My name is Ale Fernandez. I live in Barcelona, Spain and I'm Chilean and Italian.
I am a web developer, artist and technical researcher.
I've lived in Scotland, Italy, Spain and England and career-wise I am interested in distributed systems and their applications to improvised performance and ecology.

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7/25/2008

Big Cafe on Transport Sustainability


About a month ago, I went to the "Big Cafe for Transport" event that was happening just around the corner from my house at the brilliant new "Co-Exist" sustainability business centre. Coexist run as a CIC and are just about to launch with a plan to open up green community and event spaces, funded in turn by work and business spaces. I really hope that means a market in stokes croft!


After I attended, I'd promised everyone I'd write up about it, and promptly left it as a nagging thing in the background as life took over. But now the official write up of the event has been published so I thought I should finish the abortive blog post I made that same night. A disclaimer: I'm allowed to make mistakes here, so if I've written anything wrong or stupid, please correct me!


A big cafe costs 20 pounds to attend. It started really early on a Saturday morning (thus excluding the entire population of Stokes Croft), but it included a lunch (from Kukuva Cafe across the road, locally sourced or at least in aid of justice, according to their vision). It didn't have to be so expensive though: 10 pounds for students, or 15 or 5(?) if you didn't want the lunch. You get to talk to all kinds of people invited from all over the place. So, for whatever misgivings I might have with the makeup of the people in the room and with how representative we were of the people affected by transport in Bristol, it was quite cool and very well intentioned.


Yes, misgivings, because there were too many green minded people there:


  • How come no-one brought up road tax (as mentioned that week in the venue mag as a pressing point for car drivers - in their view it should apply to cyclists as well), or even the issue itself of road maintenance?

  • How come when the idea was formed to "ban front door paving", it got a huge ovation across the room and was included in the summary poster? I just thought that kind of thing just creates opposition and disagreement, but there was no voice there to say that.



Oh well, I guess it was supposed to be a very green gathering. I hope there's more effort to bring in different kinds of people in future though - if the outcome can affect real movings of money around Bristol, then it's consultative in nature, and should try and reach out to as many groups and individuals as possible. Web postings are not really an inclusive way for people to express their opinions if they're not comfortable with technology in the first place, and city centre "sustainable" events will not attract all kinds of people in this diverse city.



Fortunately, Transition Bristol is offering free training in "involving hard to reach groups in environmental projects".


I was interested to find lots of opposition on the other hand, from some people, some of whom had been active in politics for a while, even one from the green party, to the idea that transport plans should involve a shift to a locally oriented society. This is the kind of set-up where travel is assumed to be slow, so everything fun or fresh has to be made and used where you live, although this hopefully includes local specialisation and exchanges between localities and globally as well. It's hard to step beyond cycle lanes and think about the whole picture, but I'd have thought a green vision no matter what the party should involve re-localisation, and should be considered holistically with respect to the various threats that we face and the many solutions we can apply to them (fuel, population, water, food, nuclear, climate and counting!).


There have been a few big cafe events so far, starting I think at the beginning of the year. There's been a bit of chatter about this already, but the chair, Vala - who has the controversial title of Professor of Sustainability came across very well. The format of the big cafe events is as follows: You debate some big questions - suitably vague so as to further the gathering of ideas, and then these get written up a summaries. Here are the summaries from this session:









(sorry about that first one, I played with it to try and get it brighter, but now it looks like it's been through nuclear fallout)


When I arrived there, late of course, David Bishop, transport geezer for the city council was talking:


He said we can't invest in train stations because of the infrastructure costs. The same reason seemed to rule out trams, which were community architect Keith Hallet's favoured investment of our money. He says they can be the golden ticket that makes Bristol a wonderful city - they certainly used to be.. (shit link alert - turn popups off!).


The bus routes on the other hand, needed to be like an overground subway network- like the London one. A distant flag waves for First if so, although they have redeemed themselves a bit train-wise with their expansion and publicity of the Severn Beach line - a line whose other name may as well be Easton-Clifton line. Still, I decided to stop taking buses so much, since the day a driver gave me a 2p change ticket that could only be redeemed in one little office in the city centre. Since then my bike has gotten more and more creaky, and my bus rides a lot more peaceful.


On the other hand, David conceded, the bus service is currently unacceptably bad and expensive. It was good to hear a few mentions of peak oil too, although he seemed to think we're not there yet. He spoke about a proposed Rapid transit network whose posters I think were on the wall behind us - I'm sure they'll be easy to find...


We are Smart wireless urban people, he went on. We need real time info, linked, integrated.
The vision for the next 30 years is to get to this integrated transport network.


I was very sad to hear him mention this same old growth agenda - proposed by some now disgraced politician from Blair's old cabinet, of 30,000 homes to be built in the next however many years. Why does this have to be the basis for the transport strategy? It's completely unsustainable. We've proven already not to have the water in the UK for such a development, and empty houses sit unmended, empty shops unused opposite our fancy cafe chats, and both awareness of climate change and of the credit crunch has seriously changed the situation since then. Already I think groups like artspace/lifespace, with their very elegant post-squatting, are a very attractive proposition of short term living and working possibilities. Also their stay deals with that painful issue of the recent empty buildings tax by creating temporary spaces like the Pro Cathedral, whilst attracting people to that building as an arts venue.



Anyway, back to Mr Bishop: He concluded by saying the council is not good at changing it's plans based on new opinions or information, but this is changing. It is starting to listen more and it is learning to communicate better.


Next up, Vala with some examples of good and climate helping transport systems from cities around the world. These have been shown quite clearly in the official write-up.

Then she introduced world cafe format, which I spoke about above, and she introduced the big 4 questions that were to form the rest of our day:



  1. if you had a bottomless pit of money to spend on Bristol's transport system, how would we travel around the city in 10 years time?

  2. What examples of better transport systems can we draw from the rest of the world or history?


  3. What would you enable you personally to make greener choices in bristol for transport.

  4. How do we encourage better use of and attitudes towards sustainable transport?

I'll stop now as this is getting long, but one last thing always gets me: I had the fortune that day to sit next to councilors, council staff and other people involved in local politics, and for all their hard work and merits, what gets me is always the institutionalised, bitchy, childish infighting between political parties. I call it infighting although it crosses parties, because together they, as a group, suggest, plan and carry out changes that affect us. We pay them to do this, so I really hate seeing time and time again how we pay for them to do tit for tat politics, complaining when someone else embraces their ideas if they are from another party or destroying good initiatives for the same reasons, insulting each other, and the whole competitive side of politics. A bit of competition is good, but fairly balanced with co-operation.


If the sustainable communities bill means we're going to see what the balance books are and be shown how they work, my first question will be how much of that money is spent in this kind of faffing, and how can we change it so local government can have a neutral forum to express their views and work together too.


Maybe they need a weekend cafe as well...

7/14/2008

Local Economy Management System



Today I did lots of healthy, useful things*, while the news around us is that we are in a recession, a very quick and serious one, and not just as a country but as a globalised western world. What this has led to is exemplified really nicely by the great Big Issue headline that came out a while back "The answer to the food crisis - Grow your own!" - and in general people are rushing to get more and more into planting and cycling and generally into more sustainable lives as they see this is probably the best time to do it - even if this is just a mini bust due to speculation.


And when I read an article in the weekend paper about a poor freelance journalist wishing he had studied engineering as a backup trade - and now impoverished by the credit crunch, I was inspired to expand freecycle and other stuff like that into an online community task/project/exchange coordination system, that could fall back into wireless if there was no main internet.


That's what I've been thinking about since: how to create an open source management system for localised urban economies to exchange, buy, give resources and skills, and organise those exchanges into tasks. But of course it's only about 30% a web application - the rest of it is hard work and face to face trading, discussion and agreements between the people involved, and ways to ensure people without computers don't get excluded and in fact are encouraged to use it.


But this didn't just come out of nowhere: I've recently become one of the webmasters for Transition Bristol. I was chatting about this last week with a friend who is stuck in his house with ME and lots of family heirlooms and clutter, which really get him down. One bit of this clutter is a very nice collection of ecologically oriented books. So we thought - let's start a distributed library for Transition Easton - so just in that part of town, for local people to be able to share say, a lawnmower or a book. So I suggested it to Zoe who is one of the people running Transition Easton - and in doing that I researched all the other exchange systems that have come and gone in Bristol already:


Existing local and UK DIY stuff:

  1. freeconomy - marc boyle of BBC walk-to-india fame implementing his free economy idea - a completely gift based system.

  2. feral trade, an even fairer than fair international trade system where transport happens via DIY trade routes, organisation by SMS and emails, and selling home made Cube Cola, coffee, and now even grappa and antidepressants.
  3. Diss Free eXchange. Part of the Norfolk based Diss community system. Gary Alexander, the author of this plone based system, is currently working on a new version, so it's something I'm going to propose to my colleagues at work, since they all work on plone as well.
  4. Bigger things: ebay, freecycle, gumtree. (I know that freecycle is getting a second version written quite soon - to have a web interface replacing the yahoo groups).
  5. Older/less IT based things: BEETS, LETS and the farmer's market!

Larger versions: many existing open source systems have very similar requirements to what I feel a local economy manager would need: The typical version control software used for programming with open source, issue trackers for reporting software bugs, project planning software and team/groupware have basically all the functionality needed. Also they're written in convenient languages allowing a new project to have a peek or even lift functions to get the same things done - some (like the version control software Bazaar) are distributed systems. This is good because they'll not need a central server, but will be made up of all the individual little computers running it. Moodle also has similar capabilities.


Most importantly - It would aspire to the lofty goal of being a "Moodle for communities". A free, open source, world wide project which could then be used by lots of different groups on a local basis. From speaking to Gary Alexander (who wrote the Norfolk based Diss exchange system) , I know there's a systems philosophy called VSM that can be used to inform the development of this, as well as of course the participative and self organising aspects of Web 2.0, permaculture as a design science rather than strictly for gardens, and finally Participatory Economics(or Parecon) - an underused field that I don't believe has an implementation but which I find a good basis. The wikipedia article on population mentions this as possibly the only system that could allow economies to continue functioning at the scale we are at now, without involving a huge die-off (or a war) first.



The first simple thing that Parecon gives is that for example on a web page about a particular transaction, anyone would be able to have their say on it - like "you can't buy those eggs, we need them here at the cafe" or "Oh and can I have the egg shells? I use the powder for my bone disease" etc - which would be a very web 2.0 way to buy and sell, and would make the experience of trade into more of an ecosystem.


The first great thing about VSM on the other hand, is that I was actually born into it! It was only ever implemented on a national scale in Chile during Allende's rule. So there's something wonderful about all this!





Here are some of my notes on this(written on the laptop while gardening, out of range of any internet):


Database-wise it would need tables for people, items, projects/interest groups and actions, a plug-in system for extensions and integrations (like with feral trade for international commerce), a strong wifi-mesh enabled back end allowing stronger traffic with wifi networks running same software. And lots of ways of exchanging resources as a community.



All the systems need no more than a way to profile an item - this could be an idea or an instruction, a bit like an issue in a request tracking system or in a project management system.



The system needed is a stripped down, simple to use and expandible(plugin based) way to


buy/sell

Exchange: offer/"take"/advertise/ask for

Exchange indirectly using internal system (timebank extension plugin fits here, as do many others).

So allowing for exchanges - it becomes like a marketplace of skills and resources, products and deliveries.

A funded programme might pay for bikes, lessons and legal system for teenage kids to be able to deliver items in return for meals, food, items, services, training etc, but also money. 2 quid for a delivery is not much to ask, and economy of scale means lots of little things can be delivered (eg flyers).

Also it should allow for the complex elements involved in organising a more extended project requiring stages of production - it would also have inputs and outputs, and tasks allowing for their organisation in a decentralised way - a tasks wiki.


It shouldn't tell you what to do with it, but allow lots of generic options. So this system is like a programmer's CVS of the 90s. It's a first stage towards a programmed economic/exchange system for a community.


So for example a chicken coop: You

  1. post an idea,
  2. people subscribe to it,
  3. you get meetings together and depending on what's agreed, for
    example:
  4. you organise flyering,
  5. you put out ads for coop materials or existing coops,
    for incubators (or raise cash for this and other care items /tools).
  6. You ask for space for grazing.
  7. Eggs, compost, weed and parasite pecking given in return.
  8. Needs transport system as well.
  9. Needs at least 2 hosting people with working enclosures to get started.


Could this run via a wireless protocol? querying wifi networks findable via the computer, as well as geolocated network via p2p to connect and offer a node of info each, each page looking like a facebook of tasks and ideas, and such that if the main internet is lost, it can still function via wifi/bluetooth/sms




* Healthy things I did that sunday (from above): I planted lots of recycled potatoes in the garden, hoping they'll come up in a clump (but I think I should have put some mushroom and fungus poison on them first), and I bought an SWC. It will have basil, cucumber, tomato and an assortment of other things like green beans for nitrogen. I learnt a bit about companion plants and germinating seeds rather than planting direct. I might look in ebay for other seeds of nice herbs... Also I cycled off to see a friend, did some exercises, figured out a compost-food recycling system for my house which now needs black magic marker penned instructions as to what goes where. I invented, on a proverbial napkin, the concepts of


  1. a water or smoke powered musical box, set into a victorian fireplace wall and using the rising smoke to turn it, or with little paddles, linked to a flow of water.
  2. a bike powered seed planter with pneumatic seed laying spokes and solar panels to play music as you pedal.

And I called an electricity company for a quote to do my house up with solar panels. Nice lazy sunday.

5/27/2008

The state of Fluxus, Day 1



This weekend I went back to what I did a few months back, and went down to the Tate Modern all the way from Bristol, to play (very little) crazy music and perform in front of loads of people in London.


Last time we were on Millennium Bridge, which (to explain for the non-londoner) is a very narrow bridge which gets swamped around 4pm on a Friday afternoon, by commuters going both ways. We were there lined up with loads of loud and eccentric instruments, in t-shirts and responding to a conductor, and to an orchestra by the Tate, and a boat with lots of improvising musicians (Evan Parker included, who is now coming to the Cube Cinema in June) playing samples of maritime, Thames noises - boats, seagulls, and some of the most complicated classical as well as improvised and participatory music that was a beautiful tribute to that space.





This time for us performers it was a 4 day experience - 2 days rehearsal, and 2 of performance, with some of the surviving masters of the Fluxus time, still around performing and writing material, as of course more famous people like Yoko Ono do. We performed from Alison Knowles' fantastic repertoire - including the really colourful and beautifully simple "Make a Salad" piece, and the really funny and proto-improv Newspaper Music. There was also loads of other work by other Flux performers, including a first realisation of the FluxOlympiad - an incredibly accessible way to get kids into experimental arts - "A gateway drug to Rembrandt" as baptised by our great deliverer of the most wonderful lecture in Fluxus, Simon (whose surname I forget, but he's a university professor specialising in this movement's history in the US).


Through this lecture and then through many memories and explanations given by Simon, Sara Seagull and Alison Knowles through this intensely arty weekend, I got to see a lot more of the history of Fluxus than is possible through a quick read of Wikipedia the night before the first rehearsal. Firstly the controversy of Fluxus's life-span, which for some starts with John Cage's Experimental Composition class, and ends with George Maciunas' death in 78, but for all the fluxus people present, was still very much alive and well, as we saw with the performances. What you can say though is that the network of artists who performed Fluxus was described in the past tense, in the exhibition that accompanied our performances at the Tate. Some of the later newspapers had a very Creative Commons-like copyright - anyone is authorised to perform any fluxus Event Score whenever they want, provided they use the names they stated, and if it's most of the event, it has to have the name they provide - in this case the FluxOlympiad, or a FluxFest or many other FluxEverythings from audience participation pieces, to distorted musical performances, or even video, hospitals and toilets in Fluxus style. This is a beautiful spirit, and the participatory element combined with the multimedia element, synaesthesia and the beginnings of improvised or loosely structured experimental artistic practices, as well as the DIY element, which have filtered through from the Fluxus hayday that mesmerised a young John Lennon, but seem to have gotten to today having forgotten their lovely playful origins.


It was very interesting to see the rejection our Fluxus initiators had for the internet - it's always easier for our younger generation to think technology has to be involved in artistic practice but as one performer said, shunning technology becomes a choice, now that it's so ubiquitous. No digital divide to straddle, more imagination needed to get to the same destination. And that aspect was refreshing, although a Fluxus facebook group is now hopefully to be created, and maybe it will only be through this technology that we will now assist in a re-birth of practice in the UK - at least if I can have my way and do a performance at the Cube Cinema...


The pieces were so accessible because they were tiny, some carried out in seconds, like the famous squeaky-toy-into-cymbals piece "C/T Trace", while others needed more time, like the Yoko Ono piece "Sky piece for Jesus", but were incredibly fun to perform and somehow symbolic and spiritual to carry out -we had to wrap up a string quartet in gauze and lead them away with care, like critically injured patients. In another piece we had to scratch our fingers down a small black board, or in another, bang our heads against the wall. So the beginnings of the "pain" aspect so famously put forward by people like Franco B - which Sara summed up wonderfully - "if there's so much pain in the world, what's the value as a privileged western artist in hurting yourself?" - are also to be found in Fluxus. That's terribly misquoted though, a flash of a memory in the middle of a very excited evening lounging in the Tate Modern's staff cafe after the first performance and talking about what went wrong and right. Also the pieces are accessible because they are available to all to perform, although I'd agree they wouldn't make much sense if you didn't get it, or get to share some of the original spirit.




The salad was a wonderful part of it all. It really used our senses, without resorting to video or high art concepts - Alison (and a team of cooks) just cut vegetables and made a lovely (if a bit gritty) salad for all the audience to consume. She made it on top of the turbine hall, in a long 10 minutes with all of them hidden up there cutting them up, but with the knives miked up so we could hear interminable chopping. And then our sight was first to see the spectacle of food, now so scarce in the world - flying greens, reds, purples, liquids and solids, some falling light as feathers, others heavy and squirting bits all over us poor performers - who in this piece had to hold the tarpaulin and toss the salad, and for this had our name written on the wall of the Tate. And then finally it was stirred with rakes and spades, and served on paper plates, and it tasted great! Also because I was a bit skint, it was even better to be fused with art in a culinary way...

5/12/2008

Eduserv Symposium 2008

I came to attend this symposium out of the blue, having seen an email late one Wednesday afternoon, saying our assistant director was too ill to go, and after a quick look at the programme, I realised it was a follow-up to an event I'd seen on video a while back where an entire conference on Second Life had been trashed by a talk which had argued it was all pretty much useless hype. So if this year's presentations were going to be in that vein, it sounded like like a fun time.


This being a web 2 conference, lots of it was used, including a live chat backchannel ( http://www.eduserv.org.uk/foundation/symposium/2008/livechat powered by cover it live streaming software:http://www.coveritlive.com/ ), a ning based conference centred social networking site (which as expected didn't achieve critical mass but was a nice feature all the same), and of course lots lots more.


Eduserv's Andy Powell started the day talking about these "Disruptive technologies" we know so well. Looking across the room, it seemed a-bleep with mobile phones, laptops and all kinds of hybrid gadgets twittering and SL-ing and all kinds of SN/Web 2.0-ing as he spoke.


"Please turn your phones off as it interferes with the equipment in the room, unless you're twittering or blogging from it"


This was the digerati of UK HE in the room (from which a colleague had minutes before noted the conspicuous absence of any HEA top brass), and it was a bit negative to hear all these references to the "disruption" caused by the uptake of web 2.0 in HE and all this focus on how to "control" it. But later on it surfaced that I wasn't the only one who thought a more positive terminology (like "Emerging Technologies") would be more conducive to positive adoption on campus or even just to an understanding of the real strengths and limitations of these tools. Another good reason to have a chat back channel - all these slightly controversial thoughts tend to get put forward there easily, while I guess people are a bit more shy of doing it live in Q&A.


Larry Johnson:


Larry presented using Second Life as an embellished Power Point, with his avatar walking through a virtual exhibition of photos of his grandparents and of various turn-of-century discoveries, followed by lists of all the technological revolutions that that generation had to deal with. He compared that with the current IT situation, from the beginning of the personal computer and Internet, to now, and noted that in comparative terms we haven't even got from the Gutenberg press to Martin Luther - any real revolution to come from this has still to come. Another difference between that generation and this one is that the focus has shifted from using technology to free up time - we have no such illusions today. My lack of a pen at that point limits my recollection now, but there were some areas that the Horizon report had identified as the main areas of growth and change for the education community:


  • the arrival of grassroots video as a teaching tool and increased pressure in HE institutions to deliver video storage/distribution/collaboration.
  • Collaboration Webs - using tools like google docs or other simple online tools requiring just a modern computer and web browser.
  • Mash-ups - old news but now getting more mainstream with the increasing availability of data.
  • Social OS - the next step in social networking is a focus on the individual rather than on content in all aspects of software.


In my opinion these blue sky previsions don't tend to take into account the more global state of the world today, the economic downturn and it's effects on the world for example, so Dr Johnson's talk seemed a bit limited in that respect, and when cornered (by me) later over coffee, he seemed dismissive of the effects of global warming and possible legislation changes on data centre energy usage as well as changes due to price increases and how the digital divide would affect the future he envisaged. The horizon report can be found at http://www.nmc.org/horizon


Bobbie Johnson: The guardian and Web 2.0
http://www.slideshare.net/tag/efsym2008


This was the most useless talk of the symposium. I think the inclusion of two large media agencies was a mistake, and we could have done with half that presence replaced by someone from another business sector, from a student or from some other piece of the picture. Here are my notes anyway:


The Guardian was founded as the Manchester Guardian in 1821. The paper's format and structure didn't change until the early 50s with the addition of photography. At all times the core values of social justice, freedom of thought and religion and social reform have been at the forefront of the decisions they have made as an organisation. Johnson spoke at length on the history of this newspaper on that basis, and the various owners and trusts that formed through the years.


The website appeared in 1996. Very embarrassing. By 2007 the director told his staff at the All Hands meeting - "We are now a digital operation which makes printed stuff on the side". So radical change is very recent.


He then showed us a front page scan from a couple of years ago. Very few things came from web 2.0 specifically (although you could say that all the user generated content was in some way reflective of the new notion of the web as a 2 way consumption/production medium).


Then he showed a very nice blog aggregate page (in his words a "Superblog"): http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/index.html - probably one to emulate when doing a university-wide blogging service, although I suspect it's very well edited, so there's an extra bit of effort than just getting people to write good blogs.


The Guardian site has gone from Closed/Subscription based to free access, and as a company they have gone from content provider to content platform.


I closed my notes with a poem:


Did photography create surrealism in art?

The digerati thumb their phones

a blue glare reflects on their faces

Information hiding ignorance

Geoffrey Bilder: Sausages, coffee, chickens and the web: Establishing new trust metrics for scholarly communication


A very interesting and clued-up talk on trust issues and the web. Personally I would have defined these as filtering issues, but it still makes sense either way: the web is awash with information and it's not rated, so you can waste huge amounts of time surfing it, and never can be sure of the quality of what you read, whereas traditional media has inbuilt filtering - due to the physical and commercial limits of just publishing everything like the web does.


Bilder's talk examined amongst other things the reason why the tilde (~) is non-trustworthy - (Spoiler alert!) - because it denotes a URL for a home directory - i.e. not official information but contained in a personal home page. But to a regular non-techy this isn't obvious, and the same is true for the various web 2 enabled sites. It's hard to assess trust. The path followed by any new technology depends on all these issues, and trust is crucial to it's adoption. It usually goes like this:


  1. A techno-information power base invents a new technology (eg, the blogging community circa 1996)

  2. Publicity/Hype follows
  3. The masses take up this technology
  4. Breakdown: the hype doesn't live up to it. (eg: people discover most blogs are abandoned in a few weeks).
  5. Filtering systems are created. (eg: technorati)


In this way Bilder made a clear connection between the trust exuded by traditional publishing media via it's implicit filtering system ("wow - they're going to publish my book" = "it passed the filter").



He then talked about the first filtering systems put together on early web logs: the slashdot.org karma points system put together to reduce the incredibly high volume of comments they were dealing with daily, and which was reducing the overall value of the site - high points (awarded via good behaviour on the site) made you a temporary comment moderator, and in turn your moderations would be moderated by other high karma scorers, thus drastically improving the quality of post comments if you opted to raise your filter level.


Other early systems of peer-based filtering were Ebay's focus on user trust and ratings and Google's siterank system. These trust metrics were key to the success of these sites.


Chatting later to Debra, she agreed that self filtering systems are probably the way forward. The slightly depressing outcome of Bilder's talk was the idea that in the same way that traditional media has been supplanted in a way by the web, and as medieval scribes were made redundant Gutenberg press, so quality controlled on-line resource collections like Intute are endangered by this, because they apply a "centralised" filtering/trust system, which an automated web 2 enabled peer review system might do just as well.


The questions and on-line comments were very interesting, and it was a shame there was no time to answer or discuss at length. One insight from here was the way people's perception of their personal profile (as used on SN sites) as increasingly personal - something that should be owned and held by the individual and released/sold only to trusted parties of interest to the individual. Bilder agreed that this is probably the way things will be in future.



And then we went for lunch. Many a picture was flickrd of the curiously purple tray of summer desserts.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/dmje/2475205817/ (more photos at
http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/efsym2008/ - and the efsym2008 tag worked quite well as a way to tag across slideshare, flickr, delicious etc)


Also during lunch I bumped into Torsten Reimer of the now semi-defunct AHRC Methods Network. He sadly told me of the serious lack of funds that this kind of initiative suffers from. They have a little money for small projects, but not enough for anything bigger as a result of these, or for any radical strategic changes, so the MN is not viable at the moment.


BBC:
This was similar to the guardian talk in it's irrelevance for me, but of the two I'd have kept this one, more witty and a lot more insight into the future: the speaker showed us the evolution of BBC content up to it's inclusion today on other websites: on the Sun, the Guardian's sites, and the communities formed around programs that the BBC had produced, but that were taking place outside of the BBC's websites.


So does it matter to the Beeb that their competitors are taking the content that 25% of their income is spent on (the online side) and making community out of them? This is the "globalisation" problem of web 2.0, and a hard decision for the Beeb, but they currently allow it. Possibly because their core principle is that they are a brand: Their charted doesn't specify they have to make programmes on TV: they just have to entertain, educate, inform.


Chris Adie:


First of all, the document circulated prior to the Symposium ( http://www.vp.is.ed.ac.uk/content/1/c4/12/45/GuidelinesForUsingExternalWeb2.0Services-20070823.pdf
) is a great first step towards regulations/guidelines/policies that help an academic institution deal with the issues that come up with the increasing adoption of Web 2 technologies.


In ID's case, the problem (for me) is the possibility of us hosting a university wide blogging service. A service like this would need us to first revise guidelines in many ways, even if the decision is to allow people to just use external services (we are still liable and there are still risks even if this is the case).


Another problem with external services is the credit crunch: what happens when your service goes bust, closes, shifts in focus, loses critical mass, starts charging or switches to paid registration?


From the chat: here are the BBC's guidelines on SN/Web 2 use: http://www.bbc.co.uk/guidelines/editorialguidelines/advice/personalweb/index.shtml


Also in the chat, the point was made that some of the social networking sites might be more resilient than public services - for example the ill fated AHDS - what will upcoming UK elections mean for any online services we may be using now?


Some of what he said I found to be a bit unbalanced along the lines of that chat comment: he said for example that information might be more at risk of unauthorised use, unscheduled maintenance etc - but these are also risks within an institution if their internal policies or technical systems aren't up to scratch - and if the government can lose huge amounts of public data, I am sure Higher Ed can catch up.


Also I'm a bit concerned with the paper's implicit position on Intellectual Property rights. It is true that not all info should be given away immediately, and that a lot of grant money depends on ideas being kept safely under wraps, even in academia, but a university legal dept should be up to speed on the GPL and CC licenses, and be able to advise what is personal and what is owned by the institution depending on who you are, the nature of the work/data and in what capacity you work for it. Any other sharing should be facilitated by universities by their embracing of web 2.0 related speedy transfer of knowledge (such as twitter/facebook).


Apart from these doubts though - this is the first clear and broad paper trying to put together the first academic guidelines on risks and implications of using SN and Web 2 technologies, and he is aware it's just a draft and needs input from others.


Afterwards I asked Chris how we can feed back to him about his paper. He said he's in the process of making it into a wiki, but that at present comments are open, and we can feed back that way.


David Harrison: A Modern Work Environment at Cardiff U: http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/insrv/futures/mwe/index.html


http://diharrison.wordpress.com/2008/05/10/reflections-upon-efsym2008/


Dr Harrison startled us all with a very advanced web manager's view on how to run all the IT services within Cardiff University whilst still leaving space for SN/Web 2 technologies to be adopted strongly and used by their staff.


The presentation had lots of diagrams which I can't really explain well in written form, but here goes: The core (read "boring") services like calendars, request trackers, sick forms, finance software are at the centre of the picture, around which sit the managed research and learning environments, and around these, are the VLE/VRE. Anything else around this circle includes twitter and friends. Somehow this made much more sense with his slides though so I should stop there..


My main notes were that he had Cardiff's VC supporting all the way through, attending all the meetings and pushing things forward. We can't count on the same support at Bristol Uni, with Eric Thomas being much less available and not known to be particularly tech-friendly.


He also said that innovation, real discovery isn't particularly widespread in universities. The kind of innovation they see more and need is where existing innovation is brought into the university or across faculties and departments. This is a brilliant potential benefit of Web 2.0 - facilitating communication between people who wouldn't normally talk to each other, and giving them ways to disseminate that and value it.


More discussion of this at
http://blog.newport.ac.uk/blogs/michael/archive/2008/05/09/32921.aspx - another staff member involved in their MWE blog that mentions this presentation (I'm afraid I only scanned through this first time I looked... It's mostly on the media presentations).


Grainne's Presentation was the only one that really went into how web 2.0 actually affects pedagogy within academia. It was also interesting because I joined ILRT after she had left, and this was my first chance to see her after hearing so much about her. Fortunately she's already put it online: http://e4innovation.com/?p=198 - so I can skip talking about it since this post has gone on far too long now!

4/22/2008

A letter to the times.

Sir,


Melanie Reid's article "I don't want to live in a scratchy world of hemp
lingerie" made me reach straight for a pen to reply (this email is a
transcription of that, you see), with many references to women's
impending return to a boring dark age devoid of skiing, exotic food and
sleek accessory porn, forced by "eco-purists" to go back to sewing
buttons, wearing rags and to the absolute unhappiness of the world that
preceded household appliances.


I'm sorry for Melanie, but these are in themselves dark times, in which
our senses and ability to experience emotion are dulled by the intensity
of the world around us, where any exotic meal, place or piece of
information is seemingly at our fingertips, or as Daisaku Ikeda, the
Japanese Buddhist philosopher puts it, "This imbalance takes the form of
a dulling of our natural responsiveness to life and the realities of
daily living". And I believe this dulling has in many ways been brought
about by the rationalist, and very masculine nature of the past
century.


All the things Ms Reid lists as disappearing in a world run by her "eco
purists" will remain in some form. Her list of joys under threat of
extinction seem to be precisely the things enjoyed by an upper middle
class in a prosperous society like the UKs, as many of them are not
available to anyone below the poverty line. She will not tell me that
the coming age will eradicate poverty for example, lovely though that
thought might be, there will still be extreme divisions between the rich
and poor. Perhaps in a booming economy like China's those things will be
around more, so maybe she should practice her mandarin? But they are not
the preserve of the un-ecologically minded.


I believe as a Buddhist myself, that it's not "things" in themselves
that make one happy - anything in life can be a burden or a joy. It's
your relationship to these things that can excite and enliven. And this
is the same with Reid's relationship to the world and it's current
situation - should her opinion of eco-nazi's change for the better, her
excitement should follow.


Ms Reid is not without fault though, in criticising eco-do-gooders who
pride themselves in alienating others. Like monks who wear masks so as
not to kill microbes and then act violently towards those of other
faiths, these people are living in some kind of imaginary world where
they are devoid of their share of negative states of mind, or in this
case, of the capacity to push away others, who they should instead be
trying to engage in dialogue with. This is the spirit in which I write
this letter. The future will not be as exciting without Melanie Reid's
input!


But what I'd like to repeat, as many times as necessary, is that whether
you believe society will collapse due to climate change and fuel
depletion, or that this is just a passing fad, this is what we should be
doing anyway: connecting with nature, acting as a builder - not just a
consumer of the valuable things around us, not being greedy, talking to
other people more. Because the world is changing, like it or not, and it
doesn't have to be boring and lifeless.


Here in Bristol for example, fashion designer Viva Cazeaux
(http://www.retrio.co.uk/) creates beautiful, (possibly exciting?)
upmarket clothing made using recycled materials of all kinds. In
Birmingham, the recent renewal of the canal side area has helped bring
back the beauty of inner city travel by boat, for leisure or work. Hemp
itself can be woven in many ways and doesn't have to resemble potato
sacks. From a place like The Urban Shop (http://www.theurbanshop.co.uk)
you can buy a stylish, organic hemp men's t-shirt - hemp is expensive
and heavy because it's not freely grown in this country, but that was
not the case years ago and many styles of clothing can be made from it.


I can't really speak for women, and I'm sure they can speak for
themselves, but returning to the words of Ikeda, in his 2003 peace
proposal presented to the United Nations -


"We need to restore our sensitivity to life itself, our palpable
awareness of the realities of daily living; and here, I believe, women
have an especially important role to play. I have for some time
expressed my view that the twenty-first century must be a century of
women."


http://www.sgi.org/about/president/works/proposals/2003sum.html


I certainly would not be as confident as I am now in the exciting beauty
of our future had it not been for the many many modern, sophisticated
women who introduced me to these issues, and who through these past few
years since I became aware of them, have worked harder than I ever could
in so many ways for local, down to earth and intelligent ways to make
that reality happen.



Alejandro Fernandez, Bristol

4/06/2008

3 books for Bristol

Yesterday I went to the shops, in a desperate last push to get some new curtains, the inner liner white £1-a-metre ones that people put in a drawer when they move in somewhere, and then put back when they move out. And mine were all mouldy... Bleah! Anyway, I stopped in Waterstones for ages and bought 3 books: Clay Shirky's "Here comes everybody", Noam Chomsky's "What we say goes"(hope I don't get in trouble for linking to a torrent, but they're interviews, and that link will give you the full original audio for them) and Rob Hopkins' Transition Handbook.


All these purchases were devoted to my quest for finding a way for the re-use and investment in technology to become a strong part of the Transitionista's vision. I think we've got loads of equipment these days that we can recycle and make use of for a long time, and if we all have generators or solar panels, some of that charge can be spent on the laptop... So no matter how stupidly apocalyptic the future is going to be, there has to be a place for robot overlords or it just won't be fitting.



I also think - due to Clay Shirky's many videos from recent boing boing entries, and from his book, there is a big problem with adoption of technology and engineering skills required to maintain it, and the transition movement: there's a cultural gap between the people who use this technology more readily - instant messengers, Skype, social networking sites etc - and other people who can't or don't want to for various reasons be as acquainted. But on the other hand, these are tools which allow a huge change in the way things are working, and this is evident even locally, where the Railway Path's celebration last week brought together 1500 people via mostly online word of mouth (lots of last minute problems with flyers) and where the council meeting had the most people attending that the mayor had ever seen in all his time there. He thought maybe we'd come to wish him goodbye, as it was his last meeting. The meeting was also different because it was webcast, it resulted in a video statement on the planned transport route by Mark Bradshaw, and because there was a lot of correspondence, mostly in public view, since the meeting, between residents condemning the labour backroom anti-green pro-consumerism deal - this after many labour councillors had marched with railway path lovers just a day earlier. I doubt there is any other organising power than that which technology provides, that's able to ensure communication and organisation between disparate communities, dealing increasingly with all manner of public and private, local, national and international entities around them, who have historically been more organised than the individual.



The transition handbook and it's corresponding movement of transition towns - local initiatives to guide a small geographic population - a village, town, city or suburb to resilience against peak oil and climate change. In Bristol this is gaining popularity - I've heard Transition Bristol described as "intelligent and sexy" and they have lots of funding (due to run out soon though) for glossy posters and showings of various inconvenient films, as well as a very popular subsidised distributed tree planting - but village meetings seem without scope as many local initiatives have still to get off the ground. The transition thing in general is still looked at a bit cautiously by other groups, as it does seem to have a lot of spiritualist, permaculturists' "positive thinking" and simplistic, step driven information on how to deal with this fossil fuel-bad millenium. Maybe they will turn out to be a cult of happy shiny people, but if it really works out, this isn't really an organisation, but a framework, and a framework for it's own future development.



And finally, Noam Chomsky, because I think I can back up quite well that the guy is an anarchist and peaceful, and intelligent, and I think he only says things that are really well researched or he won't talk about it, and in this little red book he says all kinds of things that we were asking ourselves about politics - all from his point of view as an outspoken US political historian, but that can apply in many ways to the behaviour of councillors at a council meeting and our anthropological understanding of it.

1/12/2008

p.s.

Julian Oliver is a brilliant artist!


He's also done a workshop like the one I'm doing now -


Loads to look at!!

Dream Machines part 1

We live at such a key time, when on one hand we're waking up tragically to the effects of our use of fossil fuel and our extraordinary growth in the past few hundred years to this blip where revolutions can happen at any point, and go unnoticed, because it's given us an incredible luxury as well. As food prices increase and the skies punish us, we are more in touch with all our friends, family and community than ever before through the benefits of telecommunication.


I mean the Digital Revolution, or whatever is at the base the geekiness of ham radios, and at the top the equally geeky virtual worlds which start to take a strange grip on the real world - Second Life, Facebook, Myspace, Email, Instant Messaging, Texting and all the other ways we have added to the written and oral communication we had before. In a sense, all the virtual worlds are just an elite's pinnacle at the top of the incredible communications we're capable of as a global population, aided at this time by the relatively low cost of a ticket to get you in person to the other side of the world.


Slowly these machines have been able grow in complexity to the point where they are able to visualise our dreams, and that has become a strange addiction in an imperfect world. But how much of this can be useful in a realistic consideration of what is needed this millennium?


The truth is that we have overspent, defaulted and got late with our payment back to the planet. The punishment for this will be to have to slow down. It's not to scare or despair that I say this, but my approach to technology has to be from a long term ethical standpoint. Were it to become very expensive to travel, would we still have mobile phones? Would we be able to repair old computers if there were no new parts coming from asia, no new raw materials coming from the terrible mines in Africa? Those things have no reason to exist - they are a terrible self inflicted wound in our planet. Second Life alone uses a huge amount of processing power (This amount - as of 2006 - can be found in the book Second Lives - about modern society's relationship to virtual worlds). How much for facebook then, with it's millions of pages and applications?


But with all these problems I feel it's my crucial mission to make sure that in future we aren't stuck with the present day 'meeting' as the default way of getting things done when communicating using technology, not after so many thousands of years before that, where we had such a diversity that we've now replaced with corporate aims. I don't want this hidden digital revolution that has happened under our noses to end up like the religious world of the Caliphates in 13th century Baghdad - whose spiritual thought was so evolved, only to be destroyed tragically by the armies of Genghis Khan, and be lost. I don't want our closed mindedness to steer us into a corner.


But how can we make technology sustainable?


At this time, I feel the best way is to bring different kinds of people together. This is something I love doing and that I'd be doing even if I didn't believe there was a crisis - figuring out ways for people to express themselves and experiment with new things. So this 2 day workshop, Dream Machines, which will be the focus of this month's Dorkbot Bristol, is a second step towards that(Last Year's Locating Grid Technologies work shops were the first - we looked at videoconferencing and mixed media artistic uses. This series resulted in funding for a p2p enabled semantic web interface for the watershed's library of screen media):


In this workshop however, we'll explore how 3d engines can and are being used in all kinds of experimental ways, but this will be kind of a sideline to the practical skill in getting acquainted with and messing around with the technology directly. We have to learn it's limitations and then sidestep them through the wisdom you can only give when coming to something fresh for the first time. So we'll have dancers with world of warcraft gamers, The Movies directors with TV directors, Interaction artists with Noise artists(and many more such people, in any order) and a lot of mucking around with cheap hardware and free or easily available software that we can use to quickly work in realtime and across media, adapting this extremely advanced, but ubiquitous 3d technology to whatever people want to play with.


Then again, there's not that much you can do in 2 days. I'd like to get people in, experts in their own game, to learn to make a finished game or put together a show or installation. Or run a programme of game/art authoring courses for teenage kids taking inspiration from what is done in Brazil with Estudio Livre, or do more workshops focusing more on the Max/MSP/Pd side of things - the interaction that's easily accessible nowadays - the freedom to hook someone's nose up to a scanner that shoots bubbles into a projection behind them if that's what takes their fancy. And I could work more in the area of the real physical hardware - perhaps taking home made moving parts or robots and linking them to games or online applications so that they can use game AI, so that a remote person can control a prop, perhaps be their own little temporary physical avatar, and you can see your robot get taken over by your friend each time they change their facebook profile. This sounds like random experimentation while Rome burns, but we have to open ourselves up, break things up and put them together again in this time while it's still possible. I am sure real, essential, cheap and long term uses will come of this in a speedy way, even if it's just in that the different people might be able to come together and can maybe learn to understand each other better.


In the book Second Lives the author sits in a korean internet cafe playing an obscure multiplayer role playing game in a room full of strangers who are there still at 2 in the morning, playing and interacting not with each other, but with hundreds of people playing the game around the world. He compares Seoul to Birmingham, ugly, empty and torn by consumerism, even with pleasant ads reminding of the move of the capital to a new city, sealing it's doom of a place of extreme transience. I don't know how much this reflects the author's viewpoint and state of mind at the time, and how much it's an accurate portrayal of that city, but it feels to me like a reflection of the modern world, where we sit at computer screens dreaming of our virtual but virtue-less lives and where anyone who doesn't have internet access is left out from all the news and unable to share their valuable, very different, and majority opinions. At some point the dream will end and we will have to wake up, and then I hope we see technology for real.

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