Category Archives: Little Atoms

Mind’s Eye: Tour the solar system at home and in Brighton, courtesy of Little Atoms and Shrinking Space

Last weekend found me in my old home town, Brighton. It’s the Brighton Digital Festival this month, and as part of that, Shrinking Space, in collaboration with Little Atoms and the European Space Agency, have put on a fantastic audio installation called “Mind’s Eye” at the old fruit and veg market building on Circus Street. I went to check it out with my Mum last Saturday.

circus street market building

The building

Mind’s Eye is an attempt “to explore and understand the Solar System through the voices of those most familiar with it”. Though it is only five minutes’ walk from the seafront, most Brightonians will only know Circus Street through visits to the infamous all night “Market Diner” café opposite. Shrinking Space productions have transformed the vast and dilapidated market building into an audiosphere representing the entire solar system. When you enter, you are given headphones and a ready-tuned iPod radio. Then, as you drift around the building, you are pulled into the orbit of the various interviews being broadcast in different parts of it, each with a scientist or space explorer whose knowledge of the planet or star they are describing often represents a lifetime’s work. The effect is bewitching, like floating through space itself, with only the occasional transmission back to earth for company.

participant at mind's eye

One happy listener

Little Atoms’ Neil Denny, heir to Melvyn Bragg, conducted the interviews. The first of three Little Atoms shows dedicated to the project was broadcast last week on London’s Resonance 104.4FM, and is available here. It features interviews with Gerhard Schwehm, Mission Manager for the Rosetta comet chaser, Dr Caitriona Jackman on the Cassini mission to Saturn and Dr Peter Grindrod on Mars. There will be a second instalment this week (with Dr Katherine Joy on the Moon, and Sandra Cauffman of the MAVEN project, whose spacecraft successfully entered Mars’s orbit yesterday). The final instalment next week features an unforgettable interview with former Space Shuttle astronaut Gerhard Thiele, as well as my Mum’s favourite from the show, Dr Helen Mason on the Sun.

If you can make it down to the installation itself, I would recommend you do so. It runs this Friday 26th September, 3:30pm-6pm, and Saturday and Sunday 27th and 28th, 10am-6pm. More info here.

chair at shrinking space

Interview with Ian Brown and Chris Marsden for Little Atoms

Many thanks to the wonderful Bill Thompson, for helping me interrogate Ian Brown and Chris Marsden about their new book Regulating Code on a sunny day in Cambridge a few weeks ago. The resulting podcast for Little Atoms is available here.

Come for the surprising ideas about the positive role European regulators might play in our digital future. Stay for the geek jokes.

Little Atoms at the Bishopsgate Institute: Whose mind is it anyway?

The Whose Mind is it Anyway? season at the Bishopsgate Institute kicked off in early September. It’s being co-curated with, among others, Little Atoms (which, incidentally, continues to air every Friday on Resonance 104.4FM – techies may wish to check out the recent episode featuring Misha Glenny talking about his new book on cybercrime) and the season runs into the New Year.

Why am I telling you this? Mainly because I’ll be chairing an event on the evening of Tuesday 15th November called “Information Dissemination in the New Media Age”. Featuring Heather Brooke (The Revolution will be Digitised), Brian Cathcart (a former colleague at openDemocracy, now Professor of Journalism at Kingston University) and Google’s Peter Barron. Here’s the blurb:

With rapidly developing new media and modes of mass communication, we continuously absorb information as well as giving information about ourselves. From political leaks to twitter, mobile location finders to credit card use, information is collected and roams. The beneficiaries are clear, with possible political advantages, marketing opportunities, subliminal advertising and surveillance as well as greater access to information for all of us. Who controls what information is circulated and to whom? And to what extent does censorship conflict with freedom of information or overlap with data protection and privacy?

Tickets are £8 (£6 concs) and the action starts at 7:30pm. More details here. I’ll be selling and signing books after the event.

Barefoot in your own back yard: Little Atoms podcast now live

My interview about Barefoot into Cyberspace for Little Atoms is now live on the Little Atoms website. I listened back to it today and I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out. Although it covers some of the same ground as previous interviews about the book, there’s some new stuff (how I got into the hacker scene, electronic voting, my impressions of Julian Assange) and, because I’m talking with Neil, it’s quite chatty and fun:

Barefoot into Cyberspace vs The Revolution will be Digitised

Last weekend, the Independent on Sunday reviewed my book Barefoot into Cyberspace, alongside Heather Brooke’s latest book The Revolution will be Digitised. The review was written by Twitter friend and fellow book-hacker Lisa Gee. Here’s a taster:

Heather Brooke and Becky Hogge are (or in Hogge’s case, were) freedom of information activists.

Brooke is, famously, the investigative journalist whose determined ferreting triggered the MPs’ expenses scandal.

She was also a key player in mainstream press coverage of the WikiLeaked US diplomatic cables. Hogge led the Open Rights Group for two years, withdrawing disillusioned with the UK and European political process, which she compares to a “group of people trying to decide how to direct rush hour traffic by playing an arcane version of cricket”.

Both balance excitement about the internet’s potential to make our world a better, fairer place against concerns for loss of privacy and, most acutely, the personal safety of activists challenging powers-that-be. Brooke is more upbeat, techno-Utopian even, proposing that “instead of re-engineering the internet to fit around unpopular laws and unpopular leaders, we could re-engineer our political structures to mirror the internet … We can create the first global democracy. Hundreds of millions of people are climbing out of poverty … They can join a worldwide conversation and come together in infinite permutations to check power anywhere it concentrates.”

Except, according to Hogge, most people don’t. She quotes the US “hackademic” Ethan Zuckerberg on how “the web is ploughing us deeper into our cultural furrows” with users experiencing “a kind of imaginary cosmopolitanism” instead of genuine, cross-cultural connection. More sinisterly, as Brooke explains, our use of digital technology creates “a handy one-stop shop for the nosy official”. US and European laws require all mobile communications networks to “include an interception capability”: this made it simple for Egyptian, Libyan and Tunisian intelligence services to locate and arrest many pro-democracy protestors earlier this year.

Both authors look to hacker communities for the skills and determination to crack such oppression. As a rule, hackers act. If they don’t like something, they try to build something better, be it hardware, software or society. They don’t do red tape. Their collective attitude is one of empowerment cut with mischief – an enticing contrast to Hogge’s wading-through-treacle Westminster-and-Brussels experience.

You can read the rest of the review here.

For me, reading Heather’s book was a bit like the feeling you might get when visiting the house you grew up in once another family had moved all their stuff in: objectively, you can see how what the new people have done makes sense, but you can’t overcome the feeling that everything is in the wrong place. Heather’s book and mine deal with a lot of the same material – sometimes eerily so – but we often approach that material very differently. I think Lisa captures it well when she says that my “questioning, uncertain approach” is “the perfect complement to Brooke’s surefooted, campaigning rhetoric”.

So tonight’s Little Atoms should be an interesting listen, because Neil and I will be speaking with Heather Brooke about The Revolution will be Digitised. Tune in at 7pm to 104.4FM if you’re within the London orbital, listen live at http://resonancefm.com/, or subscribe to the podcast.

Barefoot onto the airwaves

A last-minute roadtrip to hang out with the vanguard at the Chaos Communications Camp in a former Soviet airbase outside of Berlin has seen me check out of polite society for the past week-or-so. Good times were had.

Now I’m back, I’ve been catching up on some of the press for Barefoot Into Cyberspace, and I’d like to draw your attention to two longish interviews that aired last week and that I think are worth some of your time, as well as another one that’s happening this week.

The first is with Jamillah Knight for the BBC Outriders show on Radio 5 Live (which older readers may remember as Pods and Blogs). An impressive lady and a really fun and challenging interview, we cover hippies, consumerism, the politics of hacking and the contradictions of undertaking radical activism in liberal democracies.

The second is with the chaps at Linux Outlaws, and goes on for a full hour. Among other hardcore digital rights issues, we talk about the changing role of ISPs in policing the net, and whether we’ll ever be able to truly reclaim the word hacker.

This Friday, the mike is turned at Little Atoms with me in the hot seat and Neil asking the questions. If you’re within the London orbital, tune in to Resonance 104.4fm at 7pm to hear me squirm, or else subscribe to the feed for the podcast.

Happy listening!

Tux flies high at CCCamp 2011 - photo courtesy of esouillat@Flickr

Tux flies high at CCCamp 2011 - photo courtesy of esouillat@Flickr

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.