Robert Hampton

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13th December 2015

Gettin’ Digi with it
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A lot of British gamers will remember the superb Digitiser magazine which ran on Teletext on Channel 4 between 1993 and 2003.

What a lot of people perhaps aren’t aware of is the behind the scenes turmoil that went on between its writer, Paul Rose (aka Mr Biffo), and the management of Teletext Ltd. The latter were worried that the strange characters, surreal humour and irreverent language-me-do didn’t really fit in on a text-based information service (owned by the Daily Mail!) which was probably better known for holiday adverts and trivia quizzes.

Last year Mr Biffo resurrected Digitiser in the form of a new website, and over the past few days he has been telling the story of his time at Teletext, how Digitiser got off the ground, the battles with management, its decline and the final, triumphant end. Part One of the story is here.

If you were never a fan of the Man’s Daddy and his jokes, you can still take one thing away from the tale. In the epilogue to the story, Biffo tells the story of a Q&A session he held at a recent gaming convention:-

I got asked by an audience member what I considered to be the meaning of life.

I’m sure he was looking for a funny answer – “Shoes filled with prawns and dentist poo!” I could’ve said to uproarious laughter – but I could only think of something sincere.

Wincing at my own profound earnestness, I told him that the most important thing in life is to be with people who let you be you. Whether it’s your other half, a best friend, colleagues, your parents, your children, or simply yourself… you deserve to be celebrated – not pressured to conform to the ideals of others. For the most part, I’ve got that today, in spades; an amazing partner, great kids, good mates – and people I’ve mostly never met who support my writing. I’m blessed.

It’s too easy to fall into roles, or relationships, or jobs, where your unique you-ness is suppressed, or not valued. It doesn’t matter if you’re crap at DIY, or hate football, or you’re messy, or scruffy, or clumsy, or have a weird sense of humour, or like video games – find places in life where all of that is appreciated. Or, at least, not beaten down. Don’t compromise on this.

That’s quite good advice, I think.

Another piece of good advice: stay AWAY from Mr T’s BINS.

1st June 2014

If the Moon Were Only One Pixel
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If you want to see how small the human race really is in the grand scheme of things, viewing Josh Worth’s visualisation of our solar system in your web browser will do the trick.

If the Moon Were Only 1 Pixel

12th March 2014


Today the tech world is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the world wide webnot to be confused with the Internet itself, which came into existence much earlier.

Even more pedantically, today actually marks the anniversary of Tim Berners-Lee’s original proposal for the web in March 1989. It wasn’t until Christmas 1990 that the first working web browser, imaginatively titled WorldWideWeb, became available, and the first web sites began to appear.

For its first few years, the web was mainly a curiosity used by students and scientists at various academic institutions. Then, around 1994, the original Netscape Navigator browser was released, and web usage began to grow significantly.

I remember the first day I got online – 30th August 1997 (sorry to say, the date sticks in the memory because Princess Diana was killed the very next day). I eagerly tore open the package containing ArgoNet‘s Voyager Internet Suite, listened as the US Robotics modem made various screeching noises, and gazed in wonder at the text and images that were very sloooowly downloaded. Grey backgrounds. So many grey backgrounds! Still, to a 14-year-old who still considered Bamboozle on ITV Teletext the height of sophistication, it was amazing.

Then my mum picked up the phone downstairs and the connection dropped.

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5th January 2014

2013 was a big year for…

Matt Jarvis on the cover of AttitudeGAYS! West Ham footballer Matt Jarvis graced the cover of Attitude in just his pants, because homophobia or something. The usually soppy liberal Observer newspaper got itself embroiled in a transphobia row after a Julie Burchill column caused a Twitter storm.

The big news story of the year was, of course, the UK’s same-sex marriage bill. My old Religious Studies teacher (now MP for Southport) declared that he was voting against it. Despite massive controversy and attempts by rebel MPs to derail it, the bill received Royal Assent in July. I like to think it was my vlog on the subject that swung it.

The UK was behind the curve in many ways, as progress was being made around the world. New Zealand legalised gay marriage in April, an event celebrated by an impromptu outbreak of singing. America, as usual, was slow on the uptake, but a big Supreme Court decision in July was a landmark moment, paving the way for future victories.

Elsewhere, however, gay rights were being rolled back. In Russia, a wrestling coach blamed the lack of wrestling at the Olympics on a gay conspiracy. That was amusing to western ears; less funny was the law against “gay propaganda”, which was enacted amidst a wave of anti-gay violence.

On a more positive note, the events in Russia spurred Wentworth Miller into coming out. In fact, it was a notable year for coming out events: Young Apprentice candidate Harry Hitchens came out via YouTube video. Ben Whishaw confirmed tabloid rumours that he was in a civil partnership. And then there was Tom Daley.

Alan Turing was pardoned for his homosexuality convictions, but where was the sympathy for the thousands of other men who were similarly persecuted?

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4th April 2013

The Argonauts fight a Troll
Posted by at 7.59pm | In the News, Web | No responses

I’ve been on the Internet since August 1997. When I first got online I had an Acorn computer running RISC OS. Setting up Internet connections on these machines was a long-winded affair – you either forked out for the professionally-developed ANT Internet Suite (which cost in excess of £100) or cobbled together a solution with the freeware apps available. After much fiddling with settings, you might (if you were lucky) find yourself with a working connection. It was doable, but an onerous task for a networking newbie.

An enterprising company called VTi spotted a gap in the market and created a package called ArgoNet – a complete internet access solution, including a modem and pre-configured software, all bundled up in an AOL-style, user friendly package called Voyager. Simply install the software from the four 3.5″ floppy discs, plug in your 33.6 kbps modem and go.

I still have the software discs – I came across them recently while having a clear out. ArgoNet is long gone (as are floppy disc drives) so I don’t think this will be very useful:

ArgoNet Voyager Software

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4th January 2013

Ring In the New Year, Wring Out the Old

Hampo in front of the Berlin WallA little later than planned, here is a look back at the preceding 12 months, as seen through my jaded eyes. As January began, I wrote a blog post looking forward to the treats that 2012 held in store. How did the year pan out? Let’s have a look…

The year started on a downbeat note for my family as we mourned my dad’s sister Betty, who had been a part of all our lives for as long as I could remember.

The government announced that High Speed Two, a new TGV-style railway line, would be built to link London with the Midlands. Middle England quickly took up against the plan, as Tory MPs lined up to denounce the line that was due to slice through their constituencies. David Cameron had succeeded in alienating his Conservative base, and it would not be only time that happened this year.

Web sites participated (or didn’t) in a protest against SOPA, a draconian anti-copyright law in the US. Elsewhere on the Internet, Twitter caused a minor kerfuffle by announcing that it would censor Tweets on a country-by-country basis.

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3rd September 2012

The Block Stops Here

The Government, following a lot of wailing from the Daily Mail, is proposing that ISPs should be forced to block “adult” web sites by default. I posted at length about this back in May and I refer you to that post if you’re unfamiliar with the issue. In summary, my objections are as follows:-

  • It is not the Government’s job to be babysitter to an entire nation of internet-using children. Children, of course, should be protected, but that is a parent’s job, through supervision and, if necessary, the use of filtering software on the child’s laptop, phone or tablet.
  • Any “default block” will be a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Nobody has defined “adult” web sites properly – is it just porn, or will stuff that’s a bit sweary like b3ta and Viz be blocked too?
  • Inevitably some innocent web sites will get caught up in the block. Two years ago PinkNews, an LGBT news site, found itself categorised as “adult” by mobile phone providers. Imagine if a small business which relies on web customers gets blocked by mistake. It will lose income and suffer damage to its reputation by being identified as “porn”.
  • Anyone wanting unfettered internet access will have to contact their ISP to request it and may have to repeat that request at regular intervals. There are many perfectly innocent reasons for a user to want an uncensored internet, but thanks to the stigma from certain parts of the media, they will feel like they’re putting themselves on a “porn user’s register”.
  • This is, essentially, censorship – and who’s to say that the blocking infrastructure wouldn’t be used in the future for less benevolent reasons? Perhaps UK Uncut’s web site will find itself classed as “adult”?

All of the above ignores the fact that the block will be easily circumvented by anyone even moderately tech-savvy and will therefore be largely useless anyway.

The deadline to respond is 6th September. The consultation web page on the DfE web site is a nightmare, requiring users to download and fill in a Word document. Even then, most of the questions are aimed at parents and not other members of the public – it’s almost as if they don’t want us to have our say!

The Open Rights Group, however, have an easy to use web page to respond to the consultation, and it will even automatically identify your MP and copy him or her in on your consultation response.

I urge you to go and respond, even if it’s only a sentence or two. Remember, this is not about porn, it’s about larger issues of freedom of expression online versus an interfering nanny state.

7th March 2012

Viral Infection
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I had an interesting experience last week on Twitter. I was going to blog about it, but I decided this was momentous enough to make it the subject of my second YouTube video. Enjoy!

30th December 2010

Twenty Ten – again

What a year 2010 was! It had twelve months, each consisting of at least 28 days. On some of those days I made blog entries. Here are the highlights.

I began the year in January fretting about an alleged Crystal Maze remake starring Amanda Holden. This story fortunately turned out to be utter bollocks. Ginger people again proved that (yours truly excepted) they have no sense of humour or perspective. Britain experienced a deluge of snow, and Merseyrail impressed everyone by soldiering on throughout, a feat which they would surely repeat next time we experienced awful weather… right?

I finally joined the Wii owners’ club, just as the console stopped being cool. My rekindled love for video games did not result in me getting rickets. I also celebrated my first Twitterversary and cautiously welcomed the iPad.

I also took time to blog at length about a US comedian no-one has heard of over here, illustrating my post with YouTube clips which have now been removed for copyright infringement.

In more serious matters, the Haiti earthquake occupied people’s thoughts as a humanitarian catastrophe unfolded in the devastated country.

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18th March 2010

Copyrights, copywrongs
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One of YouTube’s lawyers has just put up an excellent blog post about the current legal battle with Viacom. For someone like me who is frustrated that he can’t watch Daily Show clips online, it’s an interesting read, especially this little nugget of information which I was not aware of:-

For years, Viacom continuously and secretly uploaded its content to YouTube, even while publicly complaining about its presence there. It hired no fewer than 18 different marketing agencies to upload its content to the site. It deliberately “roughed up” the videos to make them look stolen or leaked. It opened YouTube accounts using phony email addresses. It even sent employees to Kinko’s to upload clips from computers that couldn’t be traced to Viacom. And in an effort to promote its own shows, as a matter of company policy Viacom routinely left up clips from shows that had been uploaded to YouTube by ordinary users.

The smart course of action would have been to let the clips stay on the site and earn money from the ad revenue, as BBC Worldwide, The X Factor and others have done. Viacom instead spent what must have been a considerable amount building their own sites for clips from The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. They’re very good sites (I assume, since they’ve blocked UK users from accessing the video), but by not being on YouTube they are missing out on potential eyeballs. How many extra views and ad dollars would Viacom get if a Daily Show clip popped up as a “related video” to someone’s Keyboard Cat mashup?

In general, I would love a sane attitude to copyright infringement by the Big Media companies. People uploading short clips of their favourite TV shows is not depriving anyone of any income. A 14-year-old girl who posts a two-minute video of herself lip-synching to the Sugababes should not be punished (except, maybe, for crimes against music). Lumping YouTube uploaders in with those who are torrenting gigabytes of stuff on a daily basis is a tactic that’s sure to backfire.