Tag Archives: documentally

To Bletchley Park

190520091486I’d only had fictional accounts of Bletchley Park until yesterday. I’m really glad that I took the opportunity to go up and sample it first hand for one of the StationX social media cafe events.

I first heard of Bletchley Park in 1986 when I saw the pre-west-end run of the stage version of Breaking the Code with Derek Jacobi as Alan Turing at the Yvonne Arnaud in Guildford. It’s a hugely touching human story of course but also intriguing that so much was going on during the war that we had no idea about.

I went at some point around 1991 I think, to a Computer Conservation Society open day at the Science Museum and Tony Sale was talking about the prospect of rebuilding Colossus. Some people were looking at him clearly thinking he was bonkers, but he did it nonetheless.

Then I read Robert Harris’s Enigma about ten years later when I was in need of fiction to read just after my finals. It is fiction, it is a bit Ripping Yarns but it’s also thrilling and brings the whole story to life.

So I was not at all surprised at what I saw when I arrived yesterday morning. It was good to see Christian as always and Bill Thompson was there, recording some stuff for his Digital Planet show. Highlights were the ever growing National Museum of Computing with it’s mainframe room, new PC gallery and nascent supercomputing room with a stonking great CRAY YMP-EL sitting in the middle of it. Adam Bradley is working on getting it going, apparently. He’s 14.

190520091458Then we popped over to the mansion and a special treat to be allowed to see and photograph inside Station X itself, an MI6 transmission station, high up in the tower. I heard yesterday that the X is like the X in OS-X it just means Station Ten, rather than being anything particularly top secret, although of course it was, y’know, particularly top secret.

Another unexpected treat was the cinema and film projection museum. Real geekgasm material here, mainly because it was such a surprise to find it all in such a small nondescript building. Great place for a solobasssteve gig, I think. By the time we got to the reconstructed bombe machine, I was running short of time and blood sugar. But there’s still an awful lot more to see. I’ll be back.

One particular idea that Christian floated was to turn some of the derelict concrete buildings into a geek warren – make it safe, run in a big fat net pipe, add some soft furnishings and get some use out of the space again at least for a few years, with a use that’s congruent with the place’s history for housing the sharpest mathematical and computing minds.

And if you haven’t done so before or recently, chuck some money in the pot to keep them going.

190520091470

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