Mashed08, day two, Ally Pally

Well after maybe two hours snoozing on a sofa, I’m up and about again and it’s day two of Mashed08.

I’ve learnt a lesson – never try to sleep in roughly the same 100 meters with Rock Band and a few keen players – eventually I started to feel like I was in a Sartresque ‘Rock Band Hell’ ;-P

After being offered some baked beans as the vegan option for breakfast, I commanded the huge, heart-shaped, pink bean bag and settled down, for a few moments before being requested by Robin to help out with a rehearsal for this afternoon’s presentations. This just required me to walk on stage and talk to the camera whilst the crew worked out camera angles, etc. Incase you’re wondering, I recited the ever popular ‘Badger, badger, badger, mushroooooooooom, snaaaaaaake…’ 😀

One highlight of the day was when Ant Miller took us all outside into the sunshine to launch his rocket, we all watched in awe as it shot up into the sky. I ran down the hill to see where it had floated back down to the ground using it’s little fluro yello parachute. Standing around it was a clutch of bemused public, after a few pleasantries and photos, we clambered back up the hill.

It’s soon time for the important presentations of the hacks to begin and there’s a sekrit surprise. We have a super dooper Doctor Who compare, Sylvester McCoy, he arrives out of a haze of blue smoke!

The presentations were fast and furious and a huge concentration of great talent. They include all sorts of entries for the competition using various ideas ans combinations of mash-ups, feeds and APIs. I’d say there were nearly 40 ninety-second presentations of prototypes and they’ve been very interesting.

The jury is out and after two hours we get up and stretch our legs, but it’s a tight schedule and we will be back soon!

Well, I was very pleased that Christian Heilmann won a prize for his cool accessibility apps and a little dissapointed that Emma Persky’s movement recognition software didn’t get a prize.

Next year I hope the judging panel has some female input, I think there were six men (Matt: well done for getting them to do an impro cancan on stage)! The panel was made up of peeps from orgs/companies such as Channel4, Microsoft, O’Reilly, Guardian and Multimap, and their representatives were all great and worthy, but mebbe one of them could find a worthy woman to send along next time eh? ;-P

I was really sad that it was suddenly time to go home, I could have done it all again. The sight of everyone scurrying off with beanbags was fun, especially Ryan who got a collection for his Mrs and had fun trying to fit them all into a people carrier size cab 😀

Mashed08, day one, Ally Pally

I’m at Mashed08 and I’m jolly excited! In fact I haven’t had much sleep as I went to bed super late last night and then woke up at 6.30am. I’m currently drying out, as I walked up the long hill to Ally Pally in the rain with my trolley.

Mashed08 - Tom Scott pondering!

There’s lots to see and do – I’m all of a fluster as I have too much stuff and am trying to say hello to everyone at once – argh – geek overload!!!

I’m currently in a yahoo fire eagle talk – I should be wearing my neat fire eagle – tshirt. I meant to do a write up from when I was at Tom Coates presentation of fire eagle at the Wallacespace – so I’m pleased to see the team here at Mashed08.

Fire eagle allows you to geo tag your location, but to keep your privacy – it’s a great tool and it’s API allows to to build fab stuff. It’s going to launch officially this summer.

Applications for fire eagle include:

* firebot – location for twitter
* zonetag – photo uploader for flickr with geotagger
* playzes (sp) social networking
* Dopplr – for travellers – updates location
* moveable type plug-in
* navizon – geo based wifi

* Ambient orb for fire eagle – yahoo needs to source the orb
* Nabaztag
* Apple SDK
* Google Android
* Pacmanhattan talk – with Ian Forrester

backstage encourages innovation and creativity in web ‘2.0’ with a particular focus on the UK. backstage is a licence similar to creative commons non-commercial attributions. It’s about open culture around the BBC and releasing data that can be made available on the backstage website.

backstage is a community and advocates the mash-up scene and includes, hackers, coders, artists and designers.

backstage is part of the forward thinking part o the BBC – we’re thinking about how we can:
* make things great. backstage connects people
* showcases the best talent
* scaring journalists – with tech/stats
* experimenting with new ideas
* demonstrating real multi-platform
* working to improve mobile development
* encourage the use of alternatives
* capturing shakers
* discussing the topics that matter
* helping to win awards

Just around the corner for backstage:

* new backstage website
* lots of events – opentech, geekcamp, barcampmanchester,
* d.construct08, the future of education conference, singularity, barcampnortheast2, the future of web apps expo 2008, geekdinners manchester

backstage inside the bbc:
* wild west servers – we can do what we like with them, based in Texas
* design pattern library
* experimental stuff: php, python, ruby jython, erlong, smalltalk, XSL2 T2, groovy Testing, XMLDB, Triplestores, Couch DB and more.
* backstage API gateway – more APIs, data and feeds
* podcasts
* best of British on itconversations
* backstage empowered learning, TV
* competitions – backstage logo
* I joined backstage as Ian’s second in command – yay 😀

Trends at backstage:
* small letter d data portability
* universality
* participatory culture
* ubiquity
* participatory panopticon
* self describing content/media
* openness
* transparency
* net and mobile neutrality
* trust
* other economic realities – such as whuffie
* we are changing the BBC

Media Futures Conference, Ally Pally

I’m at the Media Futures conference at Alexandra Palace, London.
Am typing within the smallest text box in WordPress on my Eee PC, so please excuse any typos – will edit later 🙂

Matt Cashmore and Nico McDonald gave us a very warm welcome.

Dr Brian Winston introduced himself as the ‘grumpy old man of the day’.

He spoke very passionately about Amara’s law – ‘We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run’. Proposed by Roy Amara. He went on to say how ‘society leads technology’ that ‘we adopt things that adopt our pre-existing behavior, such as technology to communicate and be entertained’ – therefore new technologies are not revolutionary.

He then went on to talk about the ‘lore of suppression of radical progression’ – technology that is okay if it fits in with our cultural and social neccessity. So when thinking about media futures, he set down some groundrules :

*avoid the hyperbolic, be hardnosed – don;t see a new delivery sysyem as more than what it is – with ‘withering interjection’.

* Stop talking about content and keep thinking about creativity.

* Remember the forgotten nerds – the unknown unknowers should be less forbidding!

‘ we drive into the future with our eye on the rear view mirror’ – Marshall McLuhan quote.

‘Put thy trust, comrades, not in Mr Sony’ Dr Brian Winston end quote.

It amused the audience that he championed Luddites as misunderstood, and eyebrows were raised when he dismissed mobile technology. Although obviously a very interesting debate was going on here, I haven’t heard such opinions for years, it was a good way to get passions inflamed at the start of the conference. I have to say that I didn’t agree with Dr Winston – technology rokks my world! 🙂


Research in the real world – Alex McKie, Futurologist

She feels that we like living in villages, if you’re looking to the future, look at history and what matters to people. Some consequences we are aware of, some not. You need to know what you want as a consumer – belonging, attention and trust. Humans have a need to connect and this is probably why music shops survive as small shops whereas greengrocers and butchers do not (as a vegan the second pleases me ;-)).

* We’re all time pressed, all the predictions about leisure lifestyles is now sadly untrue.

* People trust people they know and this is often Richard and Judy!

* Very similar sentiments to how me and my colleagues work when creating new activities with our specific audiences in mind.


Nick Durrant & Gill Wildman – co-founders of Plot consultancy

‘meet the people formally known as users’ – how did UX (user centered design) take off?

Nick durrant started off talking about anthropologists – the us and them dynamic – turning a mirror on culture, sub and dismissive culture – the secret lives of the mundane, everyday and overlooked. Big Brother – the bastard son of observation – listening n watching. empathy and respect have got lost in this extreme. Masters are on the other end of the camera.

They played some highlights of recordings of interviews they made with some people, they asked them how they used media, how it’s changed and also how it is personal to them. There were obvious differences of attitude between people of different ages and lifestyles. Observations included: that media is more celebrity and soap driven. One lady said the internet was like a tool as she lived in a remote area, she used it for shopping and news – interesting she didn’t bother with a television. They take their laptop to bed and watch something in bed, they basically move their laptop around the house with them for various tasks eg listening to music in the kitchen.

Observations from the audience – the interviewees sounded very white middle class and this annoyed people. Where were the minorities represented? I wasn’t really sure how they selected the people they interviewed, perhaps I missed something.

A journalist from the audience asked what Nick & Gill’s conclusions were from the 8 interviews. The speakers went a bit quiet, the questioner jumped in and said that he wondered why they played interviews when they had no conclusions! Gill said that she hadn’t had the time to analyse them – with the reasoning that most researchers are time poor. This was a little disappointing as it felt like they were building up to some great revelation. As someone who does lots of user testing and audience research I was somewhat surprised that they hadn’t thought that this might be a question and what their feelings were – as I was having thoughts as I was listening to the interviews. Maybe they were trying to make a point that we should be contributing instead of them, but it got a bit lost.

Debate on Citizen Journalism with Claire Fox – director of institute of ideas – chairing panel

* Andrew Keene – author ‘How today’s internet is killing our culture’ – renowned for stirring things up
* Charlie Beckett – POLIS thinktank
* Andrew Calcut – University of East London

These guys had a debate about the state of journalism in the new media era and attitude to citizen journalism.

Andrew Keene learns a lot from newspapers and trusts what he reads. He doesn’t think that the public necessarily make good journalists. He thinks the public should leave journalism to the professionals.

Beckett stood up for citizen journalists in the light that some journalists are very anti ordinary people contributing and how they should not feel threatened – you should trust your public and not turn down free content.

Andrew thinks media today due to the reputability of digitalization gives human history making democratic objectivity – people making the history they want to make under circumstances not of their choosing. Journalist as DJ – mixing down of content. He objects to the fetishizization of objectivity – that of facts and people. We need to overcome the conditioning elements of media.

Claire asked if the attitudes of journalists towards the public was very patronising. Also how do we measure what is quality in the way that the popularity of an article is sometimes measured by how many comments there were when the comments could be all rubbish. Claire feels it’s phenomenal how the public are stalked, but she feels ‘giving them a voice’ is patronising and some aspects of the media have lost touch with real people and should stop stalking them.

I have some gaps in my notes here, but this was quite a revealing panel debate and I’m definitely on the side of the worth of citizen journalists and as there are all sorts of citizen journalists and different levels of quality I don’t see how anyone can be so black and white about this. I’m having a bit of a giggle to myself about whether I am worthy – apologies for any rubbish bits in my reportage 😉

Oh yes, can I just point you to this a rather cool & successful example of citizen journalism online.

Panel session – skills you need to innovate – chaired by Andy Hobsbawm –

Matt Biddulph – Dopplr
Ian Worley – Flow Interactive
David Lipkin – Method Inc

Ian talked about research being about making insights. ‘Making is Thinking’ a quote from a book he is reading, atm. He feels the process of validating your research is a continual one. Research is about understanding context, about understanding perspectives and not necessarily from your point of view and be willing to change how you think about things. The subtleties of interaction.

Process of making and breaking things and continuous engagement, strategy, concept.

How do you find out how you fit into the creative landscape? Feedback loops allow you to create better work.

David Lipkin talked about the greatest challenge is working out the question that you’re trying to solve, focus on the long strands.

His top tips are:
* Keep things simple – do a couple of things really well rather than lots of things – crystallize things
* In terms of looking for innovations, often you find them in the obvious places
* Research – investigate, understand and validate
* Ideation – try to create new ideas – take everything, even seemingly bad and stoopid ideas and talk about them
* Developing design prototypes – different ways of working – proof of concept, wireframes, sketches, drawings and more

The best sites are the ones that have razor sharp focus on what is important and good and don’t get lost in technology.

Matt Biddulph started by telling how he spent 4 years at the BBC and used to be interested in methodologies, how teams worked, processes, etc. He decided to chose to work for himself and go it alone. He feels that if you have a good team it’s really hard to make them do bad work. There are 8 people at Dopplr and this makes it easy to get face-to-face creativity and focus on one product, they don’t have to respond to a strategy, but only have to answer to investors. The agile methodology works very well for them. Developers are ‘information wranglers’ and they test things for you and can point to new product possibilities. Matt told us that everyone at Dopplr is quite arrogant and argumentative and they have a flat structure at Dopplr, so they have a very social aspect to their team. They have a darwinian way of AB testing. They all have an understanding of each others skills and use this to their advantage. They have a voice – they know what they are about they can think in terms of – ‘is this something that Dopplr would do, or something Dopplr would not do?’


Had a great day, really enjoyed it – thanks for all your hard work to bring this together for us, Nico and the team:-D

Steve’s 909 stylee drum machine/sequencer prototype

A quick entry about my friend Steve’s ickwl prototype, it’s 16-step 909 style drum machine prototype – credit card size! He’s built it all from scratch in ARM and It has an analogue synth that is affected by tilt which is accelerometer controlled.

I was so impressed I asked him if I could do a little 90 second interview about it, from my geek bathroom of course 😉

Technology for mediating learning seminar, Kings College, 13th June

I’m really interested in virtual conference technology, so the seminar I went to at Kings College about the Sun Project Wonderland (toolkit for building 3D worlds) and MiRTLE was right up my street as I’d like to organise a virtual Barcamp or dorkbot. Anyways, here’s a write up of my notes from the two presentations, the first was with Bernard Horan:

When Sun Microsystems realized that only 50% of workers were in the office at any given time, they decided to do some research, this revealed an impact on motivation of their remote staff:

* with remote working you get a lack of social interaction, ie building up relationships, trust & loyalty and people get motivation from other people.

* there were management issues – it was difficult to establish what employees were doing

* difficulty brainstorming – apparently we only do this face to face

They concluded that current technology lacks social bandwidth. Sun started looking online at Second Life and World of Warcraft and how their communities and technology work together. Although it’s been a bit slow in the past, improvements in broadband, bandwidth and latency allow you to have a better shared experience.

A fascinating fact was revealed that in 2006 1 billion dollars were spent alone on acquiring objects in/for World of Warcraft.

The upshot of this was the Second Life MPK20 experiment – Sun built a campus in Second Life and exciting things started to happen, such as a guy who had his first serendipitous encounter with another person in 7 years of home working!

But there were a few drawbacks: in Second Life you can’t use your own name, you have to chose from a list of preset names, so no-one knew who was who! In the end they got round this by having a wiki page so people could find out. It turned out that social experiences in Second Life were okay in their Sun campus, but they couldn’t do any real work.

Wonderland is a virtual worlds toolkit and its goals are:
• to be emotionally salient
• have social presence
• encourage spontaneous, unplanned actions and socialising before and after events
• enhance communication between coworkers

• live approach sharing
• integration with business servers
• internal external scalability
• 100% java
• opensource
• audio as core feature
• free
• extensive telephony integration

Audio & telephony:
Lots of audio and telephony features, there was a really neat way for workers to ring into the system if they were without a PC or connection and join in – they appeared as glowing orbs – very nice!

A tutor who teaches ESOL in Second Life who was present, said she feels that what you can do in the unreality world of Second Life is what is great about virtual worlds. For example she took her remote students to see an Van Gogh paintings in art gallery set in Second Life, something that she wouldn’t be able to get her students together for in real life.

She also uses the ‘holodeck’ in Second Life which allows her to turn an environment round so that her students can appear in a virtual hotel reception and practice languages – this is another example of what she couldn’t do in real life with her students.


BTW – I haven’t quite figured out adding/embedding media in WordPress yet, so the smaller photos are of MiRTLE!

MiRTLE – funded by Sun Microsystems in an educational context, presented by Michael Gardner

MiRTLE is an opensource mixed reality teaching and learning environment.

They’re developing for several reasons, but we heard in one example that various Universities such as Shanghai Jiao Tong University, are overpopulated, ie here are not enough of them to cope with demand, so one solution is to look at online worlds, with delivery of lectures in real time.

There are lots of ways remote students can log in and lectures are broadcast over many different platforms such as the internet, IPTV, mobile phones and SMS interaction.

Shanghai Jiao Tong University has a smart classroom for holding/broadcasting the lectures.
Apparently there are certain issues with things like teachers being able to see if students are asleep and also monitoring their mobile phone use and cultural differences in attitudes to learning.

Remote learners seen in real classroom on screen as avatars, they’re using (or plan to use), audio, live video feed, PDF viewer, shared apps and sunspot. They also would like to develop more control on avatar customization, such as avatar gestures and also to create more advanced world building tools.

Some privacy issues have come up and need to be tackled
* spatial access – who can move their avatar where
* media access – who can view what
* mutable access – who can use and change virtual reality objects

Some work also needs to be done on virtual presence and emotion – they’re developing sunspot, which is a small wearable computer, which measures heart rate, etc, and maps/feeds back emotion to the group/tutor. Presently it’s taken the form of a finger clip, but they’re looking to make it into a watch or something more comfortable.

They’re using the information from sunSPOT to map data from the body to emotions and mapping learning styles to emotional stages. There is of course lots of ethical stuff to consider when using this technology, such as whether the students/users want people to know how they’re feeling – for example if they’re bored by a lecture or by someone who is talking to them!

Shanghai Jiao Tong University is looking at all this stuff in more detail and also:
* using virtual worlds to do things you can’t do in the real world
* new avatar technology so you can use photos to build very real looking avatars – they’ve nicknamed this ‘uncanny valley’ which amused me greatly!
* location detection – build maps of real life locations such as classrooms so you can sense where people are and project their avatars into place in a virtual world

Some terms came up that I’m going to look into:
* jISC habitat project
* moodle
* sloodle
* opensim – create your own server and link it to second life
* opensim grid – allows worlds to link together and jump between worlds

Exploding Narrative, ICA, 10th June

I spent an interesting night at the ICA last Tues at b.TWEEN’s ‘Exploding Narrative’ pitch evening. Sponsored by Just-b, Arts Council and HP mscapes, it featured 5 shortlisted finalists who have entered a competition to create a location based game, story or educational journey for PDA incorporating mscapestechnology. I wasn’t sure how many had entered originally, but the 5 finalists had been given £1000 to develop their ideas.

Obviously some entrants had more experience of putting pitches together and some were more nervous and awkward than others. At the end of each 5 minute pitch the panelists and audience were given the opportunity to ask questions and comment, for example about target audience’s, budget or for clarity on how the entry would work.

The ideas behind the pitches were all very different and it was indeed interesting to see/here what people had put together. I think that all of the pitches had at least a couple of elements that could be developed further, though I thought more clarity was needed on how they fitted into the background technology and the overall user experience and journey.

What happens next is that the entrants take note of the questions, comments and suggestions from the panel and audience and fine tune their pitches for the final at the b.TWEEN08 conference in Sheffield on the 18-20th June. The conference is being webcast, so if you want to find out more see their site.

I must add that I had a fab time at the drinks party afterwards catching up with friends who I haven’t seen for yonks and making new friends. It was really good to speak to some of the competition entrants in person and fill in some of the gaps that didn’t get across in a 5 minute pitch. I also had a demo of the mscapes software from Ben Dalton, who had made a mini GPS location tour of the area just outside the ICA.

BarcampNorthEast, Newcastle

I had a fabulous time at BarcampNorthEast. It was quite a small gathering, which allowed everyone to meet and get to know each other. The hosts had bagged a lovely venue, The Art Works Gallery, just out of the centre of Newcastle – they had also thoughtfully been shopping for lots of food, drink and snacks for those attending. Here are a few snippets of what I saw and heard…

I had fun watching Ian Forrester give a demo of Diablo and patiently guide those watching who volunteered to have a go.

Cathy Ma gave us talk into the inner workings of Wikipedia. Jure came from Slovenia and gave a talk on issues around gender and identity terminology on social network sites. Tom Scott told us about pineapples, pirates, how to spoof a government site and awesome ratios.

I heard how Oli had taken a Wiimote and together with an arduino had made a light theramin. Afterwards I nipped over to another area to hear Aubrey de Grey tell us in entertaining fashion about the TED Commandments or ‘how to be a heretic’.

The TED Commandments or \'How to be a Heretic\'

Later in the day Tara Hunt asked us to think about Mind Hacks – what tricks and rituals we used regularly to help us get through life. This was followed by a thoughtful discussion started by Emma Persky and Ian Forrester around gender issues and geeking.

After a lovely BBQ supper, which was great because there were two separate grills – one for the meaters and one for the veggies, there were cocktails and Ian held an impromptu mixing session on his Pacemaker. We stayed up till after 3am playing two epic games of Werewolf!

Somehow I managed to sleep on the floor of the gallery with the paintings hanging like stars above. In the morning we were all up quite early, in fact I think I was up latest at 9.30am.

I munched my cereal as the first talks began. I listened to Ian Forrester’s demo of the Pacemaker music mixer, Emma Persky told us stories of her travels, Cathy Ma a story on ancient wisdom and Piers Cawley sang us a song about his youth!

All too soon the guardians wanted their gallery back, so after some tidying up, we left for the outside full of bright sunshine and went for lunch at a local restaurant. Suddenly, it was time to leave lovely Newcastle and come back to London, I mused about the fabulous time I’d had on the train whilst uploading my photos, the weather turned dour and sadly grey on the way.