Category Archives: What I’ve Seen

Wife Beater


I saw this earlier (the copy reads: “Buy a special pack and we’ll grow a hedge in the British countryside) and muttered to myself:

“If you really want to grow a hedge in the countryside, why don’t you just go and do that, rather than making people pay for your poisonous and habit-forming liquor and then spending money trying to make them feel good about you by doing something entirely unconnected so that they’ll buy more.”

I get quite nauseously self-righteous around the middle of Sunday – it’s best to keep clear.

In the time it took to mutter (perhaps it was more of a grumble), I found myself in front of this little scene where someone had released their stomach contents, possibly as a consequence of ingesting too much of the above-mentioned liquor:

which made me think:

“No, Stella, actually, just forget the hedge shit, what I’d really like you to do is to go round personally on Saturday and Sunday mornings and clean up the puke that your product contributes to and then think a bit harder about whether printing the URL to DrinkAware on your posters is quite enough.”

I mean, really.

Guerilla Street Cleaning

please clean meI heard Dougald speak yesterday on the “why don’t you…?” web, the web (immediately recognisable to UK readers of a certain age) that enables us to “turn off the tv set and go and do something less boring instead”.

I then saw someone on twitter point to Guerilla Gardening, a site that facilitates small groups going out and making urban spaces more green, leafy, flowery or otherwise lovely.

And then this morning when I got some cash out, I noticed how bloody filthy this cash machine in Cockspur Street is. And I wondered if anyone would want to do some off-the-cuff street cleaning – the nightmare is that you’d probably be arrested immediately with tampering with a cash machine, no matter how much you protested that you were performing a secret civic service. But might it have legs (particularly for urban dwellers) are there things you could clean without getting into trouble, especially if there were a group of you and are there lessons buried in the Guerilla Gardening site that might help it happen?

Implementation is left as an exercise for the reader.

Streetview shenanigans

pw014-03About 10 years ago when I got my first digital camera to play with at work, I considered a project documenting London’s streets. The idea was that you would stand on a street corner and take a picture in each direction, and then upload it to a database with some metadata so that we could build a rich visual map of London so that if you were headed to say a bar or restaurant you could find a picture of the local area so that when you popped up out of the tube, you’d have a better chance of finding what you wanted.

Unsurprisingly, I didn’t do it, mainly because devising instructions for how to take your photographs and constructing a metadata scheme that could accurately but simply describe any street corner in London proved way too complex. Plus the web was a very different kind of place – this was an information retrieval system, not a social one. Oh yeah and forget GPS, who was strong enough or rich enough to carry a GPS receiver around with them? Nonetheless, it would have been cool, right? I think the early podwalks had a similar inspiration.

Now the smart people at Google have caught up with my brilliant vision :)

And (nearly) everybody hates it.

In my opinion, Google Maps Streetview is just a rich enhancement to a map. I have used it to identify places I was going (in Paris, France and Austin, Texas) to get a feel for what sort of neighbourhood they were in and to understand better how I might walk there.

I don’t understand the privacy concerns that people have. Assuming you’ve been (un)lucky enough to be photographed by a car, what are the chances of anyone who knows you seeing it? And in the event that you (or some top-secret piece of your property) are snapped and you find out about it, then you can ask for it to be removed. This seems to me to be way beyond the power we have with CCTV in that 1. We can see it. and 2. We can get it removed. It’s ironic really that when a private company does it, we get to have a say, but when our democratically elected councils or government agencies do it, we don’t even have access.

What do you lose by having your home or car photographed? (mine isn’t there incidentally, they haven’t got beyond the A24 in Epsom) I’m not saying it’s nothing, just honestly trying to understand what it is.

Yes, I can imagine it leading to an imagined worse outcome of the BNP list leak last year, with the list “enhanced” with links to pictures of the outside of each member’s house. But the mashups there were pretty well regulated, once the first few had been done, people realised what a silly thing it was to do and what a dangerous precedent it was.

Before it came to the UK (and by the way, it’s only in selected cities), I’d used the Parisian and Texan versions to look at places I was just about to go to – working out how to walk there without having to cross 10 lanes of traffic etc.

I’ve also used it to look at places that I may never get to see, like parts of the Northern Territories in Australia (can’t remember how we ended up there…)

And it also works well for showing people places I’ve been and explaining something visual.

And as Russell points out, it’s good for the nostalgic – Places I used to live that are just the same and places I used to live that are very different.

I’m also interested in what’s not covered – No great views of Buckingham Palace for example and great chunks of the West End are missing including Oxford Street and Cavendish Sq.


110320091025 Here’s something half-baked: In the UK, urinals in the gents (God, I can’t wait to be home and to stop having to ask for the mens room or restroom!) flush themselves on a timing mechanism so that (as long as it’s working) it gets washed out every few minutes. Here in the US, there are two types of flush that I’ve seen: a manual knob (as in the picture) or else an automatic one based on a sensor which causes it to flush when you walk away.

I don’t know what this says about our respective cultures, if anything at all, or what point you could use it to make, but I thought it might live in the analogy library until someone could work out how to use it for good or for evil.

And don’t get me started on the lack of soundproofing in the sit down loos or the ones that flush as soon as you stand up.

Epsom Rat Poison

01032009990This is a public service request for Epsom & Ewell Borough Council and National Rail. This rat trap has come open behind the fence next to the footpath between the Ebbisham Centre and the Railway line. The bags with poison are marked as such, but that may not be obvious to smaller children or other animals who take a fancy to the pink sweetie-looking things in the bag.

How does this get sorted out, please?

UPDATE: So I tweeted about this and almost immediately got something back from Al Green saying to let the Network Rail helpline know. I misread this as the National Rail one, as I’m somehow unable to let go of the idea that it was their responsibility. I got something back from them quite quickly, saying, thanks, but it’s not our patch guv, talk to *Network* Rail. I left a message through their online form too and got a call from someone on Tuesday afternoon to say that they were sending someone along to have a look. Sure enough by Wednesday, all the traps had been removed. So now I’m looking forward to our little brown friends recolonizing, getting their yummy treats from Jimmy Spices bins and taking them back into the undergrowth to tuck in. So it seems to work, though it would have been quicker if I could learn to read properly.

Passport to Pimlico

At some point in the late seventies or early eighties, the BBC ran a comprehensive season of Ealing Comedies. It stands out as an important part of my adolescent television experience – which many would say explains a lot.

A favourite has always been Passport to Pimlico (1949) for the location shots of immediate post-war London as well as the plucky defiance of the residents of Miramont Gardens. What’s disappointing of course is that it’s actually filmed in Lambeth on the other side of the river rather than in Pimlico itself. Nonetheless it formed an important picture in my young mind of “that London”.

If you haven’t seen it, get it and take a look. Spoilers may well follow…

Watching again, this weekend, I noticed many motifs that echo what I’m thinking about a lot with respect to self-organisation and emergent behaviour, but in particular two examples of herd activity – firstly, the way in which the idea spreads through the community that they are Burgundians and therefore need no longer comply with the post-war austerity measures or indeed any English law they dislike and then later how the crowd gathered to witness the defeat and evacuation copy the kids who have come to throw provisions to their parents (the kids who got the idea from seeing the penguins fed at the zoo).

And I laughed out loud a lot too.

A little bit of politics for you

Lovely to see the JFDI crew heading for Thomson Reuters again yesterday for #askDC a little talk by David Cameron and then a Q&A that promised to include some questions from Tweeters. It was a re-run with extra manpower and sparkly bits of the Gordon Brown do in the same room at Canary Wharf a little while ago, when Christian qikked the PM thus getting a 2 or 3 second scoop on the “live” internet feed and the BBC.

I love it – I’m a news junkie – I can’t get enough of this stuff and these guys supply it very well. It also fits very well with some work that I’ve been doing within Government that I *still* can’t talk about properly, but hopefully will very soon.

So what next?

In following the pattern of traditional news media with live coverage they show two things: firstly that there’s so much more that mainstream media could do, if they could be bothered to learn and let go of their ideas of how things have to work. I think this is the main reason Reuters are doing it, but (yes there’s a but) what it also reminds me is that there’s a whole lot more to news than instant live coverage and, even more importantly that there’s a whole lot more to social media than getting a few seconds scoop on the big boys.

There’s a limit on how live you can get. So in certain circumstances we can get a scoop pretty easily just by happening to be in the right place at the right time or to be witness to something that otherwise would not get any coverage because the benefit from the story doesn’t outweigh the cost of sending a 5-person camera crew. However, when it comes to set pieces like yesterday, the marginal speed gain from live-streaming from qik is wiped out by the drop in quality – the added value is in the contextual stuff that together the guys were creating while running around and pulling together stuff from twitter, flickr and qik.

What the social stuff is best for is the slower, longer-term story-telling, the relating. The repeated application of this kind of reporting is what really wows people, one-offs are fun, but ultimately unsatisfying, because we don’t, we can’t get under the skin of a story in one morning. Yesterday we got a very very broad look at a very shallow event – I’m interested now in how we get depth as well as breadth.

Once Cameron had finished speaking, BBC News fell back to the studio and analysis from a specialist political correspondent. I think we need now to be looking at how we provide that sort of added value, of contextualising stories, breaking them down and looking at them from a range of perspectives. And we get our context by writing and creating other content tangentially to the story that the subjects want to tell. The social reporter interviews the bit-players, junior officials and also-rans because what they think and say tells us as much about the main story as what the official speech-writer managed to squeeze into a time and space designed specifically for conveying a precise message to a relatively small group of hacks. Then by making all the content available, not just the annointed bits that push “the message”, we, the reader/viewers get to filter and re-mix to help make sense of it all.

Things are getting really cool.

Photo: Sizemore

Power FAIL


I can’t believe that no-one at First Great Western thought about whether these power outlets were usable with the charger from one of the most popular mobile phone handsets, or any other one that isn’t a simple 3 point plug.

I hope they do the simple thing which is to turn them upside-down. BTW, this was in first class, I didn’t check, but the last time I was in standard class on a FGW train, they had the same problem on table seats, but the other seats had an outlet between non-table seats.