Category Archives: Vanity

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 chinadialogue.net. 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:

From one Cambridge to another

Today, I’m leaving Cambridge, England for Cambridge, Massachusetts. It’s only a short trip – 4 days or so, Vulcan permitting – but I’m very excited, as it will give me an opportunity to visit the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, a Mecca of scholarship on information policy which I’ve been wanting to make a pilgrimage to for at least the last five years.

The weather forecast looks confusing in terms of packing, although not too dissimilar to home:

Networks: Welcome to the Labyrinth

Me at the Resonance studios

Nervous, moi?

Last month, as the nation went to the polls, I went to the Resonance 104.4 FM studios to record an hour’s worth of live, unscripted chat with the marvelous Ken Hollings. Each week, Hollings gathers ne’er-do-wells like myself to discuss the future viewed from the past, analysing the techno-dreams of our ancestors from the safety of a lost pavilion in “Hollingsville” – his putative abandoned and overgrown World Fair.

The show can be streamed or downloaded, and it includes musical interludes from Richard H. Kirk.

The week I went in the topic was Networks. We talked about Norbert Wiener, about Skinnerism, about labyrinths, and about the balls of string that guide us through them. We discussed utopias and dystopias, and wondered whether Facebook made us “compete as slaves” as Wiener warned we must if we entered into the wrong relationship with our machines. We talked about “Homesteading the Noosphere”, about Stewart Brand and John Perry Barlow’s Wild West fantasies, and about the FBI, 9/11 and the Saudi Arabian telephone network the day the first Gulf War started.

All in all, it was as far away from my appearance on Radio 4’s Today programme as a piece of radio could ever get, and although I was nervous when I went into the studio (not least because our fellow interlocutor, Alfie Dennen, had been laid low at the last minute by a ravaging tooth complaint), I ended up truly loving it.

And if you listen carefully, you should be able to guess the details of the project I’m working on at the moment. Of which more anon…

Spotted: me at Resonance FM’s Media Playground

I’ll be at The Foundry in London on Saturday the 19th, taking part in Resonance FM’s Media Playground event:

At 2pm: discussion for broadcast – Pathological Over-Sharing. Featuring Becky Hogge (New Statesman, Open Knowledge Foundation), Ken Hollings (Destroy All Monsters), Mark Rock (Audioboo, Best Before Media) and Paul May (The Whale in the Room). As social networks proliferate, newspapers retreat and self-exposure goes global, a panel of culturally savvy thinkers gather to address such questions as, Is the internet a tool for democratic change or economic repression? What is the individual’s impact on media? And what is the impact of the media on social space?

More details here.

How it makes of your face a stone…

I have had Carol Ann Duffy’s first poem as laureate – Politics – stuck up on my fridge since it was published in June. Tucked somewhere within it is the reason I decided I’d had enough of lobbying in Westminster and Brussels and handed in my notice at the Open Rights Group.

Today, Lord Mandelson has occasioned a re-reading of this excellent verse. His Department for Business has released a statement detailing an “evolution in their thinking” on the issue of how to tackle illicit sharing of copyrighted files across peer to peer networks. The aspect of this evolution that has caught the attention of the popular press is that disconnecting internet connections (the “three-strikes and you’re out” model recently ruled unconstitutional in France) is now back on the table. Given this, I’m not sure the word “evolution” or even, for that matter, “thinking” applies.

Shall we pretend this matters? Shall we again list the reasons why excluding – punitively, yet without due process – British citizens from the most transformative communications medium of the last several hundred years is a poor policy response to the failure of an over-consolidated and outmoded industry to adapt their business practices to consumer demand?

Mandelson is not the first Minister at BIS/BERR/DTI to believe, no doubt after a few visits from some sexy people in the record / movie industries, that the illicit filesharing issue needs nothing more than his personal political touch for it all to be solved. Not politics, then, so much as vanity. On the bright side, as the complexities of this issue reveal themselves once more, and Mandy’s self-belief fades as quickly as his suntan, at least the resulting public failure to deliver on this “evolution” might prove humiliating enough to permanently mark the “three strikes” model with Whitehall’s “Here Be Dragons” stamp, ensuring that even the most cloth-eared Tory successor would be unlikely to go near it come next year. Although of course, to ensure this happens, we should all continue supporting the work of my less jaded and remarkably patient former colleagues at the Open Rights Group.

In the meantime, the civil servants at BIS tasked with delivering actual workable policies on this issue must be sighing heavily and mentally postponing their retirement again today.