Monthly Archives: July 2011

Just Do It film screenings across the UK from today

Just Do It logoLast Saturday, I donned my highest heels and headed to Shaftesbury Avenue for the premiere of Just Do It, the crowd-funded documentary film about direct action in the envrinomental movement directed by wonderwoman Emily James.

I loved it. Not just for the honest yet loving portrayal of the young, and not so young, activists whose story it follows. Not just for the biting sense it leaves you with that you could, right now, be doing so much more to safeguard the planet for your children and grandchildren. Not even just for the close examination of the appalling way we often treat dissent in this country, a subject very close to my heart. I loved it for its joy. It is a truly joyful film, a film that lifts you up and makes you feel better about the world and your place in it. That is a serious achievement, and one about which I hope Emily feels very proud.

It’s a serious achievement when you think that this film was made for the most part outside of the traditional film-making industry. The sheer confidence and drive that Emily and her team must have had to keep going over the last two years is an inspiration to me as I continue my own modest project in heterodox media. In exchange for their troubles, they’ve maintained the trust and support of the activists who star in the film (many of whom were at the premiere last weekend), and it is the total access to this community that was granted to the film-makers that is what makes this film so unique.

Tonight is the film’s opening night (at the Ritzy in Brixton – I’ve just checked and it looks like there are about a dozen tickets left, so act fast). I urge you to go and see this film, and I promise you won’t regret it. Here’s the trailer:

The film will be coming to Cambridge at the start of next week for a four day run, and is also showing at Aberdeen, Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Henley, Kendal, Liverpool, Nottingham, Oxford, Poole, Stratford, York and many more independent cinemas and festivals across the UK over the Summer. For full details, visit the Just Do It website.

I blogged about Just Do It, and the reasons I was supporting them with advice and cash, last year. One of the great things about this project is that from early on, Emily saw the value that releasing the film under a Creative Commons licence would offer her in terms of getting her message out. The Creative Commons release is not out yet, but is expected in Autumn this year. As Emily explains:

The Just Do It team are very much committed to a Creative Commons release of the film. In order to balance the demands of the traditional capitalist distribution system (which still holds many of the cards in getting a film out) with our desire to participate in a more progressive movement which re-envisions the relationship between creative work and capital, we have had to agree to hold back the Creative Commons release to give a window to the cinema, TV, and dvd releases.

Once these are out of the way (we hope Autumn 2011), then we shall be releasing the full theatrical version of the film for peer-to-peer sharing, via a range of bit-torrent sites, which we shall actively seed and promote.

Purists might groan at this, but I think it is a pragmatic and thoughtful approach from a film-maker keen to do her film and its subjects justice by getting it through as many different channels and in front of as many different viewers as possible. Mixing the best of the progressive and the traditional has been an approach I’ve seen the Just Do It team adopt in everything from sourcing people to translate the film’s subtitles, to persuading local cinemas to show it. One current project is co-ordinating a massive day of free screenings across university campuses, pencilled in for 18 October.

A final thought. It’s interesting that Emily uses the word “capitalist” to describe traditional film distribution channels. Without spoiling the film for you too much, that’s a word that many of the young activists use to describe themselves by the end of the story, prefixed, of course, by “anti-“. But I left the screening wondering if these people were really anti-capitalists, or if it was something else they were “anti-“. Back when I was a full-time digital rights activist, I baulked at the close quarters the political class kept with global corporations like Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! (not to mention the BPI and the MPA) The relationship between government and big business is being thrown into some relief by the current scandal around Murdoch and his media empire. What shocks most is not that companies pursue profit, but that government seems so happy to collude and fast-track that profit-seeking, above and beyond the interests of the people who they are meant to represent. Chris Marsden calls this rotten corporate-state nexus “regulatory capitalism” I’ve also heard it called “corporate mercantilism” and, occasionally, “fascism”. Identifying as “anti-capitalist” might be the wrong thing to do if your aim is to prize apart the state and corporations from their current huddle for safety.

Thinking a little more about this is something I’d like to do once I’ve got this book launch out of the way. That and scaling the fences of a few coal-fired power stations.

Too much information: week ending 15 July

Open Government Partnership launched
US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota this week announced the launch of an international partnership to promote more open government. The initiative, called the Open Government Partnership, seeks to use innovative technologies to promote government transparency and public engagement. The Transparency and Accountability Initiative, a donor collaborative, welcomed the news, which was met by scepticism in other quarters.
News | Scepticism

Fifty years of Kenyan Parliamentary debates published
The Kenyan National Council for Law Reporting, in partnership with Google Kenya, has published parliamentary records dating back to the 1960s, giving Kenyans free, electronic access to the records for the first time. The project uses the Google Books platform to display the data.

Graduated response-style copyright enforcement comes to the US
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) digests the news that a coalition of internet service providers (ISPs) and rightsholder bodies have announced a collaborative effort to curb copyright infringement on peer-to-peer networks. The scheme involves ISPs alerting their customers based on notifications received from rightsholders that infringing activity is taking place. ISPs will be expected to take mitigating action, such as reducing internet speeds, against persistent offenders.

Turkmenet shines during Abadan explosion
Following the suppression of news about a still-mysterious explosion in the Abadan region of Turkmenistan reported to have resulted in high numbers of deaths, New Eurasia examines “both the struggles and discoveries of the Turkmenet during the crisis”.

EFF urges Microsoft to reconsider censored China service
The EFF publishes a short note condemning Microsoft over recent news that it has struck a deal with Chinese search market leader Baidu to offer its Bing web search results in English.

What’s Wrong with Government 2.0?
Using the profit-seeking privatisation of micro-credit as an analogy, Tom Slee sounds a warning about the limitations and risks around the open government data agenda, in this series of blog posts.
Post 1 | Post 2

The most menacing malware in history
This accomplished and compelling long-form feature from Kim Zetter at Wired charts the rise of the Stuxnet worm, its origins and target, and the security researchers who found themselves caught up in what emerged to be a story of truly international proportions.

Report: Threats in internet freedom in Russia, 2008-2011
The Agora Association have released the first of a new series of reports documenting threats to internet freedom in Russia. Types of threats enumerated in the report range from proposals to regulate the internet to defamation suits and cyber-attacks, as well as harassment, assault and murder of internet activists.

Special Feature: The World Bank and open data
This New York Times feature examines the strategic thinking behind the World Bank’s decision to open up its data.

Video: Enduring Voices
Enduring Voices, a joint project of National Geographic and the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, documents endangered languages across the world: “By 2100, more than half of the more than 7,000 languages spoken on Earth — many of them not yet recorded — may disappear, taking with them a wealth of knowledge about history, culture, the natural environment, and the human brain.”

Google+ for journalists at risk
Danny O’Brien of the Committee for the Protection of Journalists gives his initial review of new social networking platform Google+ and its utility for at-risk journalists.

Audio: Joi Ito on how to save the internet from its own success
An interview with Joi Ito that hints at some possible coming changes at the MIT Media Lab under his leadership including greater adoption of Creative Commons licences and more participation in Open Courseware.

Tonight! Interview with Angela Saini on Little Atoms

Update: This ended up being a really good interview, and I urge you to listen to it on the Little Atoms website.


Cover of Geek Nation by Angela SainiI’m just about to head into London to interview Angela Saini, author of Geek Nation, for tonight’s episode of Little Atoms. If you’re in London you can tune in from 7pm to Resonance 104.4 FM to hear the interview, or you can listen live online here. A podcast of the interview will be made available on the Little Atoms website in the fullness of time. You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes here.

I used to work with Angela at openDemocracy.net, and it’s been fantastic to watch her journalism career go from strength to strength since she left that esteemed organ. I caught up with her at the recent Little Atoms event “Which Way to techno-Utopia?”, where I was impressed by the engaging way she spoke about the work she did for the book travelling around India to discern whether, as a nation, it has what it takes to be the world’s next scientific super power. The book addresses a number of issues I find fascinating, like the way science and spiritualism mix more readily in India than they do in the West, the ideological/nationalistic nature of the debate around GMOs, and the potential of e-government to transform India’s notorious bureaucracy. I’m looking forward to talking about these issue in more depth with Angela, and Little Atoms godfather and co-host Neil Denny, tonight.

Publishing with no shoes on

It was only 3 weeks ago when I tweeted the news that I had submitted the final draft of my book, but it feels like a lifetime has passed between now and then. I guess most writers get to kick back a bit once they’ve made their copy deadline – indeed more than a few tweeps suggested I break out the champers on hearing my news.

Not me. Since handing it in, my book has morphed from the carefully-constructed narrative about the digital counterculture that I spent the last 18 months crafting into a series of squiggles on pages, with varyingly deliquent bottom margins, kerning issues and em-dashes where there should be en-dashes (or is that the other way around?).

Welcome to the world of self-publishing.

Well, actually, “self-publishing” doesn’t quite capture it. Professional charming man Felix Cohen, who worked on openDemocracy’s Fight-back – A Reader on the Winter Protest together with Dan Hancox earlier this year, is doing most of the hard work wrestling the document I drafted into the various formats in which you will eventually read it (html, pdf, Kindle, print). And the super-lovely Damien Morris – the man who, incidentally, gave me my first paid writing gig ever, on the dance music weekly 7 magazine – is the book’s editor. Kathryn Corrick has provided invaluable marketing, as well as general, support. And Christopher Scally, who worked with the Open Rights Group to deliver the image we used on the Freedom Not Fear protest back in 2008, and who is a friend of longstanding from Brighton days, has crafted a fantastic set of illustrations from John Tenniel’s original Alice drawings that, in my mind, make the book.

“Vanity publishing” also doesn’t quite cut it. For a start, I’m not paying any of the people mentioned above: for reasons still mysterious to me, they volunteered their contributions, on more than one occasion without prompt from me. What’s more, not counting labour (which is a ridiculous thing to say, of course, but stick with me for a moment) the upfront costs of publishing your own book are vanishing everyday. Thanks to platforms like Lulu, (our chosen supplier) Lightning Source, and the Amazon Kindle store, the entire process can be set up for less than a half-decent meal out.

The phrase I’ve settled on to describe what we’re doing with Barefoot Into Cyberspace is “flash-publishing”. That’s mainly because of the feedback I got from real publishers when they read the first draft. They liked the writing (“incredibly well-written”, said one, “feels like something that should be in The New Yorker“, said another), but feared that by the time they had been able to put the work through their process, it would already be out of date. One publisher quoted 9-12 months as the average time it took them to produce a book, a timescale driven in part by retailer demands. If I had secured a deal in advance, things would have been different, as the publisher could have planned ahead. But it’s pretty hard to do that if you’re relatively unknown and you’ve never proven you can write a book before.

But I wasn’t going to put Barefoot into a box and forget about it. I wanted to get this book out there for me, yes, but also for the intelligent, insightful and lovely people who gave me their time to be interviewed for it. I’ve really enjoyed the freedom flash-publishing this book has offered me, and working closely with some of my favourite people to deliver it has been a joy so far. But that doesn’t mean that next time, I don’t want a publishing deal. It’s not just that I want to take writing books from a spare-time to a full-time activity, although that’s part of it. And it’s not just that being so closely-involved in the process this time around has shown me how much dedication and skill need to go into making a book from people other than its author, although that’s a big part of it too. It’s also that publishing your own work can sometimes make you feel a bit more dorky and self-conscious than even having someone else want to publish it for you probably feels like.

Speaking about this to a coder friend, I found him surprisingly supportive. Code, unlike a book like Barefoot, generally meets a specific need. What’s more, although you can quickly tell whether code is good or not based on whether it runs and how buggy it is, judging the quality of the book you’ve just written is harder. So whereas shoving your code up on SourceForge is a good way of sharing it with people, shoving your book up on the web might not be. But we’ll see.

The book is launching on 28th July, and I fully intend to man up between now and then. In fact, this will probably be the last time you hear me saying anything other than either “read my book”, “buy my book” or “my book is great” for the next two months at least. And I’m fully prepared to walk across the hot coals of critical derision that publishing your own book might be seen to deserve, because I do think that what I’ve written is worth reading.

Yesterday was another landmark in the publishing process – Felix submitted the final book files to Lightning Source. What’s left to do (apart from needless panicking, which I’ve pretty much got covered) is to get the word out. Here I’m not unlike most authors with publishing companies behind them, in that the bulk of the work will be down to me. Please help me by spreading the word. And remember that, even though I look pretty confident walking into this scary, smart party wearing no shoes, inside I’m freaking out.

Too much information: week ending 1 July 2011

Civil Society representatives reject OECD internet policy plan
European Digital Rights (EDRi) report on the decision of the Civil Society Information Society Advisory Council to the OECD (CSISAC) not to endorse the OECD’s draft communiquÈ on internet policy: “the implication of much of the text is to abandon the rule of law and hand over both enforcement and policing of cyberspace to online intermediaries”.

Police crack down on Minsk protest using social media
Global Voices reports on a crackdown against a protest in Minsk, Belarus, detailing how authorities used Facebook and Twitter to identify, intimidate and discourage protestors.

EU: No mandatory internet filtering against images of child abuse
The Open Net Initiative reports that, “the European Commission, Council, and Parliament came to an agreement last week regarding controversial plans to mandate internet filtering as a means to fight the circulation of child abuse images”. Thanks to EDRi’s intensive, year-long campaign, internet filtering will now most likely not be mandated by draft legislation being negotiated.

Minimal stakeholder engagement at multilateral IP enforcement treaty negotiations
Krista Cox of Knowledge Ecology International reports from last week’s Vietnam round of negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, a multilateral free trade agreement which contains worrying proposals on intellectual property enforcement that could harm access to knowledge: “overall, civil society and academics were displeased with the limited stakeholder engagement and restricted opportunities to interact with the negotiators”.

FOIA: How to break the bottleneck
The New York Times looks at the future of Freedom of Information law and practice in the US, in light of news that “two and a half years after the president’s call for openness, only 49 of 90 federal agencies have reported making concrete changes to their FOIA procedures”.

Critical Point of View: A Wikipedia reader
This collection of essays, interviews and artworks seeks to provide new insight on the next generation of Wikipedia-related research, examining everything from “radical artistic interventions and the significant role of bots” to “hidden trajectories of encyclopaedic knowledge and the politics of agency and exclusion”. It is supported by, among others, the Centre for Internet and Society – India.

Social media: Good for revolution, bad for democracy?
Dave Power draws on a range of thinkers to make a case that social media’s ability to enact political change stops short of helping constitute new governing structures after a successful popular revolution.

Book: The power of open
Creative Commons (CC) publish a series of case studies into use of their licences, to demonstrate, “the breadth of CC uses across fields and the creativity of the individuals and organizations that have chosen to share their work via Creative Commons.”

ICT Accessibility progress report
This report, released this week by a United Nations accessibility taskforce, finds that despite commitments on paper to protect the rights of people with disabilities to access ICT, many countries are failing to guarantee those rights in practice. The report is based on a survey of 33 of 147 countries which have signed or ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Beyond impact workshop report
Cameron Neylon of York University UK publishes a report of the Beyond Impact workshop, held in London in May 2011 to identify opportunities and barriers in the aggregation, analysis, and measurement of research outputs.

Video: Internet connectivity in Ghana
Russell Southwood interviews a Ghanaian internet service provider about the challenges of providing connectivity in the country.