Monthly Archives: March 2007

The inevitable Twitter post

I’ve been twittering for a couple of months now. I’m not actually addicted (I could give it up any time) but I’m up to a couple of hundred updates and I’ve got two separate accounts going. I suppose you’ve been reading about it all over the place so I’ll stick to what I’ve learnt:

It’s a micropublishing platform. My own mini twitter venture, Listen With Bowbrick, teaches me it’s a great way to describe/curate/link to media resources and that these resources ought to be ‘in-line’. I mean reviewing theatre performances or restaurants might work but really you want to be quickly describing and linking to stuff your followers can view or listen to or interact with right now. Listen With Bowbrick points at Real streams of radio shows, for instance.

It’s a universal command line. It’s early days but we’re already seeing people hooking up twitter IDs to web services of various kinds. A news or weather service can just passively message followers or, more interesting, followers could ‘direct message’ a twitter ID to trigger a personalised response. I don’t see any difficulty at all in grafting an economic model onto this kind of service either, especially since mobile operators are already making money from twitter via txt revenues. In fact, I wonder if twitter is the kind of service that has such universal, cross-network appeal that it might start to bust up the operators’ partial monopolies.

It’s hyper-constrained: 140 characters (the 160 characters of a txt message minus 20 for your twitter ID) and that’s it. No pictures, no sound, even URLs are difficult (hence the heavy reliance on tinyurl.com). This turns out to be a good thing: simplicity drives ubiquity, limitations promote creativity. There will be pressure to add stuff – imagine a shozu/twitter mashup or a twitter/flickr hybrid, or playlist distribution for music retailers, or a some kind of twitter plugin for MySpace. Blah blah blah. but I’m pretty sure this kind of pressure will be resisted for the time being and that new functionality will be confined to the ‘lingo’ (twitter’s command set) and to exposing more of the application via the API – that’s how you get a big network going.

It’s socially fascinating. I think the statistical social anthropologists will have a field day here: a sort of automated version of sitting watching twittervision. Parsing twitter updates should expose underlying patterns and trends (at least for participating communities) on a more-or-less real-time basis. Instant archaeology. I hope somebody’s keeping all this stuff. Mining twitter data will be a big area for grad school archaeologists in the 22nd Century.

Incidentally, it’s a pretty good place to do an informal survey or a poll (a twurvey or a twoll). I did one yesterday – five questions to Listen With Bowbrick followers that produced dozens of useful responses in ten minutes. Remarkable.

A dictionary of my Dad

Last Wednesday my dad, George Bowbrick, died. He died in a hospital in Dublin a week after we learnt he had a bone tumor and a secondary lung cancer. He’d been in real pain for quite a long time and various stupid doctors had diagnosed this pain as ‘frozen shoulder’, which is common and non-fatal. That’s another story.

My Dad was a very special man. He belonged to a special generation: the one that reached adulthood right after the Second World War. He lived through the war – most of the time right in the thick of the blitz – in Blackfriars, close to the river. His father died young after years of illness and incapacity. His mother, Nora, a fighter from the far end of the Western end of Ireland, fed and clothed and sheltered seven kids entirely on her own.

Like his brothers and sisters he left school at fourteen and went to work (at Bennie Lifts). Later, having done his National Service in Japan and Hong Kong, he got a job on the buses, at Vauxhall Bus Garage. That’s where he met my Mum – she was a conductor too, a couple of years older than him and not long out of the army herself. She’d come to Britain as a teenager from rural Kilkenny in the green middle of Ireland.

Along the way he acquired a love of learning and began to improve himself. Even as a kid, his brothers and sisters thought he was funny, a bit unworldly. These days we might have called him a nerd. He collected stamps (once Terry and Laurie, the tearaways, sold his whole collection for a shilling and he cried). Books became a passion: in his study in West Cork, where I’m writing this, I just counted 55 dictionaries (I’m not counting the dozens of encyclopaedias, guides, handbooks, companions, yearbooks, almanacs and gazetteers either).

Knowledge – proper, factual knowledge – stood, for my Dad, for freedom. Freedom from ignorance and poverty and the arbitrary nature of existence. We shared that love of knowledge but I think the difference is a lack of urgency: I guess I can take it or leave it. For him it was life or death.

His commitment to learning went a long way. He always used to tell us that he was leaving his body to medical science and I suppose I thought he was at least half serious. It turns out, of course, that he was wholly serious and, as I write, he’s serving a useful purpose at the University Hospital in Cork City.

After he died we learnt that a condition of his deal with the medics was that we had to provide a coffin – a coffin we’d never see – for his journey in a van from Dublin to Cork. The fact that we wound up paying the bloody undertakers a thousand Euro for this pointless box would have made him laugh and shout, I’m sure.

The Irish friends and family who adopted him here in Cork – good Catholics all – are pretty sure he’s up in heaven looking down on us now and they reckon this would serve the old atheist right.

He was strong and happy and loving and resourceful and never without an opinion. Me and my Mum, my family and all his friends, old and new, will miss him madly.

George Joseph Bowbrick, 6th November 1931 – 7th March 2007.

Those dictionaries

Dictionary of Gastronomy

Collins Cobuild Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs

Dictionnaire des Noms Propres

A Concise Dictionary of American Place-Names

Dictionary of Inventions

Dictionary of Pub Names

A Dictionary of Eponyms

The Oxford Mini Dictionary of Twentieth-Century World History

BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names

The Penguin Concise Dictionary of Biographical Quotation

A Biographical Dictionary of Scientists

A Dictionary of Building

Dictionary of British Natural History

The Penguin Dictionary of Commerce

A Dictionary of Science

The Penguin Dictionary of Astronomy

The Dictionary of Art and Artists

A Dictionary of Civil Engineering

The Penguin Dictionary of Archaeology

Oxford Concise English Dictionary

A Dictionary of HIstorical Slang

A Dictionary of Political Thought

Dictionary of the Bible

Dictionary of the Environment

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music

Smaller Slang Dictionary

The Rhyming Dictionary

Dictionary of Wines and Spirits

The Chambers Dictionary of Science and Technology (vols 1 & 2)

The Penguin Dictionary of Twentieth Century History

The Penguin Dictionary of English and European History

American Heritage Dictionary

Collins Robert French Dictionary

Concise Russian and English Dictionary

Dictionary of Mathematics

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music

Everyman’s Dictionary of Economics

Everyman’s Dictionary of Dates

Everyman’s Dictionary of European Writers

Collins Authors and Printers Dictionary

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Opera

Dictionary of English Usage

Dictionaire National des Communes de France

The Oxford Classical Dictionary

The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs

A Dictionary of Famous Quotations

The Compact Oxford English Dictionary

Dictionary of Differences

Langenscheidt’s Pocket Dictionary (German)

American Pocket Medical Dictionary

Dictionary of the Human Body

A Visual Dictionary of Art

The Compact Edition of the Dictionary of National Biography