Weekend listening: “Good Citizen, Bad Flamingo”

July 25, 2015

Featuring beautiful bass playing from @astrogarage aka Mr Pete Marsh  who is a member of the great @WovenEntity:

“Sarcastic Political Rythmn”

July 23, 2015


Innovation: links

June 23, 2015

I haven’t published anything on my blog for a while.

Why? Well, I’ve been busy, looking for a new job.

And I’m pleased to say I’ve found one: a fantastic new job at BBC Monitoring.

At BBC Monitoring, among other things I’ll be doing “innovation”.

But what does “innovation” mean?

There seem to be as many definitions as people doing innovation.

Maybe it doesn’t have to be defined. You know it when you see it:

Here are some recent examples of “innovation” that I like.

A blind woman is able to feel an ultrasound scan of her baby thanks to 3D printing.

“The Future of Wind Turbines? No Blades” from Wired. So people who think windfarms are an eyesore have less to complain about.

Andiamo, a start up I met through the Angel Academe programme where I am a mentor. They are using 3D scanning and printing to create better orthodontics (back braces, leg braces etc) for disabled children.

All of these are not just clever, they also all have the potential to change lives for the better.

And here ‘s a good basic guide to the subject: “Ten Types of Innovation” from DOBLIN

I think my approach will be “constructive innovation”, or perhaps “innovation in a sensible shirt”…

“Woven Entity” by Woven Entity

February 20, 2015

Writing about music. When you stop to think about it, it’s a bit odd.

Why write about music when you can listen to it? And once you have listened to it, why write about it?

But humans like to talk. Music is a very good source of things to talk about, whether it’s Rhianna’s latest selfie or technical details of key, tone, technique or equipment.

Which is why writing (which is just talking on paper and more recently on electronic devices) about music, even good writing, tells you more about the writer than the music.

So if I was to say “Woven Entity” by Woven Entity is the best improv album I’ve heard since “Clear Frame”, I’d be showing off. I’d also be misleading you. It would be more accurate to say “Woven Entity” by Woven Entity is the only improv album I’ve heard since “Clear Frame”.

Or the only one I can remember.

Improv (or “making it up as you go along”) is the most difficult of genres of music to define and to find good examples of. And since now everything is defined, labelled and commoditised so it’s easy to sell, this makes improv even more difficult to find, because it’s not well labelled.

And then there are people who think “improv” means” stand up comedy”. Which it doesn’t.

And there’s the question of whether I’ve even labelled it correctly. Woven Entity have been on “Jazz on 3″. So are they “jazz” then, not “improv”? They call themselves “cosmic jazz”. But their great strength is they have their feet on the ground, not their heads in the stars. It doesn’t sound “cosmic” to me (which is good).

It’s all rather exhausting.

But, since this is published on my personal blog I’m not showing off to many people. If you’re one of them and got this far you may have some idea of what I’m talking about.

So of all the CDs I was given over Xmas why is “Woven Entity” by Woven Entity the one I’ve listened to the most?

They have an original sound. It’s a simple, clean, fresh, elegant sound: a large variety of drums, percussion and electronic noises, and Mr Pete Marsh’s double bass. Mr Marsh is a musician who I admire (and I should add a disclaimer that he gave me this CD for free) and his playing is lyrical, funky, gnarly and always tasteful.

On three tracks Julie Kjaer joins in on sax and flute for some extended grooves. She’s very good.

The flute is firmly on my list of “things that should not be allowed in music” (it’s too “cosmic”). However I like Woven Entity so much that in this instance I’m prepared to allow it.

For more Woven Entity follow them on Twitter and listen on Soundcloud and Bandcamp.

Captive Audience 2: Facebook in prison

February 8, 2015

On my bookshelves is a a very old, very tatty paperback called “Modern American Humour”

My copy was published in 1956, but original publication date appears to be 1943.

it includes a short story called “Captive Audience” by Anna Warren Griffiths, To my surprise you can read it, here. (I can’t vouch for the site it’s been reprinted on)

The story is a satire, imagining a world where all products have built in jingles. So your cornflakes packet pumps adverts at you while you’re eating your breakfast. The whole house is a cacophony of ad messages controlled by a little black box full of discs. (internet of things?). It’s illegal to turn them off, and even illegal to wear ear plugs.

Grandma rebels and wears her earplugs, so is sent to prison for five years, where there are no adverts and it’s nice and quiet.

The twist is that Fred, her son, the advertising executive, suddenly realizes that prisoners are the perfect captive audience:

“Why couldn’t we, say have a little box in each cell where the cell could be kept.. it would sort of preserve their buying habits and when they got out they wouldn’t be floundering around”

I was reminded of this story, which I first read way back in my teens, when I read this piece in the Daily Dot last week:

“The case for Facebook in prison – why Internet access is a basic human right”

“For the hundreds of thousands of convicts released from prison every year, though, this is an ongoing struggle—as the astonishing pace of technology can make the adjustment back to civilian life all that more difficult.”

To call the internet access a “human right” in a world where too many people still don’t have clean drinking water still strikes me as a tadge presumptuous. Surely the “human right”, if there is one, is the right to high quality, accurate information, or perhaps the right to free speech. The internet is just a tool whereby you can exercise that right.

My view is that if you’ve committed a criminal offence and go to prison you forfeit some of your “human rights”. The Dot article states that “prisoners have freedom of speech”. This article states that these rights are “limited.” And both are talking about the United States. The situation in the UK seems different.

If I were a prison governor pondering whether to give my charges internet access I’d be asking:

“How do I stop them getting access to porn? I’ve heard there are parts of the internet where you can buy illegal drugs and weapons, and even put out a hit on someone. How do I stop them downloading TOR? Will they be able to search on how to join IS? Why do they need Facebook anyway if they can make phone calls to family and have prison visits?”

I’d be happy for prisoners to have access to an old fashioned prison library with real, physical books. But I’d ensure there were none on the shelves on how to make a bomb.

As for adverts, well they’ll be plenty of those clogging up their eyeballs when they get out…

The internet: not broken, just half built

January 19, 2015

The internet is not so much broken as unfinished.

If you’ve chosen to live in a house which is still being built, then you have to expect that the roof may not be on, the windows and doors are just holes in the wall and the plumbing and electrics may not all work properly, if at all.

Merry Blogmas!

December 19, 2014


Once again Christmas dinner at Thomas Coram was just about perfect!

Once again Christmas dinner at Thomas Coram was just about perfect!

Giles Wilson is a lovely man. I met him a few weeks ago at new Broadcasting House (my second favourite place in the world). He said cheerfully, “How’s year 26 going?”

I replied “actually, it’s been a bit tricky…”.

Which it has. But if you happen to reading this you are one of the people who have helped me through another tricky year.

So I’d like to thank you, and wish you and your dependents a Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year.

Never give up!

The ethics of digital #6: Facebook and death threats

December 5, 2014

GCHQ’s budget is something less than 2 billion pounds.

Exactly how much less is hard to tell for obvious reasons.

Facebook’s operating budget is 5 billion dollars.

So here are two large, well funded organisations both of which are doing things with content and user data on the Internet.

When the story about the intelligence committee claiming that threats to Lee Rigby had been published on Facebook six months before his murder, and I posted a link about this on my Twitter stream, the first reaction from Nic Ferrier was:

“But surely gchq have their hooks in their so why didn’t they catch them?”

Whereas my first reaction was “why didn’t Facebook pick this up?”

Which probably tells you more about the mindset and biases of the two individuals talking than it does about the two organisations.

My remark saying that I thought Facebook had some responsibility for what’s said on its site  triggered what young people these days call a “flame war”.

It may be that my suggestion that Facebook could moderate their users content more is impracticable.

But what surprised me more than anything was the defeatism of the people in the conversation.

Are we really saying that nothing could be done to try and stop this happening? That we don’t even want to try?

With all the big data and all the big brains in technology we don’t even want to try to do this better?

I’ll bet there’s someone clever in Facebook working on it right now…

The ethics of digital #5: moderation

October 24, 2014

I’ve said this before but it bears repeating.

As #gamergate continues to garner column inches and the topic of preventing abuse online gathers ever more heat, it’s worth saying that moderation as an idea and a set of tools has been around since the very first online community.

I used to be in charge of the BBC’s moderation service. In my job as host on the Internet blog I sometimes have to gently remind users to stay within the House Rules. It’s business as usual. The BBC spends money on it, the technical systems are good, we take it seriously and examples of trolling are rare and dealt with.

So why can’t other platforms or publishers do this? It can’t be money, since most of them are far better funded that the BBC.

Like most things in life, it boils down to whether you care or not. If you think free speech and having a platform where users can say anything they like is more important than people being abused, then you’re not going to be inclined to moderate properly.

It can be done, though, if you want to…

The ethics of digital: round up #4

October 10, 2014

Leigh Alexander has published a useful list of “ethical concerns in video games”.

Ideology and taste are a toxic mixture. “You like different things from me therefore you must be bad/corrupt”. Any reasonable ethical framework has to include some sense of tolerance for others tastes. Abusing people because they like different things obscures real ethical problems that ought (in theory) to be easy to agree on (or at least discuss without resorting to abuse).

Kathy Sierra has written a heartbreaking history of the abuse she has suffered online, reproduced in its entirety with her permission by Wired Magazine. The much abused word “freedom” seems to be a trump card for some, a word which can excuse any other kind of bad behaviour or ethical failing.

Here’s another angle on the same subject: abuse and control online: “Everybody Watches, Nobody Sees: How Black Women Disrupt Surveillance Theory” by Sydette Harry in ModelViewCulture.

“souvelliance”: in a world where everyone is watched by the authorities citizens should use the same tools to watch them back and hold them to account. The trouble with souveillance is it implies that the citizen has enough status, power and access to the tools to start with. What if you are so low down the pecking order you are at a disadvantage before you even start?:

What we have decided to call surveillance is actually a constant interplay of various forms of monitoring that have existed and focused on black people, and specifically black women, long before cameras were around, let alone ubiquitous. Surveillance technology is a dissemination of cultural standards of monitoring. Our picture of surveillance needs to factor in not just tech developments, but the cultural standards that have bred surveillance, especially towards black culture, as part and parcel in our world.

Elahi can use the intrusion into his privacy to further his work. But if all you want to do is have space to mind your own business, handle your family issues in private, or exist without interference, sousveillance isn’t an answer… it’s a reminder of defeat. If what you want is representation as you are, what do you do when the reality is ignored for the easy win, even when it leaves you worse than before?

While I was putting this post together I came across this (again via Leigh Alexander): “Why Nerd Culture Must Die” by Pete Warden. It makes this post redundant, but I’m going to publish it anyway…

“We’re still behaving like the rebel alliance, but now we’re the Empire.”


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