Category Archives: Uncategorized

Better plumbing at No. 10

26072008959The backlash against the new site from the Prime Minister’s Office has begun. Neil McIntosh just popped up in my feed reader tearing it apart for limiting conversation and some poor planning/research around the branding of the video channel. And then Tosh minor chimes in on twitter: “@DowningStreet – turn on your comments”

In my view, what’s happening here is that we’ve got some better plumbing installed, and while that in itself does a little to raise the quality of the drinking water, there’s so much more to be done and part of that is recognising that plumbing isn’t just about delivering water, it’s about providing a circulatory system to support and enhance something that’s going on already.

I’m not certain that just turning the comments on is the way to go, immediately. Of course it would be great to open up the conversation online but I do think the whole thing is still too fragile to withstand the shenanigans of people like this.

The work now should be to build some more solid two-way relationships between No. 10, online journalists and bloggers. My first question would be why press people like Neil haven’t been more intimately involved in the project already. Many people are still impressed when the guys on the @downingstreet twitter feed reply directly to questions and comments. When Obama was here and I was hanging around outside, I had a significantly different experience simply because we had a feed coming from inside and questions were answered in real time. Yes, our government departments are too opaque, but from where I’m sitting, I see much greater will to move towards real transparency than we’ve had in the past. This is a small enabling step towards it – let’s support it rather than knock it down straight away.

We don’t have to write anything

more journo's than puntersI was going to write something long and thoughtful about PR & Bloggers last week but got caught up in the Underground Busking debacle instead.

Meanwhile Véro kicked something off that James and Jonathan are running with. So there’s less I want to say that hasn’t already been said. And now it comes down to this thing about PR’s thinking that bloggers are just like print journalists – we’re not – well in some ways we are, but in many others we’re not, particularly for the reason stated above – I don’t have to ever write anything at all again on this blog if I don’t want to – I write to please myself and my friends, I don’t *have* any deadlines or quotas (of course sometimes I’m paid for a quota of stuff, but that’s different) and nobody sits between me and pressing (or not pressing) the button marked publish.

I’m not sitting here, thinking “I wonder what I can write by the end of today to fill that quarter page” I’m actually thinking “How can I find enough time to write about all the things I’m excited about”. So rather than helping me out – these PR e-mails always have the air that we should be grateful to get this “scoop” – you’re actually making my life more difficult by using up my time working out whether there’s something interesting in what your saying or not.

Note – and this may also be a sticking point – that we are not all the same. At times, I blog for different reasons and have different needs from someone like Ewan but I agree and understand entirely where he’s coming from here. And… I am not averse to being approached to talk about stuff that I find interesting – it’s the assumption that if we talk and you give me something then I’ll be your dog that I find a turn-off in a Coatesian sort of way.

Y’see it’s complicated.

(*ahem* – just going to tweet that I’d written this and saw @darika wanting less PR bashing – so I’d like to point out that funnily enough, not all PR’s are the same either – there are one’s that get it quite well and those that don’t – this post is directed to those that don’t…)

Tim Berners-Lee at NESTA on the Future of the Web

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NESTA keep setting them up and we keep falling for them.

This evening Tim Berners-Lee, y’know, clever chappy – invented this web thing that I’m using to write to you, got the Order of Merit no less, was speaking on the Future of the Web and in particular his Web Science Research Initiative – trying to get us to understand the web as it is and where it’s going in order to help make it better.

Lovely, humble, articulate man. I’d love to write more about what he had to say but we didn’t hear nearly enough of him – the soundbites you can find on twitter weren’t edited very much. In an evening overflowing with irony, I was particularly struck that a man who allowed millions to gain a public voice by creating a system with a minimal number of rules and prescribed behaviours was almost silenced by a format that called for:

  • a clear separation between the panel and the audience;
  • people speaking in strictly managed order;
  • the contribution of audience members constrained to asking questions;
  • questions collected in threes, then divided between the panel members by the chair;
  • arbitrary precedence given to people on twitter over people actually in the room.

I have questions, but more than three.
“What mysterious hold does Charlie Leadbeater have over Jonathan Kestenbaum?”,
“Did you think that we’d get bored by only having Tim to listen to?”
“Or perhaps that he doesn’t have the stamina to carry a whole hour’s session by himself?”
“Are you familiar with the phrase ‘gilding a lily’?”
“Were the people in the reserved seats on the front row because they *really* don’t know anything about this stuff and need to be able to hear every word?”
“How can we take you seriously on innovation when you continue to repeat the same tired event format?”
“If I don’t like these things so much, then why do I keep going?”

[UPDATE: thank you NESTA for splitting the video up so that people can just play the Berners-Lee segment – anyone who wants to judge for themselves whether I was just getting my knickers in a twist about nothing should take a look at the panel session

Potential

Another day another mind-blowing conference – today it’s 2gether08 which feels a bit like I imagine it is to crawl around inside Steve Moore’s head. Hundreds of gobsmackingly smart folk talking big, talking social, talking good.

I’m thinking again about the potential for action that this sort of event creates. Loads and loads of people, talking big ideas, connecting disparate subjects and disciplines, talking about what they’ve done, what they’re doing, what they’d like to do. Ooooh yes, let’s do that, let’s do this, oh my god, can you imagine if we did that? Let’s talk about it, let’s make it happen.

It’s something that happens every week at the Tuttle Club. People get enthused about an idea or another person or their work and they talk animatedly about what they might do and how they might collaborate. A small number of those collaborations actually have come quickly to fruition. Sometimes this is because they’re at the level of “hey! what if we could mash up flickr and google maps and ‘ta-dah’ – you know” ie it’s not really a new idea, just new to the people involved. Other times it’s more about already busy people having great ideas bu they don’t have time, or money, or time to generate the money to do it.

However, it is a weekly experience for me and I’m getting used to seeing the realisation of awesome potential and the later associated deflation. That’s in a group of 30 or so people. So it’s not surprising that we get it in spades at conferences like today.

So. Much. Potential.

I feel it physically. It’s painful. I think sometimes it’s the thing that winds me up most about events – the raising of potential and the lack of resolution. I know I’m going to feel it again tomorrow. The only answer I have by the way is something Umair Haque said this morning: “Organise something” Y’know like “just do it” but no, really do it.

Irony Alert: this post lacks a real resolution

(and I’m cross-posting to the 2gether blog)

How many CCTV cameras per person?

One of the factoids that’s been repeated again and again in the recent civil rights car crash is that there is at least one CCTV camera for every 14 people in the UK. This from the wikipedia page on CCTV

“The exact number of CCTV cameras in the UK is not known but a 2002 working paper by Michael McCahill and Clive Norris of UrbanEye[5], based on a small sample in Putney High Street, estimated the number of surveillance cameras in private premises in London is around 500,000 and the total number of cameras in the UK is around 4,200,000. The UK has one camera for every 14 people.”

Can we do better than this? We don’t have to limit ourselves to a “small sample in Putney High Street” – Has anyone created an interactive map where you can submit known public and private CCTV sites? I think it would show large areas that are not covered by CCTV and many areas that are completely over-saturated.

Would knowing a more accurate number change anything? Would knowing that there’s actually one camera for every 7 people mean that we had any more power to stop the things being put there in the first place? I’d be interested to see what the tipping point is before we get so fed up that we start using paintball guns on the High St like Bernard Cribbins facing a dalek.

Heat on the Tube

25062008045The heat on the tube and the introduction of fans to keep people more comfortable was a little news blip yesterday. Annie had of course covered it a few weeks ago and I meant to comment at the time, but y’know… didn’t.

The issue that doesn’t seem to have come up at all is how much the temperature on the tube is currently being raised by the new batch of illuminated advertising pitches. I might try to find one of those flat thermometers to see just what the surface temperature is, but in the meantime just laying my hand on one (or my back, actually, when busking) proves to me that it’s quite a lot warmer than a paper poster :) This goes for the animated doodads that line several escalators.

So how many of these screens are there now? I am not a physicist, so does anyone want to help me work out the effect a single screen might have on the ambient temperature? What is the cumulative effect of all the screens in one station, how about across the 24 stations that are getting them? And are CBS Outdoor, who are responsible for their installation, made any effort to counter the effects? Wouldn’t it be a good idea to be shouting about this if they were? And I’m not a green extremist, but what effect have these screens had on the tube’s carbon footprint as a whole – how much electricity is being used to run them?

It was again – Interesting ’08

21062008043Tired and very happy after a lovely day at Interesting ’08 – thought I’d try blogging it quickly this time – it’s that kind of a day.

As I spent much of the day helping Russell to be slightly less worried, finding things for all the helpful people to do, filling up the water boiler and wondering about including audience participation in my slot I’m afraid I missed some of the startling, stimulating and assorted wonderful displays of interestingness. But…

Roo kicked off beautifully with some great historical images from that geek classic – Lego

Something about Horses and their blind spots. (Dave funkypancake picked up on “horse” later too while struggling against dead air)

I next tuned in to Collyn saying how she was bored with reality and expected more ferns and snails.

Not sure what happened then but next thing I knew, Dan Raven-Ellison was bigging up Geography and kicking History in the balls and then Michael Johnson was segueing from Django to Freddie Green to Eric Clapton to Jimi Hendrix to Jimmy Page and so on and so on with much pedalling and magical slide changing.

so Azeroth is about 16 12km in diameter and very, very dense according to James Wallis’s endearingly obsessive calculations – also something about chucking some bird off a tower and seeing how long it took for her to fall.

Phil Gyford reminded me of what fun mask work was, but also how difficult it is.

I think I caught some bits of Matt Dent’s lovely work on coin designs – I’m glad I met him at the sign-up table and got to tell him personally anyway.

Matt Webb told a lovely story about a South American mirror telegraph that might have been an hallucination, I really wished it hadn’t been, I like the idea of local physics.

Andrew Webb must have been next thanks to the matt-matt-webb-walkingshaw doo-dah. Oh yes – food – it’s all over the country, allegedly, and farmers are saying get *on* moi land!

Andrew Walkingshaw talked about having lots of names (like cats do) and uniqueness and ambiguity

Andrew Dick finally found how to get to sleep after years of insomnia – audio books of bad thrillers – not too exciting or interesting but also not too dull – also apparently the effect doesn’t properly kick in until you’re listening for the 2nd or 3rd time.

I bet Jenny Owen’s Churchill impression is even better when she has a cigar in her mouth – she gave us a bundle of interesting titbits about the great man though my blood sugar was plummeting as we got close to lunchtime.

To close the morning, Matt Irvine Brown displayed excellent headmaster skills getting 35 people to play the recorder – I qik’d it but it’s probably even more painful to watch on a mobile phone video than it was to witness in the flesh.

Then after lunch that fat baldy bloke from last year made us listen to him sing to a (very) small guitar and then made a mountain out of some molehills – other people will cover this slot better than me.

Simon & Curtis James & Ken Hollings did some weird thing about suburbia set to a radiophonics jam session.

Anna Pickard on why biscuits, flanges and gussets are funny.

Younghee Jung talked toilets – unfortunately this is when I managed to get to the toilet for the first time myself, so I had empirical experience, but I missed out on her theory.

James Bridle got me thinking about wine and evolution and talking about booze without talking about drunkenness.

Kim Plowright- oh god, Kim, I’m sorry I wasn’t paying attention.

James Houston showed us why he just got a first class degree.

Jim Le Fevre wowed the hall with his live zoetrope demo – at the start Jim asked if he could bring his equipment in which included a turntable, so naturally I was expecting something audio but it was decidedly more visual – Jim, I’d love you to meet Steve Lawson – @solobasssteve – you could make great stuff together

Gavin Starks – all I remember is dodecahedrons and something about music from n-dimensional hypercubes

Joel Gethin Lewis tries to get people in the moment, talking about something untranslateable into English from Welsh

Was George Oats talking about flickr or was that Kim? I think that’s when I popped out to get some more milk.

Lea Becker I’d have like to see and hear more about drawing from her. I’m not sure about the taxonomy of drawing approaches…

Leisa Riechelt is clearly a lovely mummy and reminded me of how interesting your first small person can be. The young man in question had a domain named after him before his name was on a birth certificate. Excellent.

I agree with Max Gadney that we will see some serious re-appraisal of the second world war the further we get from it.

Lots of lovely lovely lovely people in the audience – Tuttlers, Headshifters, Interesting07’ers to many to mention individually but lots are mentioned here.

So yeah, it was, again and I’m sure it ever will be.

Being right

I find it very productive to sometimes think “What if I’m completely wrong about this?” You know, “What if this tightly-held, well-evidenced belief is actually not true?” Even if it does turn out to be true, it can be an illuminating exercise to consider what the world would be like or what our experience of the world might be or what decisions we might make differently IF it weren’t the case. It goes as well for global situations “What if the world isn’t actually flat even though that’s how my senses perceive it?” as well as the more personal: “What if it weren’t true that everyone hates me?”

An equally productive development of this rhetorical exercise is to ask “what if, rather than believing that everything about this situation is wrong, what if everything were just right?” In effect this is asking “What if I’m wrong about everything in my life going wrong?”

That’s what I was writing about yesterday. “What if the innovation edge conference was actually perfect in every way?” What does that tell me, what can I learn about it, what might I do differently myself as a result of experiencing it and experiencing my discomfort?

So today, as I begin another day with No Fixed Abode and seeing other people’s fear and insecurity when I explain to them what’s happening and being tempted to fall into that spiral of panic and busy work that I well know makes for little progress, today, I ask myself “What if I’m wrong that not having a permanent place to live is the worst possible situation to be in?” “What if it’s absolutely right and perfect that I’m flat-sitting for a friend?” What might I do in response to that, how would I think and act, what might it mean about me? And why might I have brought myself to this place?

And as I reflect on all that, a paradox becomes clear to me. This week I have had the recurring feeling of being safe and at home – *wherever* I am. I was in Epsom yesterday and went to the Post Office and walked along the High Street and it was all lovely and suburban and I thought “Oh yes, this is home, perhaps this is where I should live all the time” and then this morning I was in Pimlico and walking around the gardens of St George’s Square and had *exactly* the same feeling.

From which I take that it was in order to fully appreciate that I really belong here, wherever “here” is, to fully understand that I’m at home wherever I am and that my physical location is purely a matter of choice, that I had to bring myself to this experience of “homelessness”.

So, phew! Having gotten that out of my system, I think I’ll choose a period of greater stability :)