Archive for June, 2012

Is social media really so benign?

Monday, June 25th, 2012

The penny finally dropped today about the creeping commercialisation of all of our private conversations and lives.  On the BBC Today programme today, Evan Davies said follow us on Twitter after a piece on Arcelor Mittal in Liberia, which questioned how well they were doing in creating economic well-being.  And I realised that that is advertising and that even though the BBC might not think it they are actually endorsing a commercial organisation, which is against their editorial policies (see 14.4.20, but I am sure that the BBC will argue that it is justified under 14.4.19 under “external sites it may be editorially justifiable to link to“).

Now you might say “get real”, I am and we have Facebook and Twitter on Steenbergs websites, but we are a commercial organisation and are using it for commercial purposes, yet I would love daily free links and endorsements by the BBC or other organisations in the same way that both Facebook and Twitter get, as they quietly become embedded into websites and the TV and we frame our daily lives through digital media.  You can follow the sport on the BBC with lots of Twitter links from outside into the BBC website and by following the Twitter tag #BBCtennis, which seems clearly to be endorsement to me.  Nice and useful, but in the end it is creating free capital for Twitter (or Facebook) that it can then use as content and ways of targeting, and marketing at, people, which enables them to generate excess profits and value by users giving media content away for free.  I accept the arguement that it is the free market that created these new modes of communication and media, and as a libertarian I do not like the concept of political regulation of media and communications, however I still believe we need more debate on how much influence, and reliance, can or should be given to just a few digital media channels rather than almost no discussion as is the current situation.

More and more we converse, chatter and debate online through emails (relatively private), as well as Facebook and Twitter that are much less private.  We seem mostly to be comfortable and complicit in the sharing of so much that used to closely held with friends and family and non-commercialised in general conversations between people face-to-face or over the phone, or by letter.  We have digitised ourselves, which has its own issues as “digital stuff” does not disappear after we have said it, but hangs around for a long time.  That is one issue.  But also, we seem okay with giving this knowledge away for free to somebody to commercialise themselves, whether that is our conversations or data about our habits and private lives; with media content via this blog or photography through Flickr, one has the option whether or not to give away such content as free, and I,for one, do believe in giving the content to others for their own commercial use as that is one of the benefits of I the Internet, however I have personally edited what I put onto the web and made choices about whether I accept that it will have become public and free for others to use, but I do not believe that our private conversations and activities should be so casually given up or are subject to the same degree of perosnal censorship.  Things are said much more casually over Facebook and Twitter without any mediation and without the capacity to retract mistakes or change views through time, as our words and pictures leave a trail that we cannot leave so easily behind or forget quickly enough.

I do not know the answer and can only pose the question about whether this is a good thing.  However, I reckon we will look back in the future and regret giving up so much privacy to a few monopolistic media-communications companies, while ironically at the same time focusing our anger at media businesses like News Corporation, which might no longer be as powerful as Facebook, Google and Twitter*, while being remarkably chilled about giving away our privacy and knowledge freely to such digital media companies.  And guess what you can actually follow the Leveson inquiry on Twitter because it is “advertised” on their government web site – nice to be promoted by the state and by a media enquiry as something valid, legimate and of integrity, but then Twitter is now regarded as an essential communications tool rather than part of the media!

Overall, there is not enough debate or concern about this area, because it is new, it works, is fun and useful and the answers are too difficult, so who actually cares – certainly not those (the political establishment) with the power to debate and take action on it?

* You can be sure that as the politicians are investigating the media and especially News Corporation that news publishing and its influence is no longer as powerful, so can now be regulated with inpunity.

Cooking With A Wonderbag

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

Sophie came across the Wonderbag on the radio and then The Guardian, so one arrived several weeks thereafter.  Basically, a Wonderbag is a modern and green take on the slow cooker and that you find in books as far back as Mrs Beeton’s and even like the traditional way of cooking in a hole in the ground.  It is a highly insulated textile bag that comes in very homely patterns and is filled with insulating balls that you wrap around your boiled pot of food.  The key is to get them really hot and to have a pot that fits the amount of food you are making, rather than one with loads of space.  We have found it a great way of preparing a healthy, wholesome stew in the morning for eating when we get back with the kids after school later in the day; much better than whacking on the microwave for a “ping meal”.  Overall, it is a great and retro way of creating change in the world that works especially well with foods that do best with a slow cooking, for example pork ribs, casseroles and mince.

Wonderbags are so ethical in that for everyone you buy in the UK, one will be given for free to a family in South Africa.  They are so green that they are said to save 30% on fuel bills for those using them in South Africa and we can save here in the UK as well.  They have been hugely successful in South Africa and now are in over 150,000 homes (saving 50,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide) and Unilever is looking to distribute 5 million to people in poverty around the world.

In overview, the way to cook is summed up in the little booklet that comes with the bag:

“Just heat up your pot of food on the stove, kick-starting the cooking process, then place inside the Wonderbag.  Wonderbag’s incredible insulating properties allow food that has been brought to the boil to finish cooking while in the bag without the use of additional energy.”

Pork ribs in sweet sauce

Sweet Pork Ribs cooked in a Wonderbag

Sweet Pork Ribs cooked in a Wonderbag


2 racks of pork ribs
2tbsp vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped finely
2tsp cornflour
400ml / 14 fl oz apple juice
2tbsp cider vinegar
2tbsp dark soy sauce
4tbsp dark brown sugar
2tbsp honey
1cm / ½ inch fresh ginger, grated

Prepare the pork ribs:  remove the thin skin on the underside by pulling this off with your hands (for more on this visit Youtube); then chop the ribs into thirds.  In a heavy bottomed frying pan, add the vegetable oil and heat until hot.  Add the pork ribs and fry until browned.  Set aside.

Fry the garlic and ginger in the vegetable oil, then remove then add all the other ingredients, except the ribs and cornflour, and stir together.  Put the cornflour into a small dish or ramekin, add a small amount of the sweet sauce and stir with a teaspoon until thoroughly mixed and without any lumps; add some more of the sauce and stir until you get a thickish paste, then add this to the sweet sauce and stir in.  Now add the ribs.

Put the top on to your casserole dish and bring to the boil.  Simmer with the lid on for 15-20 minutes, then place into the Wonderbag, close up and leave for 6 or more hours – the longer the better.  If you need to reheat it before stirring, simply place bag on the hob and heat to boiling, then serve.

Serve with plain boiled rice and some stir fried vegetables.

Slow cooked mince

Mince Cooked In Wonderbag

Mince Cooked In Wonderbag


1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, chopped into thin slices
500g / 1lb beef mince
2tbsp olive oil
1 glass of red wine
1 x 400g / 14 oz tin of chopped tomatoes
250ml / 8 fl oz water
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste

Add the olive oil to the casserole pot.  When hot, add the chopped onions and lightly fry for 5 minutes.  Add the carrots and fry for another 2 minutes.

Next add the beef mince and cook until browned all over.

Add the red wine, stir in and let it be simmered off.

Add the chopped tomatoes, water, bay leaf and season.  Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes until the sauce has reduced to your satisfaction.  Put the lid on and simmer for a few minutes to get the lid heated through, then place into the Wonderbag and leave for 2 to 8 hours.  Reheat if necessary on the hob before serving to get it piping hot.

Serve with rice or pasta, or some mashed potato.

Simple rice pudding


100g / 4oz pudding rice
50g / 2oz  caster sugar
500ml / 17 fl oz whole milk
10g / ½ tbsp unsalted butter
1tsp vanilla extract

Firstly, wash the rice in water.

Add the milk to the casserole pot and bring to the boil with the casserole lid on.  When it starts to boil, add the butter, caster sugar and vanilla extract and stir until the butter and sugar have melded in.

Add the pudding, bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes with the lid on.

Place into the Wonderbag, close it up and leave for 2 hours.  When finished, grate a little nutmeg over the top, grill for a few minutes to brown off the top, then serve.