new news foundation two

so far some very interesting comments, i especially want to thank @newsmary, @hemmysphere and @davidwilcox who have already come back with some good questions and things to think about.

Primarily, what is the ‘foundation’ to actually do? When I first started thinking about it a year ago it was to be a small fund to give to developers to get an idea off the ground, move something from a sketch to something to show people and grow. Much like the awesome foundation does but with a domain focus on well, news. I had written a post about wanting to re-imagine what I wanted my news to be and thought that one possible way to get there was to get new code written, outside the big news organisations.

But, something @newsmary said via twitter made me think today. It was about the cost, I had put in a figure based on the awesome foundation again, meaning each month there was £1000 for a worthy project. If that was cheaper though and more people took part and they could direct the funding as they ‘needed’ would that produce something more interesting?

That is what I wanted in the first place, something to help realise my vision on what news was, would in fact a new news foundation in fact be a facilitation route for people to get the news how they wanted?

For example, some people may feel perfectly well served by the mainstream media for most of their news, but the local news is just not reported. What is happening with the local council. The only story they get is the quarterly paper from the council itself. They may feel a use in a subscription to create more local news.

Someone else may prefer the more long form investigative pieces of work, maybe they want briefings on world events?

Then others are quite happy to fund what is, in essence a news organisation that is not owned by any single individual?

Both @newsmary, @hemmysphere and @davidwilcox have rightly pointed out that some discussion on what is needed or wanted is the right next step, should we get a group of people together to start working out what such a foundation would do, before we commit to people putting money into the pot (thanks @hemmysphere), we should connect with the work that @davidwilcox has been doing and @newsmary is also right, that the price has to be right for the people who need this kind of thing, those not already happy and served by the existing media structures.

So, my next step is to get that discussion going. If you want to take part then leave a comment or find me on twitter @marksimpkins.

a new news foundation

An idea that has been about a year in the noodling, you may have noticed some of my thoughts on re-inventing news or at least trying to approach the subject from some different starting points, outside of the existing, large news rooms.

To this end, I want to launch in March 2012 a ‘new news foundation’ along the lines of the Awesome Foundation, so I was thinking of putting this on pledgebank:

‘I pledge to contribute £100 per month for 10 months to the New News Fund if 9 other people also agree to do this. This fund will be used to support and help new ideas in news, journalism and communications.

The projects supported will be decided upon by the fund contributors, and the contributors will be able to vote for an ‘advisory panel’ made up of people we believe will be able to help us find and support the important and interesting new ideas in the continual evolution of the news industry.’

So my first question is does this make sense? In what form should the fund exist, should it be an semi-informal thing, or should it be set up as a proper organisation (which I would prefer to do, but we have to be careful about time available to run something more formal, also we have to make sure that costs to run the fund do not come from the fund).

In doing this project I am interested in being able to support new projects and ideas, but should the fund be able to ‘invest’ in ideas, in the aim of getting a return on the investment and thus able to make more money for the fund? This idea, which I think would be very interesting also has a lot of issues around legislation, since the fund would then be a financial service.

March is the month of launch, so that we can do a 10 month run for 2012. We should be able to produce a report on the projects supported over this period of time. This is both serious but also an opportunity to allow some more playful and esoteric ideas to maybe get more of a foothold than they would otherwise.

Also, any ideas for a better name?

calling international rescue

it is nearly christmas here in the west and then the new year according to the calendar that I currently use. When new year comes around it is a good time to create some goals for that coming year, so this year I am going to post some thoughts around some ideas and goals that I have for 2012, after all it is going to be a busy and interesting year.

Firstly, following on from my wish to curate a set of TED talks that could be shown to school kids in primary school and then getting them to do things inspired by said talks I want to suggest something else to get our children excited by.

The last few years have felt tumultous, disasters, war, cultural upheaval. We need to instill the idea of Preferable Futures now more that ever.

Warren Ellis wrote about ‘rescue fiction‘. Thunderbirds and the like, that excited us as kids. Technology and Engineering used for good to make the world a better place, (whilst still being exciting and adventourous in the process). Now, my son is happy when the ShelterBox his cub group helped fund goes out to help people but what if once a week each term we charged the children with a task, to imagine solutions to current problems.

Lets not hide the world from them, its something exciting to embrace and we can approach this from practicle, design a thing to iamgining a world that they want, why the current status quo is not what they want.

once a week each term, I want schools across the country to make their children ‘International rescue’ and unleash their creativity on the world.

(Mr. Gerry Anderson, please let us do this in the name of the Tracy family).

 

a new new art riot

this weekend just past (19th & 20th November 2011) Rewired State hosted a Hackday For Honda at The Guardian and I got to go along as one of the devs.

It was possibly the scariest hackday to do as what to build, what did Honda and their agency Amplify expect? It was a tricky event but the amazing Rewired State team did pull it off and some amazing ideas got built. You must check them out.

I planned to work with Chris Thorpe (@jaggeree) and originally we planned something on behavioural change but…

You turn up, you think differently, a hard week and you want to try something else. Art became our theme quite quickly and in fact, just making something that could be called art.

So we did.

Under the group name ‘This Is Our Algorithm’ we produced three pieces of art, pieces that had thought and ideas behind them, that should be provoking but playful.

‘The Watchful State’

At last I started my CCTV mapping project, if you have spoken to me in the last ten or more years you will know I have been interested in the idea of mapping our surveillance infrastructure. Over the weekend I started a project to actually start to realise that idea, albeit slowly.

I had discussed the fact that rolling up to a large surveillance installation with a camera and starting to snap would in fact interest the police. But what if the image of the installation was recorded with pencil and paper, or charcoal or even water colours.

The final triptych consists of:

A map made using http://walking-papers.org/ (This is Michal Migurski awesome tool that makes a paper map of anywhere, but you add details to the map, then scan it back in and help add detail to Open Street Map)

A photograph of the CCTV installation in question and a pencil and charcoal drawing or sketch of the street scene.
First art

The other pieces were Karma,

Karma

 

 

and a Dream with a Dream

A Chain of Dreams #hondahack

All three pieces dealt with algorithms, code and control. They were as much about some strange desire we have to codify up our lives into possibly complex but ultimately meaningless algorithms, trying to reduce complexity to a point beyond understandable simplicity to end at a nihilistic pointlessness.

Reality is complex, understanding reality is hard.

That’s what makes it fun!

So we intend to make more art. We will tell you more about it all at This Is Our Algorithm.

UPDATE: 23/11/2011

You have to go and read Chris’ thoughts on the event and learn more about Dream with a Dream. He’s right, I miss it already too and want to build another chain. Possible Christmas decoration project if nothing else.

dispatches from the digital revolution – part one

In 1999 I wrote this for Mute Magazine, its not very good but I am posting it here because I feel that I can now progress and hopefully tell part of a tale that is more complex and mature. This is just a simple thing, early in my career thinking about what the internet means to us, as a place to be and as a contested space. That issue was about Tactical Media.

ICBM vs PING
Mark simpkins

The current war in the Balkans is being called the first Internet war. Previously, the Gulf war was hailed as the first information war. That is, information war in the terms set out by Bruce Sterling, Alvin Toffler, Jean Baudrillard et al – fought by a war machine using the latest information technology to strike at the enemy accurately, quickly and, notionally, ‘without risk to human life’.

Of course, the main front in this information conflict was back at home, packaging and selling the war to the general public. The information war was fought in our living rooms – by each side against it’s own populace. In information conflict, missiles and bombs go on destroying; civilians and soldiers go on being killed, but politicians require at least the illusion of a public mandate to sanction military attacks.

Now, eight years later, we have a similar situation, although this time part of the conflict is taking place online: both war machines involved in the conflict are using websites and newsgroups to spin their media hype.

At the same time, the NATO website was supposedly hit by a denial of service attack, a flood of pings requesting a response from the server and reducing it’s response time to a crawl. In America at least one person took it upon himself to do the same to a pro-Serbian website, using an off-the-shelf spam package.

All of these actions fit wonderfully into the new-speak of military action: ‘SYN Flooding’, ‘Denial of Service Attack’, etc – technical terms that generals would love to be able to use to describe aspects of their bombing campaigns.

Information war has to be constructive, not destructive. Instead of flooding the Net with SYN packets, we should be listening to it’s flood of voices. Away from the electronic toys of crackers and wannabe hackers, the information war is being fought with dialogue, conversation and the broadcast of ideas.
In media terms, the Internet is not quite up there with the televisions, but it’s getting closer to the living room corner. When it does, will we visit the site of consent, as we did before, or will we search out genuinely alternative sources of information? Instead of listening to the news about government sites being brought down by hackers, will we instead find sites built and emails sent by those on both sides of the conflict?

April 1999

This was a time spent reading Sterlings ‘The Hacker Crackdown‘ as well as the work of Toffler, Baudrillard and Virillio. It was also more importantly the time when Radio B92 broadcast online as it was continually silenced over the airwaves. This was thanks to XS4ALL. This ISP’s name appears in at least two recent books, Heather Brooke’s ‘The Revolution Will Be Digitised‘ and Becky Hogge’s ‘Barefoot in Cyberspace‘.

Both these books cover some similar ground, as at there core is the rise of Wikileaks but both also start to examine two areas of contest in our digital space. Heather speaks to the Cypherpunks, the people that broke encryption free from the bounds of being proscribed munitions. What is important here is the realisation from these very same people that they won a battle but ‘lost the war.’ Whilst we can all use encryption, design wise it is not baked into our software and systems. The default has not been to design in privacy but instead allow an open transfer of personal information.

Becky touches on the fact that most digital spaces are now, (arguably were they ever), commons type places. They are owned by corporations, they are beholden to the rules of capitalism. Google has shareholders, whilst for now they may not ‘Do evil’ in the future who is to say that whomever is put in charge by the shareholder decides to do what they want with the information that Google (and many, many other companies) has collected on you.

Information that has been transferred and given up without privacy designed in.

Both of these takes are about control, Adam Curtis touched on this in his recent documentaries ‘All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace.’ I wrote briefly about the first episode and mentioned that this was discussed by the work of Lawrence Lessig in his book Code, and also in the recent work of Douglas Rushkoff.

And I am going to write more about control, of the media, your space online and in the real world next time…

because at 10 the whole world should be an inspiration

I have been to school open days recently, doing research because in a couple of years our eldest needs to leave his beloved primary school and move onto secondary. To that end we are trying to work out where would be best for him to go, even if we have to move.

Doing this though gets me thinking about learning and teaching though and how both can be so much fun and interesting. I know I have tweeted semi-facetiously about ‘starting my own school’ but a part of me would like to do that.

An idea that has better legs though is this, ‘Curate a set of TED talks that you can show a hall or class full of 9 and 10 year olds’ TEDxPrimary possibly?

What talks do you think you could show a bunch of kids at that age, what talks are not going to go over their heads but are going to inspire and excite them. Get them talking about ideas, and thinking about the future and how they are going to shape it.

I actually think this would be quite exciting,

What talks would you show though, what topics would you want to convey?

Maybe this one:

Or maybe

(The link to the site on how to make the play doh for the squishy circuits is here. I would expect that if we showed this at a TEDxPrimary that the play doh and electrical bits were to hand for a real hands on experience.

Clifford Stoll is always interesting

and of course Brian Cox on why we need the explorers

I’m sure you could think and find more just in the wonderful TED Talks archive, if you reached out across the web to the likes of pop!tech and even our own geekyoto I am sure you could start to pull together an exciting set of talks that a group of 10 year olds could watch and get excited about.

Maybe they’ll get so excited they will make something.

[If you think of an interesting talk then add a link in the comments.]

a cirriculum for Journalists in geek

Geek training for Journalists, that is how I have been describing it.

In July 2011 I ran a one day course at The Frontline Club, a basic introduction to the web, how it basically works, what HTML, CSS, JavaScript and PHP are and how to recognise them. How to look at, say an HTML document and begin to take it apart to understand what it was doing.

It was very basic level but for the audience that was what they needed. At the end of the day the feedback was that they were no longer afraid of looking at said pages, or even with experimenting with mark-up. To me that was a success.

I am now planning the next course, again one day this time August 20th (they are both Saturday courses). This time, based on further feedback we are going to go through how to get up and running with WordPress, hosted versions as well as install your own. How to use plugins and how to change the look and feel of the site.  Hopefully it will be as well received as the last course.

In the meantime though, it is time to pull this together, what is the cirriculum for training Journalists in the tools and medium of the internet?

There are fundamentals, how the Internet works, smarts at each end and a relatively ‘dumb’ network inbetween. How anyone can write a client, how you do not have full control over the use/consumption of material on the internet.

There are the basic building blocks, HTML/CSS are vital but so is some understanding of code. You don’t need to be able to code in C/C++ or similar but being able to use a scripting language is going to be of great use.

You can then get into areas of interest I guess. Are you interested in publishing / curation? Then CMS/Blogging platforms might be the tool set you are interested in. Maybe you want to exlpore large data sets or produce visualisations. Maybe its how to make, edit and publish video onto online platforms or maybe its how to work with community sourced leads and information.

Each of these areas can lead you off into a whole rabbit hole of new learning and experimenting and exploring.

So, for both the Frontline Club and Hacks/Hackers London I thought I would try and compile this starting point, I think we need to make a resource, probably helped by both communities that we can point to. Some will be taught courses but I can’t teach everything and some of it is stuff I want to learn about.

To start though we can look at the work that is being done for the two new MA/MSc courses at Goldsmiths, in Digital Journalism and Creating Social Media. They have created a Digital Boot Camp run over three weeks to get all students up to speed on the key digital tools and building blocks that they are going to need for their courses.

All new students of journalism are going to be using these, to be taught some of these but for those already working in the industry its another set of skills to acquire or at least understand.

So let us begin:

The Building Blocks:

  • How the Internet works – TCP/IP, Packets, DNS, Server / Client model
  • Web Servers & Web Browsers
  • HTML / CSS
  • Programming
  • JavaScript / DOM / AJAX
  • Server Side Scripting PHP, Python, Perl
  • Databases SQL

Tools and Services:

  • WordPress
  • CMS / Publishing platforms
  • Video publishing Vimeo/YouTube
  • Social Media Tools
  • Data Tools
  • Mapping Tools

Other Topics

  • Security
  • TOR
  • Encryption
  • System design
  • Community development

We could look at tools out there like the tools built by mySociety.org, platforms such as Ushahidi and SwiftRiver, ScraperWiki and DocumentCloud.

There are many other tools that can be used to drill down further into these subject areas, specific tools for manipulating large data sets or even just gathering them, tools for analysing documents or tools to markup video and audio with extra metadata. If you know of something that you think should be included in such a curriculum, or some resource that would be good to point someone too as a way to learn more about it then please add it to the comments.

Africa Gathering & Light

Africa Gathering is just around the corner, the latest in this series of events.
At the last minute I was pointed towards http://www.illuminationhq.com/, a company that is making and selling a small solar powered LED based lamp. Designed to be cheap, the aim is to get the lamp into areas like Africa, India, Pakistan etc, places where most lighting is still based on the burning fuel.
The lamp is bright enough to light a room, two lamps and you can consider the average room in Tanzania to be fully lit. Each lamp is sold for around $8 and the batteries are good for around 500 charges which should last about a year and a half or so. The replacement batteries are a couple of dollars.
The costs for the kerosene would be $2 – $3 per week, so you can see how these lamps will quickly pay for themselves and also allow people to save a significant amount of money over the lifetime of the initial lamp purchase.
The initial lamp is continually being worked on, improvements to the design to increase the light output are already planned and the company plan to further increase their product range, to sell accessories for the lamps (mounts etc.) as well as investigate the solar technology in chargers for mobile devices, radios etc.
The background for the company is also interesting, they work with NGO’s to get the lamps into countries but they themselves are not a non-profit but operate as a for-profit company. They feel that running in this way actually improves efficiencies.
Someone from Illumination can’t be at Africa Gathering this time, but I have one of the lamps and some presentation material and will be able to show it on the day. Also when the next geekyoto event comes around there is a good chance that someone will be there. The chances are though before that you will hear much more about this small lamp and a small company’s goal of weening whole countries off kerosene.

Africa Gathering is just around the corner, the latest in this series of events.

At the last minute I was pointed towards http://www.illuminationhq.com/, a company that is making and selling a small solar powered LED based lamp. Designed to be cheap, the aim is to get the lamp into areas like Africa, India, Pakistan etc, places where most lighting is still based on the burning fuel.

The lamp is bright enough to light a room, two lamps and you can consider the average room in Tanzania to be fully lit. Each lamp is sold for around $8 and the batteries are good for around 500 charges which should last about a year and a half or so. The replacement batteries are a couple of dollars.

The costs for the kerosene would be $2 – $3 per week, so you can see how these lamps will quickly pay for themselves and also allow people to save a significant amount of money over the lifetime of the initial lamp purchase.

The initial lamp is continually being worked on, improvements to the design to increase the light output are already planned and the company plan to further increase their product range, to sell accessories for the lamps (mounts etc.) as well as investigate the solar technology in chargers for mobile devices, radios etc.

The background for the company is also interesting, they work with NGO’s to get the lamps into countries but they themselves are not a non-profit but operate as a for-profit company. They feel that running in this way actually improves efficiencies.

Someone from Illumination can’t be at Africa Gathering this time, but I have one of the lamps and some presentation material and will be able to show it on the day. Also when the next geekyoto event comes around there is a good chance that someone will be there. The chances are though before that you will hear much more about this small lamp and a small company who have the single goal of

the elimination of kerosene as a domestic fuel source in the developing world.


xskool and emergeAgency

John Thackara has planted the seeds for a new idea, XSkool aims to be a development programme for design professionals to quip them with the ideas and skills to enable them and their organisations to work in the newly emerging world.

The idea reminds me of something that has been in the back of my mind for a while, I have been using the term emergeAgency for a number of ideas recently, trying to link up emerging technology and ideas and giving them immediate agency in the world, often in response to large sudden change.

One was to do a conference, the new Etech with a slightly different focus but the other idea was to set up a ‘pop up agency’ to work on a specific problem. The staff of the agency would be students and professionals from across disciplines. To allow people to work on problems that might not normally fall into their organisations remit, to allow them to stretch their creative muscles in new directions.

The business model is still to be formed, would it be sponsored by the agencies or would we find sponsorship for specific problems?

All these ideas are exciting, opportunities to think in new ways and the opportunities to try to address problems which before would not have fallen into your remit can be exciting.

I hope XSkool does well.

all watched over by machines of loving grace

Adam Curtis’ new series is here (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b011lvb9) and so far, from the first episode it feels more confused than the previous outings.

Lets start:

The real problem was, what was it really about. It was about Power and how the new ideas of the digirati have not replaced the traditional points of power in the global system. This is just a quick response, but I would urge you to read Lessig’s Code and Douglas Rushkoff about the commodification of social media.

I expect the next episode will include Buckminster Fuller and James Lovelock, also have a look at this project by Christian Nold.

I want to write more about this, the idea of our reliance on models and simulation is part of the cause of the economic crash, allowing an out of touchness. The commodification of our online selves continues appace. Every month I see a tweet about ‘If you are not paying then you are the product’ or some variation.

We need new ways of thinking about organisations, structures of power. Although confused in some ways I think Curtis was right, the old hierarchical power structures have continued to manipulate and keep themselves in power. Small cracks might be appearing.

more when I can focus my thoughts.

design for everyday life