February 29, 2004
No.10 Lobby Briefings as a blog

Downing Street Says turns the online-but-deeply-hidden transcript of each day's briefings for lobby journalists into a blog where we can all read and comment upon No.10's official line.

downing street says

It got built in a couple of weeks by half a dozen people. All in different locations. In their spare time. Co-ordinated almost entirely via mailing lists.

Classic MySociety.org fare - indeed a "Declaration Of Intent"

The Prime Minister's monthly press conference is also incorporated. Last Thursday's was a rather testy affair in the light of Clare Short's comments.

Posted by tomski at 11:43 PM
February 26, 2004
The iMP is not the Creative Archive. And of course the iMP will have DRM.

Matt has confused gets grumpy about the BBC using DRM for it's iMP pilot, one of the two recently-announced BBC 'download TV' trials. The /. poster he quotes with such ranty-relish has conflated the BBC's Creative Archive pilot (announced last summer) with the equally thoroughly announced BBC Interactive Media Player (aka the iMP) pilot.


  • The BBC Creative Archive is a pilot project aimed at looking at ways to make freely available for download & reuse BBC's archive of programmes. The ambition is to make available as much of the archive as can be rights-cleared with the many and varied rights-holders. This is a profoundly non-trivial issue, as any IP lawyer will attest. It's the BBC doing the creative commons thing with - as Lessig puts it - that 98-odd% of the archive which no-longer has commercial value.

  • The BBC Interactive Media Player is another, different pilot looking at delivering the current BBC TV schedule to UK users via broadband. Or as much of the TV schedule as possible anyway - even with DRM it would not surprise me if some rights-owners have issues with the programmes being downloaded via the net, whatever the DRM. It will give you a 7 day window after broadcast to watch the show, in exactly the same manner as the BBC RadioPlayer does for BBC radio shows. It will be DRM'd, since many of the programmes the BBC broadcasts show have significant commercial value to their owners and associated rights-holders, over and above the money the BBC will have paid to buy some of the broadcast rights on UK television. The BBC appears to have announced today that that iMP trial will use Microsoft Windows Media player, and associated DRM.

It wouldn't surprise me if both pilots shared similar distribution insfrastructures - possibly P2P which would make sense.

I really can't understand how Matt has confused these two pilots. I mean, if Web User magazine can differentiate between them... [Update: reading it again, it's clear that he hasn't confused them - he's just grumpy about DRM in general]

I can't see how the BBC could be seen to be in a position to make all of its current TV material available for free download. It simply doesn't own the rights, right now.

That might change in the future, but it'll only change when rights holders (tv production companies, presenters, musicians, etc etc - dozens of rights holder even for a 30min sciene doc) see the benefits of a creative commons approach, whilst understanding that the demand is there to download TV shows over the net.

As I'm fond of saying, you can either get stuck in and try to change things, or sit by and wail at the moon.
[that was an unfair & grumpy late night rant - matt did work his arse off to change things...]

Posted by tomski at 07:34 PM
February 25, 2004
Martin Belam on BBC search & librarians

Martin Belam has done a new presentation (2.8Mb, MS Powerpoint), which he put together to impress upon librarians just how much their skills are important in the online context.

The presentation talks about some of the tools, techniques and learning that the BBC uses to deliver its search, categories and metadata services.

Make sure you read the associated notes - much of the meat is in there. Tis good stuff.

Posted by tomski at 10:11 AM
When you're six, you don't even notice you're learning

Every night nowadays Barney has taken to hassling me to teach him some new maths. This might seem slightly odd, but when you're six and you've hit upon a game that stops dad from making you go to sleep, you think you're winning...

[Barney will read this in 10 years time, and get very grumpy with me]

We're on spatial symmetry at the moment - we've done the line, plane and rotational flavours thus far, testing ourselves on various objects in the room such as the slightly tricksy four-legged stool and the various button/logo combos on the remote control.

I'm trying to teach Barney & Rosa *proper* applied science - trying to expain with *what's right*, even if it's really mad and hard, and only then moving to the easier approximations.

Newton was wrong, see. Einstein did for him. Why teach stuff that we know is wrong? Much better to try to teach what is right (or rather, most right thus far) and then explain that there are some nice short-cut ways of getting so-close-it-normally-doesn't-matter to the answer.

Similarly, I remember being livid when I realised that the interior angles of a triangle do not *always* add up to 180 degrees.

Next week, I think we'll try differentiation, starting with TGVs...

(and you think I'd joking...)

Posted by tomski at 01:43 AM
February 23, 2004
Just realised I've never been to Ireland.

I've visited 17% of the world. It's Ego Mapping, innit.

I don't include those countries I've travelled through by train, but never once actaully stepped foot in.

create your own visited country map

Posted by tomski at 12:22 PM
February 21, 2004
Earth From The Air at the Natural History Museum

There's a stunning and wonderfully-lit outdoor exhibition of photographs called Earth From The Air on at the Natural History Museum. It's on until 'Spring 2004', whenever that may be.

Whatever, go.

At night.

Nearest tube is South Ken then follow the signs.

Earth from the Air - A Photographic Portrait of Our Planet

A free open-air exhibition in the Museum's gardens

Earth from the Air - A Photographic Portrait of Our Planet, by celebrated French aerial photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand, is back on show in the Museum's gardens. This astonishing photographic project is a visual record of the state of our planet today.

The exhibition has taken 10 years of research and fieldwork to produce, in which time Arthus-Bertrand has taken over 100,000 shots and clocked up more than 3,000 flying hours, travelling across 100 countries. The images, all aerial photographs, capture the characteristics and patterns of the natural world which can only be seen from a bird's-eye view.

Hosted by The Natural History Museum over the summer, Earth from the Air was a huge success and is now back due to popular demand.

With great consideration to Arthus-Bertrand's vision for the exhibition, the stunning photographs will be presented making use of the natural light and open space of The Natural History Museum's east garden.

Posted by tomski at 06:49 PM
February 19, 2004
No, no *I'm* Lovin It...

(Courtesy of Toby Evetts, ex-fish, now living in LA)

MacDonalds Lovin It Ad next to news story of train explosions many dead

Posted by tomski at 04:22 PM
BBC looking for scary future folk

Auntie needs you to give her some shock treatment...


Are new technologies changing the way you consume traditional media?

The BBC are looking for members of the public to attend sessions with BBC management, discussing the impact of new technologies on viewing / listening behaviour. The questions will be stimulated by a 10 minute film which features several people who are perhaps unusual in their media consumption today, but possibly represent the mainstream in a decades time.

We need respondents that are at the forefront of technology behaving in a way that is currently niche. The four key technologies concerned are:

  • Computer and video games
  • Peer to peer file sharing of television programmes
  • Time shifting of broadcast TV by recording it to a hard drive
  • Self publishing of original content on the internet

If you do any of the above on a regular basis, you are probably suitable for discussion session. Please download and then fill out the this questionnaire (MS Word 36k) [OK, OK, Danny, here it is as a .rtf - it's friday night & I can't be arsed to repurpose it into any other Politically Correct formats... even though I am most enamoured with this little tool.]

email it back to shazia.mustafa@bbc.co.uk

Also please pass this info on to anyone you know who might be interested/fulfill the above criteria

Availability: one or more afternoons during March 8-12 2004 (inc),
Times: 1330-1600
Venue: London, EC3 (near Tower Bridge)
Participants receive 50 cash

Posted by tomski at 03:11 PM
February 18, 2004
Pop Up Piety

From the ever-pious MediaGuardian.co.uk:

Microsoft drops pop-up ads

US software giant has said pop-ups will no longer plague the 350 million users who visit its sites around the world after research showed consumers were no-longer prepared to tolerate the advertisements.

All well and good, if it weren't for the fact the MediaGuardian.co.uk demands that its users 'tolerate' a veritable 'plague' of pop-ups.

Spot the dirty linen being aired...

Posted by tomski at 11:49 AM
February 17, 2004
FaxYourMP Gets A Big Up In Parliament

A Labour MP called Jane Griffiths has laid down an Early Day Motion in Parliament giving FYMP a big up, specifically the MP performance data...

EDM 640: FAX YOUR MP

Griffiths/Jane

That this House congratulates the volunteers of www.faxyourmp.com for the service they provide to allow people to find out who their MP is, contact their MP and then publish information on the speed of the MP's response, introducing a form of performance indicator for Members of Parliament.

No-one else has signed it as yet. Tant pis.

Posted by tomski at 04:57 AM
Danny on the hacker ethic

In other news, Danny has written a great piece on the nature of hacking - the section on FaxYourMP sums up our ethos a treat... and I'd forgotten that Danny, Stef and I had orginally toyed with Doing Fun Stuff With MP's Pagers, until we realised it'd be hugely illegal!


A great hack takes all the existing rules - written and unwritten - and and sets up a new play which is so clearly representative of the consensus underlying the codified game that no-one can argue with it. It doesn't break the game, it extends it.

[..]

We crafted FYMP explicitly as a hack on the political system. It's aesthetics and techniques are drawn directly from the hacking tradition (in the sense of the Jargon File, not the sense of the computer cracker of course).
FaxYourMP provides something which some (by no means all, but some) MPs really don't want - a low-cost way of hassling your elected representative.

It's really hard to object to this, because the rules of the game state that MPs represent their constituents. Over time, other forces - party political and the media mainly - have bypassed those rules so that some MPs do very little constituent tending. This is a gaming that has been very hard to stop. Bad MPs have a lot of excellent techniques for avoiding their constituents. Some are just inaccessible. Some have a great excuse that they try to meet with their constituents, but those apathetic buggers simply refuse to turn up to the surgeries.

We knew that the inaccessibility excuse was just rubbish. If Mr Blair gave your MP a call, they'd be very accessible very quickly. Mr Blair isn't your MP's boss, by the stated rules of the game. You are.

We thought that these days, surgeries were a bit of an anachronism. You shouldn't have to wait until your MP breezes back to your hometown for a chat. It should be incumbent on MPs to improve contact with their voters, not hide behind old systems.

We also knew that all MPs had fax machines, because that's what the infrastructure of party organisation required. (Secrets of FYMP - our original, more radical plan, was to make it an SMS to pager gateway. Tony Benn describes Labour backbenchers as being "pager-controlled", and we thought - ooh, we want a bit of that.)

By setting up the fax gateway - a dirt cheap tech fix, we took those excuses away, and didn't provide any new ones. We tried to rig the forces that broke the MP/constituent link to work for us. When a fax machine doesn't work, it's not us that has to fix it. It's the whip's office, who need to keep in touch with their MP. When MPs don't reply to faxes, we don't do anything. We just alter the public statistics, which the press read and respond to.

But best of all, it's really hard for people to complain about our existence, because we're working within the rules of the game. In fact, people now think we're *part* of the rules of the game. A sizeable minority of people using FYMP think we're a government service, and get angry at us when they're MP doesn't reply.

So that's a hack. Great hacks flourish not in simple codified systems, but in complex social settings too. Part of the growth of hacker culture, the bedrock of the wider technical culture that has grown in the last decade, is realising that the complex aesthetics of hacking can be applied to other areas: social, political, philosophical.

Posted by tomski at 04:49 AM
February 16, 2004
ETCon Lag

Sleep is not coming, so here's my condensed ETCon thoughts:

1) Ambiguity Is A Basic Human Need. Computers Are Shite At Ambiguity.

The talks by Matt Webb and Danah Boyd were two highlights for me. They hammered home the point that social interaction is lubricated by ambiguity. Matt described people needing the option of plausible deniabilty in order for small groups to thrive. White lies are important.

Danah talked about people's need for several, sometimes independent contexts - you might think your boss is awful, but you really shouldn't tell her this to her face. But then you couldn't pretend otherwise to a colleague. Likewise, if you're a teacher, you really don't want your pupils raiding Friendster to see who you're dating or with whom you go clubbing.

Social software - indeed computers full stop - reduce ambiguities to a minimum. By design. Big Problem.

2) Technorati as a feedback tool for journalism.

Say BBC News Online parsed the Technorati API looking for incoming links from the blogsphere to that week's stories, then published those links and synopses. You need to think the precise mechanics through very carefully - the links and synopses would need heavy caveats, and would have to be on a page one-click removed from any BBC journalism itself. Also, why not let BBC News journos sign up to a daily email listing comments about their stories in the Blogsphere?

3) Technorati is an API'd alternative to Pagerank for Site-Search

David Sifry's talk on Technorati got me thinking about their free-to-not-for-profit API. In some ways it's a very cheap way to get something not a million miles away from Google's hugely closed pagerank data if one was looking to derive relevancy from incoming links and associated link text. Am toying with how we might use it for a forthcoming project for which incoming links are going to a significant indicator relevance.

Posted by tomski at 03:51 AM
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