Creative Technology Consultants
Random header image... Refresh for more!

Posts from — May 2009

Digital Britain Unconferences Report released: Please sign up!

Digital BritainThe Dig­i­tal Britain Uncon­fer­ences Report is now avail­able. There’s an Exec­u­tive Sum­ma­ry and the full Report itself, and you can read them both below. Most impor­tant of all, assum­ing that you agree with the con­tent, I would encour­age you to put your name to the doc­u­ment by adding a com­ment on the web site with your full name.

The whole process by which this Report came togeth­er is almost as amaz­ing as the final doc­u­ment itself. Feb­ru­ary saw the release of the offi­cial inter­im Dig­i­tal Britain report and the Dig­i­tal Britain Sum­mit, both of which seemed to many to leave a great deal of ques­tions unan­swered and not go near­ly far enough. Com­ments were sought in advance of the release of the final offi­cial report lat­er in the year.

Giv­en vir­tu­al­ly no time, a groundswell of pop­u­lar activism around the coun­try led groups and “Uncon­fer­ences” to be set up to explore and col­lect com­ments to sub­mit for con­sid­er­a­tion, using all the lat­est inter­net tech­nolo­gies and social media sys­tems to organ­ise, pub­li­cise, and allow live par­tic­i­pa­tion in meet­ings all over the coun­try. From rooms full of peo­ple in some loca­tions to a hand­ful of par­tic­i­pants in anoth­er, we all came togeth­er and thrashed out our ideas for how Britain should move for­ward into a dig­i­tal future of uni­ver­sal high-speed sym­met­ri­cal Inter­net access in which we can all par­tic­i­pate. We all added our con­tri­bu­tions to what we felt “Dig­i­tal Britain” should real­ly mean.

Then came the remark­able efforts of a small team of edi­tors to col­late the reports from the indi­vid­ual meet­ings and bring them togeth­er to cre­ate the final Report and Sum­ma­ry. Every­one involved is to be hearti­ly con­grat­u­lat­ed for a tremen­dous job.

I was mild­ly (though hap­pi­ly) sur­prised that my per­son­al account of the Cam­bridge meet­ing end­ed up as the Cam­bridge group’s sub­mis­sion to the report. Inevitably I did­n’t cov­er every nuance of the dis­cus­sion, but I hope oth­er atten­dees feel that I pre­sent­ed it fair­ly and effec­tive­ly. My per­son­al thanks to Bill Thomp­son for con­ceiv­ing the Cam­bridge meet­ing and help­ing to bring the entire effort together.

Now the Dig­i­tal Britain Uncon­fer­ences Report is out there – and is being con­sid­ered by those prepar­ing the offi­cial Gov­ern­ment Dig­i­tal Britain report for pub­li­ca­tion in just a short time – and I am very hap­py to put my name to it. I would like to thank every­one who helped put the Uncon­fer­ences and the result­ing Report togeth­er, for all their hard work assem­bled in a remark­ably short time. I am very pleased to have been able to con­tribute a small part to the process.

I am more than hap­py to endorse the final Dig­i­tal Britain Uncon­fer­ences Report and the rec­om­men­da­tions con­tained there­in. I sin­cere­ly hope it pos­i­tive­ly impacts the Gov­ern­men­t’s plans and deci­sions in this vital­ly impor­tant aspect of the coun­try’s future.

Please read the report, or at least the sum­ma­ry, and if you agree with it and its rec­om­men­da­tions, please add your name to it in the Com­ments sec­tion by click­ing here.

Dig­i­tal Britain Uncon­fer­ences

Dig­i­tal Britain Uncon­fer­ences Report

May 29, 2009   Comments Off on Digital Britain Unconferences Report released: Please sign up!

A Voice in Digital Lives

British Library logoI’ve recent­ly been doing some work record­ing voiceovers for a pro­duc­tion for the British Library. — for­mer­ly SLCN — is the Aus­tralian vir­tu­al world media com­pa­ny that we work with on the week­ly Design­ing Worlds show on vir­tu­al world design and designers.

The pro­duc­tion doc­u­ments aspects of the British Library’s Dig­i­tal Lives Project, a major study of “per­son­al dig­i­tal col­lec­tions”. The project includ­ed a major inter­na­tion­al con­fer­ence that was held both in Sec­ond Life and real life, and the pro­duc­tion includes cov­er­age of the con­fer­ence and com­ments from participants.

May 20, 2009   Comments Off on A Voice in Digital Lives

Connect / Community / Change

Somerset Green FairConnect/Community/Change — CCC. Car­o­line Bar­ry, Les­ley Dock­sey and  Leona Gra­ham have joined up to devel­op a project to help in the trans­for­ma­tion of the envi­ron­men­tal ‘Tran­si­tion’ move­ment — from a non-sus­tain­able to a sus­tain­able future.

The group had a stand at the upcom­ing South Som­er­set Green Fair & Scythe Fes­ti­val at Thor­ney Lake, near Langport/Glastonbury, Som­er­set on Sun­day 14 June 2009. We were there to lis­ten - and from thence to action.  It was high­ly suc­cess­ful and lots of fun to boot!

We can do it; we can find a way, in each of our com­mu­ni­ties: we have the pow­er and the means.

May 19, 2009   Comments Off on Connect / Community / Change

Standing for Election at a Critical Time

Cam­bridgeshire Coun­ty Coun­cil ‑4 June, 2009

Vote Liberal Democrat on June 4I am stand­ing for pub­lic office to make a state­ment about stand­ing for what one believes:  pol­i­tics needs to be trans­formed into efforts on behalf of the ben­e­fit of all the peo­ple - not a means of pow­er where a few peo­ple make prof­its on behalf of them­selves and a small minor­i­ty of fam­i­ly, friends and col­leagues, using a pub­lic office to make prof­its at pub­lic expense by ‘flip­ping’ or over­charg­ing for any num­ber of spu­ri­ous reasons.

I am stand­ing on behalf of the Lib­er­al Democ­rats for Cam­bridgeshire Coun­ty Coun­cil because the Lib­er­al Demo­c­rat Par­ty stands for a high per­cent­age of what I believe in.

What do I believe in? Once upon a time I called myself a Social­ist — and once upon a time, an Old Labour Par­ty might have cov­ered my aims, but that time has long passed. The Lib Dems are my best bet — and yours too, if you want fair­ness and jus­tice and reform in the polit­i­cal sphere.

The Tories are hid­ing their true elis­tist colours behind the green façade of their youngish leader; Labour has foundered under end­less years of would-be Thatch­erism. UKIP is a divi­sive and dan­ger­ous side­track. Let’s bring back the true face of Liberalism.

I was born in Cana­da but have lived in the UK (Scot­land and Eng­land) for well nigh 30 years — and have been mar­ried to an invet­er­ate (but adorable) Eng­lish­man for over twen­ty years. Once upon a time I  ran for the Greens (1992 Gen­er­al Elec­tions) and in Cana­da I sup­port the New Democ­rats. I want to bring light and air — maybe trans­paren­cy is the buzz word — into pol­i­tics; but above all, we need gov­ern­ment account­able to the peo­ple. Right on, eh ?

May 19, 2009   Comments Off on Standing for Election at a Critical Time

Blue-Sky Thoughts on Digital Britain

Digital BritainBill Thomp­son arranged a “Dig­i­tal Britain Uncon­fer­ence” in Cam­bridge on May 7th, which I attend­ed. It was a small affair, with a total of around half a dozen peo­ple involved over the course of the meet­ing. We observed that it being so easy to get to Lon­don, many peo­ple from the area would have gone to the Lon­don meet­ing at the ICA the night before.

Here are some mus­ings around what we dis­cussed. [The fol­low­ing became essen­tial­ly the bulk of the Cam­bridge con­tri­bu­tion to the Dig­i­tal Britain Uncon­fer­ence Report.]

We start­ed the gath­er­ing next to the lamp-post in the cen­tre of Park­er’s Piece in Cam­bridge and ulti­mate­ly adjourned to the Pic­ture­House café nearby.

On the agen­da were three main areas: which we iden­ti­fied as core con­cerns and restrict­ed our­selves essen­tial­ly to those areas: Infra­struc­ture, Broad­cast­ing and Rights.

We began by not­ing that we were aware that there was a dif­fer­ence between “blue sky” think­ing and what was actu­al­ly regard­ed as prac­ti­cal to achieve, but inevitably as we did adopt a fair­ly expan­sive view as far as infra­struc­ture is con­cerned, that fed over into oth­er areas of the discussion.


Both Bill and I have jour­nal­is­tic and broad­cast back­grounds (he being more accom­plished than I am) but one thing we have in com­mon is that we are in sev­er­al sens­es not only con­tent providers but also used to work­ing with con­tent providers. As a result it’s per­haps inevitable that we are going to assume (and I think right­ly) that if not every­one, then at least a great many more peo­ple than are cur­rent­ly able, would like to become con­tent providers them­selves, whether they want to pod­cast, video­cast or even run TV or radio chan­nels. All of that means that what­ev­er net­work infra­struc­ture we might see being made avail­able, it had to be sym­met­ri­cal: it had to have equal up- and down­load speeds.

And inevitably those speeds would want to be sub­stan­tial, espe­cial­ly if we want to do HDTV on demand, for exam­ple. We did not feel that the sug­gest­ed 2Mb/s uni­ver­sal broad­band ser­vice, deliv­ered by run­ning fibre to a cab­i­net at the end of the road and some­thing like nor­mal cop­per wire from there to the house, was suf­fi­cient, and favoured a solu­tion bring­ing fibre to the indi­vid­ual home or business.

There are like­ly to be some objec­tions to this. Fibre to the indi­vid­ual router is prob­a­bly ten times more expen­sive than run­ning it to the cab­i­net. Sym­met­ri­cal routers mean expen­sive high-speed trans­mit­ters. And in addi­tion, there’s an argu­ment that says that what is being done here is the equiv­a­lent of bring­ing basic mains water or elec­tric­i­ty sup­ply to the most remote parts of the UK. A col­league of mine points out that there is a vil­lage in South Wales that got mains elec­tric­i­ty after he got broad­band in his Cam­bridgeshire vil­lage. And any­way, what would every­one do with all that bandwidth?

We, I think, would take the view that if South Korea can aim high then so can we, and we real­ly ought to offer peo­ple some­thing in the order of 200Mb/s even if you or I can’t think of the things that oth­ers might want to do with it all…yet. Just as we can think of pos­si­bil­i­ties, so can oth­er peo­ple: we are a cre­ative lot in this coun­try. Look at how pop­u­lar inno­v­a­tive, sim­ple-to-use tech­nolo­gies like Audio­Boo, which enables peo­ple to record short audio seg­ments on their mobile phones and share them with the world, have caught on. Video­boo is on its way, and apps like this are just the begin­ning. Look out: “Here comes every­body”, to quote Clay Shirky.

It’s quite like­ly that some parts of the coun­try would sim­ply be impos­si­ble to access direct­ly with fibre. In some cas­es a point-to-point microwave link could be used to car­ry a data feed out to a remote vil­lage, for exam­ple, with land-based dis­tri­b­u­tion at the far end.

In addi­tion we would envis­age the estab­lish­ment of an exten­sive wire­less net­work, using WiMax or sim­i­lar tech­nol­o­gy. This would pro­vide high-speed mobile access, back­up in the case of a pick­axe through a cable, and dis­tri­b­u­tion with­in rur­al areas. Indeed, the idea would be that you could trav­el around the coun­try while lis­ten­ing to inter­net radio or even watch­ing a TV channel.


Which brings us on to broad­cast­ing. Bill Thomp­son used a phrase on BBC World Ser­vice’s Dig­i­tal Plan­et recent­ly which I think is very apt. He not­ed that what­ev­er dis­tri­b­u­tion medi­um was in use in the future, “the space occu­pied by radio” would always be there (indeed, despite all the oth­er options avail­able today, radio lis­ten­ing in the UK is at a 10-year high). And the space occu­pied by tele­vi­sion. And so on. If you have high-speed inter­net access all over the coun­try, at home or on the move, then you have obvi­at­ed the entire exist­ing broad­cast infra­struc­ture (and the cell­phone net­works, while we’re at it), but you have not obvi­at­ed the pro­vi­sion of con­tent — although the pos­si­bil­i­ties are imme­di­ate­ly a great deal broad­er. Not only can exist­ing broad­cast­ers be car­ried via the net­work but entire­ly new ones too — and increas­ing­ly, “broad­cast­ers” can be any­where on a con­tin­uüm from an indi­vid­ual to a large cor­po­ra­tion, and their lis­ten­ers can num­ber a hand­ful of friends or mil­lions across the world.

In addi­tion, the car­ry­ing of broad­cast­ing via the inter­net means that on the one hand the phys­i­cal lay­er that car­ries the net­work is imma­te­r­i­al (it’s what­ev­er gets the inter­net to the sub­scribers): it’s all the same kind of sig­nal; and on the oth­er, every com­mu­ni­ca­tions device you have will essen­tial­ly have the same front end: an IP-based com­mu­ni­ca­tion mod­ule. At the oth­er end it might look like a TV or a radio or a phone.

How’s it done?

It’s quite obvi­ous that a high-speed Nation­al Net­work Infra­struc­ture is not going to be built by pri­vate com­pa­nies on their own. Even with Gov­ern­ment sup­port it could be dif­fi­cult. Every­one would want to focus on the easy and thus prof­itable urban and inter-urban paths and nobody would be up for the rur­al areas. When the tele­phone sys­tem was installed, it was a nation­al pub­lic monop­oly. As a result, the prof­itable and easy urban rout­ings were able to sub­sidise the dif­fi­cult and thus expen­sive rur­al ones.

In the same way, the NNI should be a pub­licly-owned monop­oly so that such a sys­tem of easy sub­si­dis­ing dif­fi­cult can exist. Of course the project will involve sub­con­tract­ing to pri­vate cor­po­ra­tions, but the project would be man­aged and oper­at­ed on a nation­al basis. The NNI would be respon­si­ble for bring­ing the pipe into the house and main­tain­ing the ser­vice to that point; beyond that the user would install, or have installed, their own routers and oth­er equip­ment, and could employ spe­cial­ist providers to han­dle this along with main­te­nance and oth­er facilities.

An anal­o­gy I pre­sent­ed via the online link to the York­shire and Hum­ber­side DBUC a few days before was that the NNI is like Net­work Rail and the rest of us either run the trains or trav­el on them. Of course the anal­o­gy went down like a lead bal­loon, but you can eas­i­ly grasp what I am get­ting at. It should also be remem­bered that we had over 30 years of run­ning nation­al enter­pris­es, by and large suc­cess­ful­ly, under Gov­ern­ments of either colour and we would be bet­ter at it today than we were then: we know how to sub­di­vide and localise organ­i­sa­tions to max­imise their effi­cien­cy, for example.

In addi­tion, com­mu­ni­ty efforts could help reduce effec­tive costs, and — for exam­ple — sub­scribers could help make access eas­i­er as in this Nor­we­gian expe­ri­ence.

If peo­ple have direct access to the inter­net at high speed, what does an ISP do? Basi­cal­ly, the tra­di­tion­al role dis­ap­pears, and instead ISPs become “Inter­net Ser­vices Providers”, pro­vid­ing the web, email and data man­age­ment ser­vices that peo­ple can­not, or choose not to, oper­ate them­selves. In addi­tion, with the NNI’s respon­si­bil­i­ty end­ing at the doorstep, there would be plen­ty of room for inde­pen­dent con­trac­tors as well as larg­er organ­i­sa­tions to sup­ply, install, con­fig­ure and main­tain the routers and oth­er on-site infra­struc­ture required by sub­scribers to access the system.

How would it be paid for?

The sys­tem would be most eas­i­ly cov­ered by direct tax­a­tion, mak­ing the indi­vid­ual con­tri­bu­tion rel­a­tive­ly small. It seems that “spare” dig­i­tal switchover funds have already been spo­ken for at least twice so I would not expect those to be avail­able, and in any event, this is a rather larg­er project than 2Mb/s.

Dig­i­tal Rights

If we are going to let a mil­lion broad­cast­ers bloom and make it pos­si­ble to down­load an HD movie in a mat­ter of min­utes, peo­ple need to have the rights to han­dle copy­right mate­r­i­al legal­ly. The obvi­ous answer is a form of blan­ket licens­ing, where for an annu­al fee, you can do what you like. Aver­aged out over the online pop­u­la­tion this would be a rel­a­tive­ly small amount.

Dis­tri­b­u­tion ini­tial­ly could be via a “black box” sys­tem in which all the income goes into a fund which would be dis­trib­uted pro­por­tion­al­ly to artists etc in the same pro­por­tion as oth­er rights. How­ev­er there would be a cap, as with the Pub­lic Lend­ing Right, or a slid­ing scale, so the income for an extreme­ly pop­u­lar artist would lev­el off some­what, while still remain­ing sub­stan­tial. A fund would be set up, admin­is­tered by the roy­al­ty col­lec­tion soci­eties, to ear­mark a pro­por­tion of this income for devel­op­ing new talent.

If nec­es­sary a dis­tinc­tion could be made between con­sumers, cre­ators and dis­trib­u­tors of copy­right mate­r­i­al so, for exam­ple, there might be a blan­ket fee for enjoy­ing copy­right mate­r­i­al and an addi­tion­al fee for run­ning a music radio sta­tion. The prin­ci­ple should be to encour­age user-gen­er­at­ed con­tent and rely on the fact that lots of peo­ple pay­ing a small amount will prob­a­bly gen­er­ate a great deal more mon­ey than a few pay­ing a lot.

In the long term a “black box” sys­tem would become unwork­able as the roy­al­ties gen­er­at­ed by NNI usage would become the most sig­nif­i­cant source, and thus there would be no ref­er­ence against which to dis­trib­ute them pro­por­tion­al­ly. At this point there would be the need to intro­duce an auto­mat­ic log­ging sys­tem in which each media usage was record­ed and used to cal­cu­late roy­al­ty payments.

Regard­ing copy­right in more gen­er­al terms, the prin­ci­ple should be estab­lished that no pub­lic-domain work should ever be tak­en out of the pub­lic domain: changes of copy­right leg­is­la­tion could not be retroac­tive as a mat­ter of principle.

And that about rounds up my thoughts fol­low­ing the Dig­i­tal Britain Cam­bridge Uncon­fer­ence Part 1. Thanks to Bill for organ­is­ing the event and to Ellie and the oth­ers who dropped in for a chat dur­ing this infor­mal meeting.

May 11, 2009   Comments Off on Blue-Sky Thoughts on Digital Britain

iPhys Series 2 gets the go-ahead

We’re very pleased to report that City of Sun­der­land Col­lege have com­mis­sioned us to do a sec­ond series of our pop­u­lar iPhys Dig­i­tal Revi­sion Notes in Biol­o­gy and Phys­i­ol­o­gy — this time on Biol­o­gy topics.

The first set of 23 pod­casts (or mini-pro­grammes or seg­ments, what­ev­er you would like to call them) cov­ered a set of Phys­i­ol­o­gy top­ics and was start­ed last Sep­tem­ber. We com­plet­ed it recent­ly, nice­ly in time for stu­dents to use them in revi­sion for upcom­ing exam­i­na­tions. The series can be down­loaded from the course web site. As they include pro­duc­tion library music (they would have been rather bor­ing oth­er­wise) they required a PRS/MCPS pod­cast­ing licence but this was very afford­able thanks to the num­ber of items, the num­ber of stu­dents and the fact that the dis­tri­b­u­tion is known.

Now we have the go-ahead for anoth­er set of around the same size, this time cov­er­ing a sim­i­lar num­ber of Biol­o­gy top­ics. Once again they will be writ­ten by Lynne Hardy and Car­ol Whalen Grif­fiths, and we hope to have them writ­ten and record­ed in time for the new aca­d­e­m­ic year in September.

We’ll be select­ing a new set of music beds for the new series and in con­trast with the electronic/contemporary feel of the iPhys beds, we may choose some­thing a lit­tle more organ­ic for the new series.

What we do need to do is to think about what to call them. They could still be part of  “iPhys”, which might be just as well, as “iBio” does­n’t quite roll off the tongue so well…

May 4, 2009   Comments Off on iPhys Series 2 gets the go-ahead