Category Archives: Vanity


So, after six months introducing my baby daughter Zadie to the world I am now back at the keyboard. My continued work with the Open Society Foundations’ Information Program means you can expect resumption of the weekly links posts, plus intermittent dispatches from the frontier of rights and technology. But this will be the only baby pic:

Cthulu - small


A few more announcements: after five years on the Board of the Open Knowledge Foundation, I’ve decided to step down so I can make some space in my life for new projects. OKF remains one of the most exciting and fast-moving organisations in the open space, and I will be keeping my hand in through my place on their Advisory Council. I’ve also accepted OfCom’s invitation to join their Advisory Committee for England – so far, the view I’m getting from my seat there is… interesting (and I don’t just mean the stunning vista their offices enjoy of the Thames river).

It’s not all been nappies and prams (US readers: diapers and strollers) these past six months – you can expect some new writing, as well as at least one new show for Little Atoms, to be signposted from this blog fairly shortly.

It’s good to be back.

Spotted! Me at the Rebellious Media Conference with Noam Chomsky, Douglas Rushkoff and Bill Thompson

Next weekend, I’ll be down in London for the Rebellious Media Conference, which invites you to join the resistance to the corporate takeover of the internet and is being organised by Peace News, Ceasefire magazine, New Internationalist, Red Pepper, Undercurrents and visionOntv.

On Saturday, I’ll be speaking alongside Cambridge buddy Bill Thompson (with whom I was plotting a skit over the weekend that involves him wearing a rather ridiculous outfit), then joining a panel with Douglas Rushkoff, who will be appearing via Skype. That’s all under the rubric “Whose internet is it? Are we losing the war?”, and the action kicks off at 2:15pm.

On Sunday, I’ll be appearing alongside Noam Chomsky, Michael Albert, Zahera Harb, Taesun Kwon and Nadje Al-Ali to discuss the future of radical media at the final plenary session at 3:30pm.

The conference sold out months ago, but if you are lucky enough to have a ticket, do come and say hi. Copies of Barefoot into Cyberspace will be on sale on Saturday via the lovely folk at the Zed books stall.

Hot press shots ahoy

Massive props to the amazing Kathryn Corrick, for a wonderful Saturday morning spent in her company as she turned so-so weather and a less-than photogenic subject into this wonderful set of press shots ahead of the media storm that we anticipate attending on the launch of my book next week (after all, news is quite slow these days, no?).

Photo of Becky Hogge, taken by Kathryn Corrick

Full set available for download licensed CC-BY here.

Article on phone-hacking for Hackers! newspaper

The second number of Leila Johnston‘s new paper Hackers! went on sale last week. I’ve written an article in it on phone hacking.

Here’s a little taste:

After a while, listening in on A-list celebrity voicemails gets boring. At least I imagine it would if you were a real phone hacker. Hacking someone’s voicemail is so easy even I could do it. Every network has a single number and – at least until recently – an easily-Googleable, default PIN, intended to help richer customers access their voicemails from abroad and poorer ones access their voicemails when their credit runs out. All you need to know is your target’s mobile number and there’s an odds-on chance that in less than five minutes you too can be listening to their Mum reminding them they’re coming for lunch on Sunday.

But while politicians and police agonise about what to do with the UK tabloids’ phone phreaks, the real story of phone hacking is continuing amid markedly less furore. In December 2009 Karsten Nohle announced that the weak cryptography that protects the GSM standard had been cracked…

It is only available on DTF (dead-tree format, or “the original DRM”) so the only way you can finish reading this is if you buy a copy here. I fully suggest you do this, not least because Leila presents my second-favourite podcast, Shift Run Stop, and buying her paper might persuade her to make another episode, but more importantly because it’s got loads of other good stuff in it, including the hacks that stopped Hitler, Helen Keen’s top five rocket scientists, and a rather sweet spelling mistake in my biog which conveys the relieving news that I have now been fully restored from my temporary status as an adjective.

Screenshot of hackers

Spotted! Me on Resonance 104.4 FM tonight, interviewing Evgeny Morozov

Image of radio studio Update: The interview is now available for download.

For the next three months, I’ll be filling in for Rebecca Watson, hosting one of my favourite radio shows, Little Atoms on Resonance 104.4FM. This evening at 7pm the first of my co-hosting efforts will be broadcast. You can listen online or download the podcast (I’ll update this post when that goes out, or subscribe via iTunes here) .

Little Atoms rocks. Ever since Neil Denny asked me to fill in for Rebecca at the end of last year, I’ve been really excited about this first show, interviewing author of The Net Delusion Evgeny Morozov. Evgeny is a sharp thinker with a great sense of humour, he writes brilliantly about all the issues I care about, and his accent (Evgeny was born in Belarus) is radio heaven. We pre-recorded the interview on Wednesday this week, ready to go live tonight. But all did not go to plan.

Picture the scene. It’s half an hour before the recording is due to start and I’m standing outside the gates to the Resonance studios. It’s cold. Nobody inside the studios is answering the doorbell. Perhaps, I think, nobody is inside the studios. I get a text from my co-host Padraig Reidy saying he’s running late – very late – thanks to a Tube fail on the Northern line. I may have to do this one on my own. It’s at this moment that Evgeny pulls up in a taxi with his publicist.

Evgeny MorozovIf I sound a little shaken at the beginning of the recording, then that’s my excuse. Of course it all worked out in the end, thanks partly to Annie the producer (thanks, Annie!) and mostly to Evgeny’s patience and kindness.

I’m not sure Evgeny would welcome me outing him as a thoroughly nice chap given his public image as the scourge of cyber-utopians. In the 30 minute interview, we discuss the flawed metaphors, shoddy evidence and general naivety that has contributed to the US State Department’s Internet Freedom agenda, the hypocrisy of that agenda as revealed by Wikileaks, and the danger that agenda poses to citizens of autocratic regimes everywhere. Go listen.

Image credits: Ross Murray@Flickr (radio studio) oso@Flickr (Evgeny)

Spotted! Me at Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge

I will be appearing on a panel after a screening of RIP: A Remix Manifesto at Cambridge Arts Picturehouse this Saturday. The screening starts at 3pm. Why not buy a ticket and come along?

RIP artwork

Here’s what the Arts Picturehouse website has to say about the film:

Biomedical engineer turned live-performance sensation Girl Talk, has received immense commercial and critical success for his mind-blowing sample-based music. Utilizing technical expertise and a ferocious creative streak, Girl Talk repositions popular music to create a wild and edgy dialogue between artists from all genres and eras. But are his practices legal? Do his methods of frenetic appropriation embrace collaboration in its purest sense? Or are they infractions of creative integrity and violations of copyright?

I watched it a while back on the small screen, and I have yet to see a film that betters it at explaining the nuances of the copyright debate.

With me on the panel will be John Naughton, Jussi Parikka and Geoff Gamlen, all chaired by the wonderful Bill Thompson.

My aim will be to use the term “semiotic democracy” at least once. If you’re coming, and you hear me succeed, holler out.

Drinking from the firehose

About a week ago, I asked David Sasaki for his tips on drinking from the firehose of social media, and living to tell the tale. How did he parse all the information he came across on any given day? What tools did he use and what tips could he share? He responded with an “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours”-type challenge. Just before the bank holiday, he posted his response on his blog, and it’s really good. Below is my answer to the same set of questions.

My alarm clock wakes me up an hour into BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. It’s not always the most soothing way to greet a new day. But although some in the web world shun the idea of broadcast media altogether, I still think it’s an important way of finding out about what’s going on. Anyway, a lot of my work requires me to pay attention to the broadcast news agenda: as a campaigner, you know that legislators are being influenced by what gets airplay on Today. And for a brief while, I wrote a column satirising the mainstream news agenda for the New Statesman.

From 8:30/9 until at least 11, I try to ignore the outside world altogether, as I’ve found this is a time best set aside for writing. The first thing I’ll do after that is check my emails. A lot of the stuff I read online I’m pointed to by people on the various email lists to which I’m subscribed. Some of these are public lists, some of these – like the FIPR and ORG advisory council lists – are limited to a few people. It’s a great privilege to sit on these lists as they’re full of very clever and expert people. I get much more than I give – I’m a classic lurker.

I use Gmail for email and Chrome to browse the web. Links I’m sent via email get opened in separate tabs as I clear my inbox. Once that’s done, I’ll review the pages that I’ve opened. I’ll be skim reading here. If I like something and it’s relevant to some aspect of my work, it will get saved using one of two social bookmarking services – delicious, for stuff relevant to my work with the Open Society Institute, diigo for stuff relevant to a book-length writing project I’m doing called Barefoot Into Cyberspace (you heard it here first!). Really, I’d like to use separate delicious accounts and move away from diigo, but although the delicious bookmarking toolbar used to support multiple accounts, right now it appears not to (at least, I haven’t found a way to make that work). The stuff I save to delicious is mostly stuff I know I’ll want to refer to at a later date. Occasionally, I’ll find something I want to read in depth, and very often I’ll print that out as well as logging it in delicious/diigo, so I can take it away from the screen and read it over a coffee or something later. Printed material will eventually get stuffed into a relevant box file on the other side of my study, usually never to be looked at again. The hope is that by that time the important bits of it will be written to my own mushy version of an internal disk.

I share the delicious account I use with the rest of the OSI Information Program team, another bunch of switched-on people I feel very privileged to work with, and each day I’ll check out what they’ve been saving to the feed. About twice a week, I open up my Google reader and check out what’s coming through on RSS. I’ve got 60 subscriptions at the moment. About half of that number are Information Program grantees whose blogs, websites and campaigns I’m tracking just in case I see an opportunity to publicise something they’re doing through the main OSI website. The other half are actors and influencers in the information politics space. There are a few I follow just for fun, one of which is Adam Curtis, whose blog for the BBC I absolutely love.

The drill here is as with email, I clear the reader and open anything I want to look at properly in a new tab. Then I work through the tabs saving stuff to delicious and diigo or (occasionally) printing it out.

The reason the delicious feed is so central is because every week I go through everything on it and select the stories and features which will go in the weekly Information Program Digest, an email update subscribed to by roughly 60 people from around the OSI network. If you’re interested in what that digest looks like, you should know that I also usually publish it to this blog. That’s pretty much all I publish to this blog, unless I’ve done a research paper I want to talk about or have thought of some other thing original to say. Or if I’m promoting a gig of some kind.

I have a few places I go to distract myself – usually in the afternoon. One of them is Twitter, where again, I’m a lurker. I don’t use Tweetdeck or any other Twitter client, I just go to the website. I follow just under 200 people, not all of whom are active. So far I’m disappointed with who the newish “Who to follow” feature on Twitter is suggesting I follow, so I guess that means I’m not following the kind of people I’d like to in the first place. But I do get sent to interesting places from here – again, I’ll log these on delicious or diigo if relevant material comes up. Facebook is another place I go to distract myself but this is just to spy on friends, and not much that’s loggable turns up.

The other two places I go when I’m distracted are the top stories of the day on Reddit, and if that hasn’t sated my web appetite, BoingBoing. Most of what I do online is work-related, but if I’ve made it as far as here, I’m officially off duty.

I recently got an iPod nano for my birthday – my first portable mp3 player in ages – and I’m slowly getting back into podcasts. Audio is the killer app of the portable media age, and because I spend a lot of time travelling in and out of London, and driving around the countryside, there are lots of opportunities to listen to podcasts. Right now I’m mostly subscribed to books and writing-related podcasts. For tech and politics, it’s currently Shift.Run.Stop and Little Atoms.

Music-wise, I like, and I’ve tried Spotify, but I’m not as interested in music as I used to be. Most of the CDs in my collection date back to the late nineties. Starting from then a fatal succession of events occurred: I briefly worked as a music journalist, littering my digs with promotional CDs and making me sick of the sight of them; then I started living with a guy who didn’t appreciate my taste for early Seattle grunge and DIY punk; then my late twenties set in, a time when I know many people’s music taste starts to ossify. I stopped filesharing after the closure of Napster. I tried eMusic but their download client crashed a lot, so I quit. Perhaps there’s a service yet to be invented that will bring me back to the musical fold. If so , I hope the oligarchs of recorded rights see fit to sanction it someday. Until then, I’ll listen to BBC 6 music while I’m cooking dinner, and later in the evening to Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie Radio 2, if I haven’t gone out, or switched to TV by then.

The in-house tech support has made homebrew audio-visual media centres his life’s work. Since at least 2006, he’s been running MythTV on a Linux box in the sitting room. Its reliability and user interface have both improved steadily over time. Theoretically, “the Myth” means there’s always something worthwhile to see if we feel like watching television. But that’s only if we’ve remembered to record anything – otherwise, I’ll switch back to broadcast, a move which never goes down well. Another impact of having the Myth is that quite frequently I’ll have sat down to enjoy something I’ve recorded only to instead spend fifteen minutes watching shenanigans in the command line as some bug gets fixed. And we’ve also been directly affected by the BBC’s decision to poison its HD stream with DRM. Thanks, OfCom!

The IP TV client Boxee has also recently been added to this Linux box, and the apps I use most here are the iPlayer app (far superior than watching on a browser) and YouTube. Which reminds me that I’ve been meaning to shout about this excellent YouTube curation piece from Pedro Almodóvar.

Postscript: As I mentioned at the top of the post, I’m writing this partly in response to a similar post by David Sasaki. What I didn’t mention is that I hadn’t read his post before I wrote mine – I wanted to write this blind because I thought that it would make it more interesting to compare the two. So…

  • Firstly, I’m surprised and delighted at how similar our routines are. He does sound like he’s using more devices than me, although beyond the Mac/PC thing, the only difference is that where I use dead trees he uses an iPad.
  • There’s also a difference in the amount of syncing he does, but it appears to me that’s because I’m relying on the cloud more than he is, or rather, we’re probably both relying on the cloud, but I’m indexing and he’s archiving.
  • Perhaps even more marked is the fact that I’m a lurker and David clearly isn’t. Although I’ve talked about a couple of outputs in my post – delicious and the Digest, this blog – I haven’t talked about what I think of as the mulching process. Most of what I’m reading is becoming mulch, from which I hope I occasionally grow something useful – a connection between two issues previously not thought of as being similar, say, or just a growing and refining thesis of some kind. But perhaps I’m just saying that to cover up the fact that I’ve become less good at sharing, which is my bad.
  • One thing I liked about David’s post is that he hinted at a note-taking system he uses when working through documents. I didn’t mention my own note-taking system (although I’m quite proud of it) and that’s mainly because it’s paper-based and it only extends to organising the work I have to do and taking notes of face-to-face meetings and telephone conversations. David has reminded me that I need to be more systematic about note-taking when I’m reading text in depth.
  • There were a couple of other tools I wanted to look into after reading David’s post. Unfortunately, it looks like Pukka, the tool he mentioned that lets you tag items for different delicious accounts, is only available for Mac and FlipBoard is an iPad app. Life suddenly looks a lot cooler in the cult of Mac 😦
  • In general, I think David gets through a lot more material than me each day – I check my Google Reader twice a week, and even then it only has around 200-300 items in it each time. He says he gets 600-800 a day. I also think it sounds like he’s guided by the broadcast media agenda to a far lesser extent than I am. But I think it’s fine that we’re different in these two respects.

Finally, I want to quote back this passage from near the end of his post, because I think it’s really important:

“At least once a day I try to spend time simply staring at the ceiling and/or going for a walk around my neighborhood. I am trying to spend more weekends out in the mountains away from connectivity. Cooking dinner has also been a recent source of calm for me.”

Tonight! Hacks and Hacking

Tonight’s Online News Association event on data-driven journalism entitled “Hacks and Hacking” has sold out, so if you were lucky enough to get a ticket, I’ll see you there.

My slides for the night can be downloaded here.

Hacks and hacking

I’m saving up the third book in Stieg Larsson’s Milennium Trilogy for my beach holiday in Ibiza next week. It’s difficult. The first two were so compelling that I can hardly wait to pick up the third – and last (Larsson died in 2004, before he saw the strange fruits of his imagination garner international acclaim). In being addicted to his characters, I’m not special. On my journey to Boston last week there was a person reading one of the series sitting next to me on the airplane on both flights. But I think the books have an even bigger hold on me because their two main characters are a computer hacker and an investigative journalist.

Here’s the trailer for the film:

When I return from Ibiza, I’ll be joining the good folk at the UK Online News Association for a conversation about “hacks and hacking”. The hacks we’ll be talking about are not computer exploits performed by script kiddies, but living, breathing hacks, ie journalists. And the hackers we’ll be discussing are not the blackhat/grayhat masters of subterfuge cut from Lisbeth Salander’s cloth, but the data mashers and techie geeks who get their thrills from analysing and visualising official information. That’s right, folks, we’ll be talking data-driven journalism.

Rufus Pollock, co-founder of the Open Knowledge Foundation and the man without whom no journalist could have made sense of the recently released Treasury database on government spending COINS, will also be there. Here’s the blurb:

UK MPs expenses was one of the biggest stories of 2009 that has continued to be felt well into 2010. It was at its heart a story of detail, data and piecing information together and is just one example of how developers and journalists are working together.

What does this mean for the future of journalism and news gathering? ONA UK invites you to an evening exploring Hacks & Hacking with:

Dr. Rufus Pollock – Mead Fellow in Economics at Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge and a Director of the Open Knowledge Foundation which he co-founded in 2004. He has worked extensively, as a scholar, coder and activist on the technological, social and legal issues surrounding access and sharing of knowledge. Under his lead Open Knowledge Foundation recently launched Where Does My Money Go to analyse and visualise UK public spending.

Becky Hogge – journalist and writer on information politics, human rights and technology. Becky is former managing editor of OpenDemocracy during which time she helped establish the China environment website Becky sits on the Advisory Councils of the Foundation for Information Policy Research and the Open Rights Group.

Chaired by Kathryn Corrick

Reserve your place here.

Boston photo album

Click on the images below to see more photos from my trip to Boston last week: