Tech support

Is it just me, or is tech getting more complicated rather than simpler? I’m going to have to resign my role as tech support for the family. I have zero patience faffing around getting this junk working these days. A worrying admission for an IT bod, but there we are. I can’t be bothered with it at all.

Spiked

I’m always worried when I see a spike of traffic hitting my usually quiet website. A true self-promotionist would rejoice at this point, dreaming of ways to monetise the sudden influx of visitors. Me? I fear I am about to be lambasted for something or other. Brace for impact. Hopefully it is just an aberration.

Bright for whom?

Our bright new future enthralled to cloud computing monopolies will serve the shareholders of those companies very well… but the rest of us? Where the idigenenous alternatives? And where the political will to challenge the status quo?

The Latvian company, Ascensio System SIA, have demonstrated what is possible with their excellent OnlyOffice platform. But alas the strategists and @ decision makers in most organisations are too set in their ways to forge a path of their own.

Dumb phone

Who in their right mind would buy a Windows Phone in 2021?

Well… I was looking for a OneDrive-connected camera, to enable the children to easily upload and hand in their handwritten school assignments.

At £20 from eBay for an ex-business flagship, for this extremely niche requirement, it was my only choice.

Indeed, as an Office-dedicated device for business and education, Microsoft could have been onto something were they not so short-sighted in hopelessly chasing a consumer market that was not interested.

Perhaps they were just ahead of the time, unable to appreciate the workplace transformation to come… and Satya too willing to jettison spare parts to placate shareholders.

The Windows 10 mobile UI is so beautiful; a fresh delight to return to from Android and iOS. And still snappy, despite four-year-old specs.

Rumour has it that Microsoft will try again, with Windows X on Arm, but I won’t hold my breath. I expect their Android-based Surface Duo to die an early death too.

In 2021, a Microsoft Lumia is the perfect “dumb phone”. Not as limited as KaiOS—entering text on a number keypad is a stretch too far in this day and age—but just the functionality you need for productivity.

It’s a shame business can no longer savour such delights. It reached end-of-life last year.

Hunters

Be careful what you say, for the hunters are out hunting. Say the wrong thing and they will declare your social media accounts fake, to be reported and closed. Advocate for the wrong party or speak of things that must be censored, and you will find your accounts inaccessible, marked for deletion, obliterated from public view. Speak of the wrong matters at the wrong time, and thousands will be mobilised en masse to report your profile, and silence you for good.

The video call

I’m known for my occasional Luddite lapses, but still we should challenge some of the technophobic declarations of our some of our scholars.

My wife has just had a seamless face-to-face conversation with her mother, 1600 miles away, both via a flawless video image on a pair of mobile phones, one out about in the streets of Istanbul…

What untold reward awaits the software and hardware developers that facilitate the coming together of families separated by seas and continents, who make these conversations possible?

All things can be used for good and bad, be it the marketplace, the cafe, the school, the book, the knife, the car…

The internet, television, smartphones and Facebook are no different.

We just need to remember that ethics and manners apply to this sphere as much as any other. That should be the concern of our scholars: how to we navigate these new avenues of communication. Not encouraging us to abandon them altogether.

Truthfulness is an issue on the web because it is an issue in general. Verifying information is an issue for the same reason, albeit amplified by immediacy and reach.

For all the claims that something awful is happening, it could be said that something beautiful is happening. Perhaps access to more information than ever before and exposure to new ideas might be good for us.

Perhaps the perpetual challenge of ideas we are subjected to might help us see a clearer forward path, that would have been impossible in our cloistered life of old, when gate keepers defined for us what is orthodoxy and what is heresy, regardless of truth or godliness.

Technology challenges us, without a doubt: it forces us to ask new questions, to negotiate the unknown, to be ever more vigilant to the pitfalls and obstacles brought ever closer to us.

But we have been placed in this time and place for a reason: in this world where national borders or vast oceans, or treks across sand dunes, rivers, valleys, mountains and ravines, risking the assault of bandits or pirates, no longer need keep loved ones apart. Blessings, if only we would allow ourselves to see it.

Make time for meditation, yes: for quiet and peace and a time for contemplation. Disconnect when you have to. Apply ethics liberally to these new gateways, check your intentions and habits and manners. Yes, all of this is important.

But be open to this world; embrace it. Be grateful, count your blessings. Make a prayer for the software developers that facilitate family time, even if thousands of miles separate you. Be in awe, and amazement, and thankfulness. Make good use of the blessings bestowed on you. We are living in an amazing time: we just have to try extra hard to see it.

Data mining sacred texts

Social Media timelines are awash with the results of a textual analysis of the Old Testament, New Testament and Qur’an, which in a very cursory way seems to suggest that the Qur’an is a more peaceful text than the Bible. Unfortunately it is one of those feel-good stories, easily shared, which falls apart on closer inspection.

Firstly because the Bible and the Qur’an are very different texts. What would happen if we were to compare biblical oral histories with those of Muslim tradition? Or the Acts of the Apostles to the accounts of early Muslim communities? The New Testament is made up of accounts of the life of Jesus, pseudo histories and letters of encouragement: though of course it informs the life of the Christian believer, it is of a completely different genre to the Qur’an. The Old Testament is an even more diverse body of literature, containing histories, poetry, canticles, mythology and law, spanning two thousand years.

More pertinently, however, the analysis was undertaken not on original sources in their native languages, but on English translations / interpretations. For the Bible, the New International Version was selected. For the Qur’an, Muhammad Ali’s Ahmadiyya rendering was used. Clearly data-mining any interpretation or translation of a text other than the original is going to severely skew the results.

It’s true that mining the original texts in Arabic, Hebrew or Aramaic would present its own set of problems. Even in their Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek forms, biblical texts have long histories spanning centuries of oral transmission, the written record and subsequent editing and refinement.

It doesn’t stop there. The nature of language itself is an issue for all traditions. The meanings of words are not independent of religious authority, which itself is not independent of the political establishment; naturally the definitions of words are very often politicised. Even so, a word-for-word analysis of earlier texts would at least avoid some of the layers of interpretational, doctrinal and linguistic bias introduced by the translator.

Textual analysis of this kind no doubt has its place, but it is too limited to be used on its own, other than to generate the kinds of headlines helpful to a small technology company seeking to stand out from the crowd.

A real analysis of sacred texts demands years of very patient work — much more than most of us are willing to pledge — taking in the meanings of surrounding words, grammar, ellipsis, philosophy, practice, historical context, later political developments and so on. On the road to understanding there are no shortcuts: it is a lifetime’s work.

Freak show

Why do we have to expose the man with the foul mouth on the train?

These are the contradictions of our society. We demand more investment in Mental Health services for people suffering from schizophrenia, depression, post traumatic stress disorder and addiction. But when we encounter people exhibiting signs of mental health issues in public, our natural reaction is anything but compassionate.

The behaviour of the latest individual to fall foul of the communal censors was clearly unacceptable and unpleasant for his victim… but he was shown swigging wine from a bottle and was clearly over-intoxicated.

The wise before us worked amidst the despised, seeking to reform their body and soul. Our generation secretly records them on the ever-present smart phone and uploads the video to YouTube, like a modern-day freak-show, where it can the be Liked and Shared a million times over, even by those claiming to follow the Prophetic Path.

Rest assured, there is nothing Prophetic about these acts. The Messengers were friends to the poor, the slave, the sick, to women and men, to those cast out by society… even to their avowed enemies. Yes, the Messengers would have reached out to that racist in the train.

Public gaze

Has nobody seen the vast number of posts on the internet from women complaining about men taking surreptitious photos of them in public places without permission?

Why is it that nobody has bothered to ask if it was okay to share the now famous photo of a Muslim woman on the Basingstoke train, taken secretly as she snoozed?

Too late: it has now been seen by hundreds of thousands of people, shared thousands of times and republished repeatedly by media corporations and bloggers alike over the past 24 hours. It has now been cached on so many servers that it will never disappear from an internet image search, like that poor young artist in the red hijab.

The man who took the photo has been hailed as a hero: a champion of decency and tolerance. Nowhere has anybody asked for the woman in the photo to represent herself or provide consent to be seen by thousands without as much as a lowered gaze.

If that was you, or your sister, or your wife, or your mother, would you allow that photo to be shared ad infinitum by tens of thousands of strangers, just because the person who took it claimed to be your saviour?

What has happened to our ability to probe and ponder, and not just follow the crowd without a second’s pause or moment of thought?

DeenPort Runaways

It’s a long time since I’ve had the ability to post comments on the DeenPort forum. I deleted my account over five years ago and though I sometimes feel compelled to join again in order to respond to a particular thread, it appears that MAMA (the automated moderation system) is set to immediately auto-ban me. So instead I look on from afar, checking in now and then to see what people are talking about these days. Continue reading “DeenPort Runaways”

Strangers

There I was enjoying my quiet backwater of the web—my website usually receives between 5 and 20 visits a day, most of them probably from myself—when all of a sudden, 250 clicks turn up at once. I blame a stray reader with a massive Twitter following. My five minutes of fame. Back to normal tomorrow I hope.

Ramadan Mubarak everyone. May Allah purify us, forgive us and make us better people. Remember us in your prayers.

Intelligence

Our Intelligence Services may claim that they need new powers to facilitate online surveillance, but it seems the self-proclaimed muhajirun in Syria are not quite so tech-savvy.

It took me roughly two seconds to find the twitter account of an individual named in news reports today — and glean all sorts of information about their apparent location, recruiting methods, ideological worldview and associates (who are also using wide-open Twitter accounts).

I don’t know if the smartphone generation realise this, but everything that they post on Twitter via an App is viewable by the entire world via a web browser (unless they set their account to private). And you don’t even need a Twitter account to do that.

While I’m not advocating spying on your children, it is true that if parents tried to familiarise themselves with internet technology just a little, they would be well on the way to protecting their children from harm.

If you’re going to give your children smartphones, tablets and laptops, educate yourselves about risks associated with them. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve had to fix a family friend’s laptop because they didn’t install anti-virus software — or they did, but their internet browsing and downloading habits wreaked havoc. But one example of a multitude of risks associated with Internet use.

It is not acceptable anymore to be generous in spirit — giving your children expensive gadgets — and yet remain oblivious to their effects. Use your intelligence and do whatever it takes to keep your children out of harm’s way.

Computer says no

Everyone seems to think software can magically fix all their problems.

I am the irritating app developer at work who constantly insists that real upgrade we need is in the way we think.

The reason most of these projects fail is because people forget to use their brains: to plan, put processes in place and use their intellect to manage content.

I’ll keep on keep on saying this until they show me the door, but they still just don’t get it.

The demise of brilliance

I always seem to develop a soft-spot for unpopular tablet user interfaces.

First there was WebOS (which barely saw the light of day). Then BlackBerry’s Playbook (I spent many a lunchtime in PCWorld, swiping between apps). And now Windows 8.1 on the brilliant Surface (which Microsoft now seems intent on destroying).

In each case, greedy corporations, eyeing world domination, refuse to accommodate niche markets and prematurely kill products with great potential.

The mass market will always trash great ideas.

Dear Microsoft,

The key lesson you should have learned from the Windows 8 palava is, “Don’t piss people off”.

Assuming this is the lesson you’ve learned, please take note that users like the Windows 8.1 experience on a tablet.

If you dick around with that for Windows 10, a lot of people will be pissed of all over again.

Give desktop users their Start menu back, but just leave the start screen alone for the rest of us.

Yours sincerely,

Windows X

I’m not sure that I like the way Windows 10 is shaping up. I’m one of those few people who really like Windows 8.1 (on a tablet). Swiping gestures, the charms bar, multi-tasking… they all make sense to me.

Granted that Windows 10 is a work in progress and far from the finished product… but so far it feels like they’ve removed all the really nice features of Windows 8, washed all the colour out of it and built a Windows 7 – OSX hybrid.

But maybe I’m just a grumpy technologist, overwhelmed by too much choice.

Cutting through the noise

So I have withdrawn once again – or at least I have closed the door to Facebook. So I am heading for the hills once more – metaphorically speaking. It used to be that in times of crisis we would pull together and seek refuge in like-minded company. But on the internet this time, all we encounter is extreme polarisation. I don’t want to be a part of it. The perpetual cascade of news, opinions and stupidity is too much. The flood of excuses, conspiracy theories and discovered double-standards helps nobody – it just makes us reactionaries.

It was a tough decision. There are those I benefit from immensely, who I will miss. They have become true friends, although thousands of miles may separate us. But sometimes it is necessary to pull the plug – to go Cold Turkey, if you will – when the harm seems to outweigh the benefit. For me, the internal agitation to constantly check for updates, feedback, responses and the latest news. The new micro-rituals of reaching for a phone, or tablet, or switching tabs on the web browser to just quickly check, fifty times a day. A habit first thing in the morning and last thing at night. A growing dependence – an egocentric urge to be always connected to others elsewhere. No time for a break, for quiet reflection, for pause for thought, for silence. It is said, “A wise person once said nothing.” Social media makes no space for nothing.

For me, it was becoming like an addiction, preventing me from venturing out for the evening prayer. Or from making time for supplication and reflection. I could spend hours every evening doing very little, except follow a steady stream of articles, videos and unfounded, spurious claims. There would be no time to read a book. No time to study or learn something. In short, perhaps I have wasted two years of my life.

Yes, I make it sound so bad. What an incredible exaggeration! In truth I have benefited from the experience. I have made new friends. I have benefitted from others. But there is a balance, and sometimes it is hard to get that balance right. Years ago I took the same approach to another addiction. Some people viewed my response as an extreme reaction, but for me it was one of the best decisions I ever made. If you lack the self-restraint which allows you to act with moderation, sometimes the only course of action is to shut down the avenues to return to it completely.

Even now I am feeling the cravings for the news feed, but I am determined to turn back the clock a little, to that era before permanent connectivity. Who remembers the 1990s, or a time before that when we could exist without this perpetual narcissism? Yes, we should live in the age we find ourselves in, not in an imaginary past. But so too must we discover a way of living that provides equilibrium. For me, right now, the way ahead is to make time away from the glowing panels of glass. To make space for paper, driving rain and nothingness. An interlude away from the noise which populates too much of our lives.

in our time

Should we be excited about Intel Curie – or should we be worried?

Should we be excited about Drones which can fly by themselves using Intel’s RealSense technology – or should we flinch in horror at what is to come?

Will it be a brave new world – or Brave New World?

Review: Anker Wireless Keyboard and Optical Mouse

I purchased Anker’s Wireless Keyboard and Optical Mouse from Amazon at the end of December, primarily for use with a Surface Pro 3. The Surface Pro 3, of course, is billed as the tablet that can replace your laptop, but for reasons known only to them, Microsoft sell the Type Cover as an optional extra for an extortionate (in my opinion) £110. Anker’s keyboard and mouse combo cost me £16, which felt a much fairer deal, though Chinese workers may disagree.

It’s described as a mini keyboard. Personally I’d say it’s very close to full size (except for the the absence of navigation keys and numeric pad, obviously). The key block is virtually the same size as my traditional Dell desktop keyboard, and the layout is very similar to that on Dell XPS laptops. The keys themselves are possibly slightly smaller.

It is a US layout, but that ought not be a problem if you’re a touch typist (configure the keyboard layout in your operating system to your preference). The keyboard is perhaps a little more springy / clicky than more expensive keyboards, but honestly there’s not much in it. I’ve had no problems touch typing on it. The layout is well thought out.

The mouse won’t win any prizes for its looks, but it’s perfectly functional. For the bulk of my work I tend to use a Kensington Orbit optical trackball, which I find reduces repetitive strain in my right hand and arm. However the Anker mouse is fine for light use and is fairly comfortable to use.

The power save mode on both the keyboard and mouse are very helpful, as I often forget to turn off another wireless mouse we have. You simply have to click any button to reactivate them.

The battery/stand bump on the keyboard does make the keyboard a little more bulky, but it will still fit in my slim Evecase neoprene messenger case with the Surface Pro 3. So it is definitely portable, but it’s much closer to desktop proportions than a lot of real mini keyboards on sale on Amazon. Very handy if you plan to do proper work, rather than casual text input.

I’m perfectly happy with this keyboard and mouse combination. As it happens, I’m now using it with both the Surface Pro 3 and a Mac Mini, and it appears to work flawlessly with both. I suppose the only drawback is having to switch the wireless receiver dongle from one USB device to the other, but it’s hardly a major issue. A Bluetooth keyboard would not have presented this issue, but I have read mixed reviews of Bluetooth keyboards on the Surface.

Overall, a very good purchase for the price – and with very speedy delivery. I have no hesitation recommending this keyboard and mouse set if you’re on a tight budget.

Made in China

I guess the £15 wireless mouse and keyboard combo I just bought was made by slaves in China. Awkward realisation. But there was no way I was going to pay £110 for the proper keyboard (which was probably also made by slaves in China, but sold at a massive mark up). Yes, I want it all cheap. Yes, I am compromised. Life in the twenty-first century.

A Guiding Helper for today

It has become apparent to me for a couple of years now that there is a real and urgent need for a fiqh and adab guide to navigating the Internet, particularly for the Internet generation.

I am alarmed by online discourse surrounding the ISIS phenomenon, as well as other issues. I am not sure that the upcoming generation is equipped to negotiate the competing truths presented to them on social media, with all its graphic imagery and persuasive argumentation.

We need to present faith-based guidance to the upcoming generation which addresses the contemporary context — the ever-present news feed on a slab of glass in every pocket, the demands of constant immediacy, unimpaired access to horrific scenes of conflict and brutality, the rise of anonymous influence and typing thumbs the new tongue.

I need to start fleshing these ideas out, somehow, inshallah. We really need a Guiding Helper for today; a Book of Assistance for the age of the internet. Who will help me make it happen?

Salesmen

Now that they have received written confirmation from Asda that it does not have a policy of barring entry to customers wearing their t-shirts, perhaps it’s time the t-shirt company updated the article on their website which first highlighted the alleged incident, rather than leaving this information buried in the comments thread.

As for the social media fire they’ve sparked: no idea how they’ll put that out. What a vast amount of timber can be set alight by the tiniest spark.

Keyboard warriors

The keyboard warriors are doing battle, clashing on all frontiers. With rage they tap ever faster on keyboards of glass and plastic, outdoing their opponents with snippets of sentiment, oblivious to the weight of their words. All is fair in love and war, they believe, unconscious of the cautious wisdom of old that sought to restrain the tongue from its visceral temper.

With unrestrained brutality, their opponents will be vanquished, indignation seething through their veins. It is a battle that must be won, right now, right there on a tiny screen, for all to see and witness. It is a battle that must be won at all costs, no expenses spared — work may suffer, a prayer might be missed, real life companions might sit neglected — all must wait, for in the heat of war, everybody must know of the rightness of the warrior, and every other view, opinion or passing thought must be defeated.

He who forsakes argument, even when he is right: a sunnah unheard. Speak good or remain silent: another sunnah ignored. Be just even against your own selves: a command unpracticed. He does not utter a sentence except that an angel is near him ready to record it: an observation unobserved. The most excellent are those from whose tongue and hands other Muslims are safe: the best of advice unheeded.

Isn’t it strange that war is so easy and peace so difficult, because peace just requires everyone to do nothing, while war requires them to do so much? Peace costs nothing, while war costs all.

On physical battlefields great armaments are fired, lives squandered, money dissolved, emotions crushed, innocents obliterated, passions heightened, humanity aborted.

On virtual battlefields words are weapons, emotions are bullets, anger bombs, but in the rage of the battle it is the soul of the attacking combatant that dies; it is his heart which shrivels up, his ego inflated. Incline to peace remains unrecalled. On this battlefield his words must reign victorious, and all others must be vanquished.

And so the battle rages on. Into the night and the following day. These words can never be exhausted. There is still so much more to say.

The way of truth

To me, it is remarkable that the progeny of a community which invested so heavily in the sciences of verification and authenticity to preserve the teachings of our religion will nowadays forward and repost every piece of unverified nonsense, malicious junk and political propaganda that appears before us on a slab of glass, without a second’s thought.

In the age of the internet everything and nothing is true. Whatever serves a purpose will be true for the moment. A lie become insignificant; it is all part of the push for truth.

We have forgotten, or are ignorant of, a verse of guidance: “And do not mix the truth with falsehood or conceal the truth while you know it.” –Quran 2:42.

But as we have discovered, it has always been so. Political machinations will trump even the sacred if it serves the agendas of the greedy and untruthful. Cruel and corrupt men often set us upon a path of their own design, heedless of the demands of truth, goodness and light.

We must resist. We must return to the way of truth. That is the true rebellion of our age.

Honey Pot

New laws will follow the widespread coverage of a dangerous social media campaign suddenly unleashed. The shepherds of Irton Moor will soon come knocking, because you were foolish enough to respond to media reports with a targeted keyword search. You will be criminalised for your curiosity. Hastag: it’s going to end in tears.

Lets be honest

A group calling itself “Britain First” posts a photo online of a group of “Muslim girls being led off in chains to meet their new husbands”, paraphrasing an article which states, “women by existing defied the laws of nature”, which is then linked to as the source.

The post attracts 16,000 comments condemning Muslims and their religion as evil.

The problem?

It is clearly a photograph of Muslim Shi’ite women, chained to each other, marching during a re-enactment of the battle of Kerbala.

And the paraphrased article is a satire, lampooning religion, politics and culture.

If this is how we put Britain first, God help us.