? Consider the Netflix option. I effectively pay €84 a year for that, but look at the choice. I feel like I’m getting value, and importantly, I’m paying-as-I-go, so I don’t take the hit of a large subscription.

So why not offer me a monthly subscription, but let me pick and swap, say, 10 of the wide selection of periodicals.

That I’ll pay for.

Thoughts on blogging.

Every year I rewrite this piece to review my experience of blogging:

I’ve been writing this blog since December 2008, and I thought that I’d scribble a bit on blogging itself and my experience of it.

Firstly, from a personal point of view, along with writing fiction (sometimes the two blend)  it is a very satisfying outlet. I see things online or on TV and want to scream at the screen, and with a blog I can get it out. Does anyone actually read it? Certainly the number of visits I get every month has risen pretty much every month since I started.

Does it make a difference? Probably not, although I have been told of one former politician who seems to partially blame me for their fall from grace. As an ex-girlfriend of mine pointed out wisely to me, if I wasn’t blogging she would have had to listen to my rants. A fair point.

Having said that, I am constantly surprised at the people I meet who read the blog. I did get a column with Dow Jones Marketwatch.com out of it, occasional invites on to radio shows and TV, the odd newspaper or magazine interview, and even get the odd stranger introducing themselves to me in the street. Also invitations to speak at things. It’s one of the curiosities of the modern media: there is a demand for people who actually think about stuff.

But what’s more amusing amusing, of course, are the people, from a political background, who actually state to me that what they tell me is “off the record”, which I find incredibly flattering.

What have I learned in these five years? What advice can I impart to a new blogger?

1. Be consistent. Either commit to regular posts or don’t bother. I have actually reduced the number of posts to maybe one every two days or so, unless something interesting pops up that warrants an instant comment. I did this because a number of regular readers pointed out that I was posting stuff faster than they could read it, that is, they only pop onto the blog every few days and were finding reams of material. But unless I have written a very long piece, I try to give readers omething new every 48 hours at least.

2. Not every post has to be a tome or a well thought out treatise on a subject of great gravity. Funny things happen to people all the time. Write about them. Don’t forget that book or new TV show you’re reading or watching.

3. You will be surprised how some posts, which you put a lot of work into, fail to take off, yet other casual posts catch people’s attention and end up being tweeted all over the place.

4. Controversial one this: don’t be afraid to recycle posts. Depends on the subject, of course, in that there’s no point running a “But where is Osama now?” post. I write a series on Irish politics, “The Occasional Guide to Irish Politics”, and I find that many of the topics remain live and unchanged years later, hardly a surprise in Irish politics, I know, but still. Recycle, but tell people you do it. I have never had a complaint. Don’t forget that not everyone pays as much attention to your blog as you do.

5. Twitter. I’m not hugely active on Twitter, as I haven’t really the time given the nature of my job. But as a means of drawing people to new posts I find it works well. But be very choosy as to what posts you highlight, as there is only so much naked self promtion people will tolerate. I tend to go for the more thoughtful ones, and get a good response.

6. Ireland needs more partisan bloggers. I don’t mean party drones pushing out the usual “My party or die” garbage, but thoughtful stuff from a party base. For example, my readership spikes every time I write a piece about the future of Fianna Fail. Not an attack on FF, but a piece on “should FF do this or that?”. I get contacted privately (a lot) by FFers on the posts, some complimentary, some critical, but it’s all robust and sincere debate. Only once has an FFer got cranky with me, outraged that I, an Irish voter, had the cheek to write about his party and that I should “mind my own business”. I asked a couple of FFers about him, and one summed him up as “Yeah, we tend to put him in a corner with a packet of crisps and a Club Orange, and try to avoid startling him with loud noises.”

7. There are some nasty types out there, but not as many as you think. The web has given every anonymous mouth-breather an opportunity to get out into the world in an attempt to wreak revenge on their frustrations, and I have attracted a few. Some would say I’m one myself. I’ve been accused of being paid money by large and secret corporations (which I would take if offered, by the way), snorting cocaine, hiding my former Progressive Democrat affiliation (seriously?) and, most bizarrely, and one poor soul regarded this as a cutting insult, liking Bearnaise sauce. Just be aware that the poor bastards are out there watching until their mother calls them down for their tea. Do not engage with the crazies, though. You make their day, and they always have more time than you, because this is all they have. Don’t forget, they regard their anonymous vomits on politics.ie as a “body of work”.

8. Recognise that not all of your audience are from your own country. About 40% of my readers are from outside Ireland (US, UK and, cough, a certain city in Belgium) so occasionally write a piece aimed at them. And don’t be afraid to invite guest bloggers. Just make sure they don’t libel anyone.

Finally, be nice to the people who take the trouble to engage with you. I try to reply to all the emails I get from people, and NEVER EVER quote non-public people without their permission. I get a lot of emails from political people telling me stuff going on in their respective parties. Some of it will be of the hatchet variety, which I don’t use, but other stuff can be very telling. Take Ogra Fianna Fail’s transformation into THE place for young gay political activists to go, for example. I was tipped off to this not by openly gay young FFers but still-in-the-closet young politicos who were surprised at how open Ogra had become.

Is blogging worth it? If, like me, you carry a notebook around with you and always have a few draft blogs knocking around in your head, yes it is. It’s the cheapest form of therapy you’ll ever find.

Could Google Glass change Western society?


When I first read about Google’s new product, Google Glass, the Human Resources manager in me thought “Holy crap!”

See, I didn’t see a pair of glasses with access to the web or the ability to take pictures or video. I saw a total surveillance system recording daily interactions in the workplace. Just think for a moment about the effect such a system would have in sexual harassment cases, or teacher discipline, or allegations of police brutality.

Picture the husband about to beat his wife as she looks at him through her glasses. Even a barked threat to her to take them off becomes a recorded piece of evidence of the truth in a situation, especially if the glasses are uploading the images and therefore destroying the glasses does not eliminate the recording.

Ah, says you, but people are smarter than that. People won’t say or do things if they are being recorded. But that’s the point. Not if they are being recorded, but if they think they are being recorded. What will be the effect of potentially living in a Total Surveillance Society?

Consider the scenario five years from now, when the technology is widespread, and Google and their competitors have partnered with fashionable glass manufacturers and shrunk the technology even further, when you no longer know whether the person you are talking to is actually wearing Google Glass. Yes, companies will have protocols about people having their glasses “on” but the reality will be that someone summoned to meet the head of HR or their boss will want to record it.

Indeed, given that people have a right to a witness for meeting like this, I would have thought a judge would endorse the right to have your glasses operational at meetings of that nature. Now, it’s true, people could be recording these meeting on their smart phones now, but even that’s not the same. Knowing that what you are saying to a criminal suspect or a student or an employee could be uploaded as a piece of footage within minutes of you saying it will radically change behaviour, or destroy those who don’t change theirs.

In short, this has the potential to be a massive social game-changer. 

Tom Selleck’s Moustache

The star of "Magnum P.I." and Tom Selleck too.I’ve recently purchased a new Remington beard trimmer, and am mighty impressed. Being a facial hair aficionado, I tend to get asked many a query. “Jason,” They ask, “You who has such a fine crop of chin hair, should I consider it too?” Usually, the query is not as much about a beard as about the possibility of a moustache, and it is here that I choose to reveal to my female readers ( And yes, amazingly I do actually have them.) one of the great secrets of late 20th Century Man:

Tom Selleck’s moustache. There. I’ve said it. The fact is, when a man thinks of growing a moustache, he thinks he will look like Tom Selleck in Magnum P.I.
Here’s the sad thing. We never do, because Tom Selleck is a fine looking man whose moustache added to his charm, whilst most of us are just fat blokes with a ronnie. It is, my friends, one of the sad facts of the universe.

Incidentally, I am also asked as to the beard’s effect on “the ladies.” Yes, I’m not joking, that was the phrase used, and in that certain tone too. In my experience, the answer is this: the great majority of women hate beards. You have been warned, gentlemen.  

By the way, if you are new to beards, a couple of pointers. You’ll need a little scissors for trimming hair to stop it hanging over your top lip. Also, you’ll buy a trimmer with great gusto and then become very nervous about using it because you’ll be afraid of accidentally shaving a chunk of your new appendage off. Fret not. Just set the trimmer to the highest setting (longest hair length) and give it a whirl. You’ll find by gradually working down the settings (get a trimmer with plenty of choices. Mine has nine.) you’ll find the depth of trim you want. But a warning: DO NOT GET OVER CONFIDENT. Remember, you can’t reverse a shave. When you reach the length you’re happy with, resist the urge to fiddle by notching down another setting. And occasionally, get it done professionally: it looks and feels great, and you’ll get tips watching the barber. Just remember to tell him how much you actually want off.

As to ideal lengths, it’s a matter of taste. I like a tight beard. Another chap I know, in a very stuffy profession, likes a Charles Stewart Parnell. All a matter of taste. Same with the finish around the neck. Some like a natural let-it-grow finish, others a “marked” trim, that is, a neat line.