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Posts from — July 2009

Cambridge Geek Nights: Recommended

Last night I went along to the sec­ond Cam­bridge Geek Night, held upstairs at the May­pole pub in Park Street, Cam­bridge (right next to the Park Street car park) for an evening of net­work­ing, chat­ting and short presentations.

In addi­tion to good com­pa­ny, the evening includ­ed free drinks (cour­tesy of The Guardian’s Open Plat­form!) and the pub serves excel­lent food. What more could you ask?

The three pre­sen­ta­tions con­sist­ed of Richard Boul­ton on Xapi­an, an inter­est­ing open-source search engine; a pair of local lawyers from Tay­lor Vint­ners solic­i­tors giv­ing an overview of the legal­i­ties of entre­pre­neur­ship (and although I knew some of it, it was most def­i­nite­ly direct­ly use­ful); and final­ly Michael Brun­ton-Spall from The Guardian, who gave us a fas­ci­nat­ing view of the paper’s API and what you can do with it, and a tiny glimpse into the future of what I believe is the best news­pa­per in the coun­try. And between pre­sen­ta­tions, time for a good chat with a few of the (about 30+) attendees.

Kudos to Véro Pep­per­rell, “Social Media Con­sul­tant and Geekette”, aka “that­cana­di­an­girl”  for a great evening: next event is in about six weeks, so if you live or work in the Cam­bridge area, keep an eye on the Cam­bridge Geek Night blog for details of the next one. Plus you can sign up for an email list here.

July 30, 2009   Comments Off on Cambridge Geek Nights: Recommended

Women in Technology – OpenTech 2009

Here’s the last of my video sequences from the Open­Tech 2009 Con­fer­ence, which I was pleased to both attend and speak at.

Women In Tech­nol­o­gy was a fas­ci­nat­ing and use­ful con­scious­ness-rais­ing ses­sion that more men should have stayed for! It was a fol­low-up to this year’s Ada Lovelace Day.

Chaired by Zoe Mar­go­lis, the pan­el con­sist­ed of Sue Black, Janet Parkin­son, Suw Char­man-Ander­son and Kathryn Kor­rick (right to left as you look at the screen). Each gave a short pre­sen­ta­tion and the ses­sion end­ed with ques­tions from the floor.

The vast major­i­ty of most of the pre­sen­ta­tions is cov­ered in this video, with the excep­tion of Kathryn Cor­rick­’s mini-work­shop (which I par­tic­i­pat­ed in and thus could­n’t eas­i­ly shoot) and a slight hic­cup when the bat­tery ran out – sub­se­quent sec­tions are hand-held as Sanyo thought­ful­ly placed the pow­er input con­nec­tor for my cam­corder so as to obscure the tri­pod sock­et. Hmph.

How­ev­er there is enough here to appre­ci­ate the major­i­ty of the content.

Women In Tech­nol­o­gy — Open­Tech 2009 from Richard Elen on Vimeo.

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July 10, 2009   Comments Off on Women in Technology – OpenTech 2009

Video from Bletchley Park

Here are two short video sequences shot on Spring Bank Hol­i­day, 25 May 2009, at Bletch­ley Park, near Mil­ton Keynes.

Bletch­ley Park is an impor­tant aspect of Britain’s tech­no­log­i­cal and wartime her­itage, where unique machines, includ­ing the world’s first pro­gram­ma­ble com­put­er, Colos­sus, were built to read Ger­man cod­ed mes­sages. It’s been sug­gest­ed that the work at Bletch­ley Park short­ened the war by as much as two years.

The two videos are as follows:

The Tun­ny machine

David Stan­ley, a mem­ber of the team at Bletch­ley Park, describes how the ‘Tun­ny’ emu­la­tor machine was used to decrypt high-lev­el wartime Ger­man mes­sages pro­duced by the Lorenz SZ40 and SZ42 encryp­tion units, and a lit­tle about the recon­struc­tion of the machine at Bletch­ley Park.

The ‘Colos­sus’ was used to work out the start­ing posi­tions (equiv­a­lent to the ini­tial set­tings on the Lorenz machine) and then the ‘Tun­ny’ emu­la­tor (the name ‘Tun­ny’ actu­al­ly applied to the traf­fic), the machine demon­strat­ed here, actu­al­ly decrypt­ed the mes­sages and print­ed them out on a teleprinter.

‘Tun­ny’ emu­la­tor at Bletch­ley Park from Richard Elen on Vimeo.

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The Colos­sus Rebuild

Tony Sale led the team that recon­struct­ed a Colos­sus Mark 2 com­put­er, which was com­plet­ed in 2007 at Bletch­ley Park. Here he is seen describ­ing how Colos­sus was used and a lit­tle about the rebuild.

The orig­i­nal Colos­sus was the world’s first pro­gram­ma­ble dig­i­tal com­put­er. Colos­sus machines were used by the code­break­ers at Bletch­ley Park dur­ing WW II to help read encrypt­ed mes­sages and employed valves (vac­u­um tubes) to per­form the cal­cu­la­tions. The machines were designed by engi­neer Tom­my Flow­ers with Allen Coombs, Sid Broad­hurst and Bill Chandler.

The Colos­sus machines were used to help decrypt Ger­man mes­sages sent using the Lorenz S40/42 machines which, unlike Enig­ma, had 12 set­ting wheels. Colos­sus deter­mined the start­ing posi­tions for the wheels so that the Tun­ny machine (see above) could decrypt the mes­sage itself.

Colos­sus Rebuild at Bletch­ley Park from Richard Elen on Vimeo.

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Today, Bletch­ley Park and the Nation­al Muse­um of Com­put­ing that is co-sit­ed there, need your help to sur­vive. The estab­lish­ment receives no Gov­ern­ment fund­ing (why?) and relies entire­ly on dona­tions. Can you help? Vis­it Bletch­ley Park or its web site, and see the Nation­al Muse­um of Com­put­ing — for more details, click the links in this para­graph, and please help save Bletch­ley Park.

Please also vis­it Dr Sue Black­’s Sav­ing Bletch­ley Park Cam­paign site.

You can also watch video of the Bombe tak­en on the 26 July, 2009 Find­ing Ada group visit.

July 9, 2009   Comments Off on Video from Bletchley Park

The Great Returning: Inhabiting Our MotherWorld

A work­shop with Leona Gra­ham and Penn Kemp, Sun­day, Octo­ber 4, 2009, 10:00 am–5:30 pm, Lon­don, Ontario.

An expe­ri­en­tial work­shop ded­i­cat­ed to empow­er­ing the indi­vid­ual to attune to our Great Moth­er Earth and life-sus­tain­ing, enhanc­ing val­ues.  Par­tic­i­pants will emerge ground­ed in real­is­tic ways and means to face these crit­i­cal times where the choic­es we make can make all the difference.

How are the arts rel­e­vant to sus­tain­abil­i­ty?  How can we artic­u­late our con­vic­tions in ways that move the read­er to action?  We will help empow­er you to write with a short read­ing to encour­age you in your own work.  A series of exer­cis­es on cre­ativ­i­ty will give par­tic­i­pants direct expe­ri­ence and prac­ti­cal sug­ges­tions for spurring the imag­i­na­tion and hon­ing writ­ing skills.  Inspi­ra­tion will present itself through the kind of coach­ing that is only pos­si­ble in a small group and in the safe set­ting we provide!

Leona and Penn share deep com­mon ground through decades of friend­ship and shared expe­ri­ence in var­i­ous realms: the lit­er­ary arts; com­mu­ni­ty and peace activism; con­ser­va­tion and deep ecology.

For­mer aca­d­e­mics, we have each sup­port­ed our­selves out­side the main­stream com­mer­cial com­plex since the ear­ly 70’s. Despite the Atlantic often between us, we have long nav­i­gat­ed and main­tained a syn­er­gy of shared dimen­sions. As co-cre­ators, we are involved in con­nect­ing envi­ron­men­tal pol­i­tics with god­dess spir­i­tu­al­i­ty both in our own writ­ing and through work­shops around the world (includ­ing Glas­ton­bury and Findhorn).

As lis­ten­er-con­ven­ers, Leona and Penn cre­ate an expan­sive but prac­ti­cal field of pos­si­bil­i­ties for and with the group.

525 Can­ter­bury Road, Lon­don, Ontario, Canada.
Con­tact: +1 519 434 8555, penn[at] or leona[at] – or use the Con­tact Form.

About Leona:

Born in Hal­i­fax dur­ing WW2
Edu­cat­ed: Med­way & Oakridge High Schools, UWO (BA/MA), PhD Stud­ies UBC
Cold War Mil­i­tary ser­vice 1959-ear­ly 60’s: RCAF & RCN ®

Her (now 95 year-old) feisty mum in Lon­don, Ontario, Cana­da, helped moti­vate Leona become an ear­ly envi­ron­men­tal activist when she brought home a copy of Rachel Carson’s ground­break­ing Silent Spring (1962). Like many oth­ers she became deeply involved in ‘Pol­lu­tion Probe’ and ‘Whole­food Coop’ type efforts, pre­sag­ing the larg­er eco­log­i­cal-con­ser­va­tion move­ment. The birth of a daugh­ter pro­vid­ed fur­ther moti­va­tion. Before aban­don­ing her suc­cess­ful aca­d­e­m­ic teach­ing career, Leona turned her ‘60’s uni­ver­si­ty stu­dents onto envi­ron­men­tal and oth­er good caus­es.  She embraced full-time activism, head­ing off round the world to see how the oth­er half lived (not very well), and final­ly set­tled down (in the 70’s) in the Find­horn Com­mu­ni­ty in NE Scotland—an organ­ic eco-vil­lage, found­ed, in the same year as Rachel’s book appeared—its roots based in ‘Coöper­a­tion with Nature’—a hands-on but ‘spir­i­tu­al’ focus. ‘Find­horn’ and its eco-projects have remained a con­stant fac­tor through the years, despite stints spent in oth­er spe­cial com­mu­ni­ties round the world, includ­ing Glas­ton­bury (Eng­land): found­ing the Sus­tain­able Liv­ing Com­pa­ny from an eco-char­i­ta­ble enter­prise called The Wise Crone Café (Glas­ton­bury Fes­ti­val) as well as help­ing found and devel­op var­i­ous cul­tur­al enti­ties: The Library of Aval­on, The Assem­bly Rooms Project, The Isle of Aval­on Trust, The God­dess Tem­ple, Ari­adne Pro­duc­tions and the spec­tac­u­lar annu­al The God­dess Con­fer­ence (where once again this year she is pre­sent­ing). She has also sup­port­ed com­mu­ni­ty and envi­ron­men­tal activism in Ojai and Topan­ga Canyon (Cal­i­for­nia). She now lives in a small fen vil­lage in Cam­bridgeshire UK, con­tin­u­ing her envi­ron­men­tal work on a local and national/international basis. Through the years she has been involved in a vari­ety of inter­na­tion­al con­ser­va­tion orga­ni­za­tions as Inter­na­tion­al Pro­gram Direc­tor at The WILD Foun­da­tion (USA), help­ing run two World Wilder­ness Con­gress­es (1983 in Scot­land & 1997 in India) and the Chee­tah Con­ser­va­tion Fund (CCF) (Namibia/ USA/ UK/ Canada/Japan).  Both WILD’s and CCF’s work include a strong ‘eco-vil­lage’ aspect as they are involved in on-the-ground com­mu­ni­ty-build­ing. And of course, in any spare time she has, she con­tin­ues to write poetry.

About Penn:
Penn is an enthu­si­as­tic prac­ti­tion­er of the cre­ativ­i­ty she teach­es.  She has been giv­ing work­shops for forty years.  Her years of Bud­dhist prac­tice has led her to give dozens of work­shops on Saras­vati ( Hin­du and Bud­dhist deity of the arts), “Inspi­ra­tion” and on “Invok­ing Your Muse”.  An intrigue with ancient mythol­o­gy has tak­en her on many jour­neys, in search espe­cial­ly of Black Madon­nas in all their guis­es.  Pen­n’s fas­ci­na­tion with Egypt led her to vis­it twice, once with oth­er meta­phys­i­cal teach­ers, and again as tour leader.  Her lat­est CDs are“Helwa!”, from Suite Ancient Egypt ‚and Dark­ness Vis­i­ble.  You can read more on and  Sec­tions of What Springs to Mind, her book on cre­ative writ­ing, are up on The Asso­ci­a­tion of Cana­di­an Stud­ies and the Cana­da Coun­cil spon­sored Pen­n’s read­ing tours through­out India and Brazil.  She has per­formed at arts fes­ti­vals and con­fer­ences around the world, includ­ing two Find­horn Arts Fes­ti­vals and the Glas­ton­bury God­dess Con­fer­ence.  She is Cana­da Coun­cil writer-in-res­i­dence at the Uni­ver­si­ty of West­ern Ontario, 2009-10.

Invest­ment in You (North Amer­i­can lin­go for fee): $100. Before Sep­tem­ber 1: $60.
As spaces in the work­shop are very lim­it­ed, your place will be reserved as soon as we receive your payment.
Please send your cheque to Pen­das Pro­duc­tions, 525 Can­ter­bury Road, Lon­don ON N6G2N5.
No refunds, sorry.

July 9, 2009   Comments Off on The Great Returning: Inhabiting Our MotherWorld

Sir Bonar Neville-Kingdom at OpenTech 2009

Rather unex­pect­ed­ly, I was able to be present at, and to cap­ture the major­i­ty of, this address to the atten­dees at Open­Tech 2009 by Sir Bonar Nevill-King­dom, self-described as “Her Majesty’s most senior civ­il ser­vant con­cerned with Infor­ma­tion and Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Tech­nolo­gies (or “ICTs”) [and] the Prime Minister’s data-shar­ing czar.”

He dis­cussed “The Three Pil­lars of Dig­i­tal Britain” and the major­i­ty of the text of his address may be found here.

Due to the unex­pect­ed nature of this event, I regret that the very front of the pre­sen­ta­tion is miss­ing and the video is hand-held. The Open Rights Group, with a lev­el of fore­sight that has to be seen to be believed, has pub­lished a rather bet­ter record­ing of this event, and I am pleased to direct you to their ver­sion on Or you can watch my wob­bly ver­sion below.

Sir Bonar Neville-King­dom — Open­Tech 2009 from Richard Elen on Vimeo.
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July 8, 2009   Comments Off on Sir Bonar Neville-Kingdom at OpenTech 2009

Ben Goldacre at OpenTech 2009

Ben Goldacre is a med­ical doc­tor and best-sell­ing author of the (high­ly rec­om­mend­ed) book Bad Sci­ence, which was short­list­ed for the BBC’s Samuel John­son Prize for Non-Fic­tion recent­ly. The book shows how you can sim­ply apply the sci­en­tif­ic method to suc­cess­ful­ly guard your­self against both main­stream and “alter­na­tive” med­ical scams, and debunk non-demon­stra­ble claims, with some fair­ly scary examples.

In this some­what impromp­tu talk deliv­ered at Open­Tech 2009, Ben looks at how we could take some of the ideas in the book a good deal fur­ther. Ben’s talk was part of the after-lunch ses­sion in the main hall, and he is seen with Bill Thomp­son (you can see Bil­l’s talk here) and chair Zoe Margolis.

Ben Goldacre: “Beyond Bad Sci­ence”, Open­Tech 2009 from Richard Elen on Vimeo.

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July 7, 2009   Comments Off on Ben Goldacre at OpenTech 2009

OpenTech 2009 materials online

opentechHere’s the cur­rent list of Open­Tech 2009 mate­r­i­al I’ve been able to locate online, organ­ised by ses­sion num­ber. If I’ve missed any­one, please add a com­ment with details (Updat­ed 14:00, 24 July):

Ses­sion 1

  • Main Hall Ses­sion 1 audio Com­mu­ni­ty and Democ­ra­cy in Hijacked Space (Space Hijack­ers); Does FoI work? You Bet! (Heather Brooke)
  • Room 3E Ses­sion 1 audio Radio Dra­ma at a dis­tance (Richard Elen); Dig­i­tal archae­ol­o­gy of the micro­com­put­er, 1974–1994 (Steve Good­win); How can open video become the new TV? (Hamish Campbell)
    Richard Elen on Radio Dra­ma at a Dis­tance (slide­cast with audio)

Ses­sion 2

  • Main Hall Ses­sion 2 audio Mak­ing things hap­pen: Going beyond ideas to imple­men­ta­tion. With Tom Stein­berg (mySo­ci­ety), Tom Loose­more (4iP and more) and Louise Fer­gu­son (Open­Rights­Group and more).
  • Upper Hall Ses­sion 2 audio Dig­i­tal Engage­ment — Richard Stir­ling (Cab­i­net Office); Open Gov­ern­ment Data — John Sheri­dan (OPSI); Open­ing Up Gov­ern­ment Data: Give it to us Raw, Give it to us Now — Rufus Pol­lock (Open Knowl­edge Foundation)

Ses­sion 3

Ses­sion 4

Ses­sion 5

Ses­sion 6


July 6, 2009   Comments Off on OpenTech 2009 materials online

Bill Thompson on the “Two Cultures Problem”

One of the high points of my atten­dance at Open­Tech 2009 on Sat­ur­day was the after-lunch talk by Bill Thomp­son, whom I would rate as one of the UK’s lead­ing tech­nol­o­gy com­men­ta­tors. He writes and broad­casts fre­quent­ly (such as on BBC World Ser­vice’s week­ly tech­nol­o­gy show Dig­i­tal Plan­et, which I also rec­om­mend high­ly), and is well worth fol­low­ing.

He took as his theme an updat­ed take on the “Two Cul­tures Prob­lem”, after CP Snow’s famous lec­ture of 50 years ago.

From the notes for Open­Tech: “It’s fifty years since CP Snow’s famous lec­ture on the Two Cul­tures – sci­ence and lit­er­a­ture. We seem to have a dif­fer­ent divide these days, between ‘peo­ple like us’ and the rest. What might be done about this?”

Here’s the video I took of Bil­l’s talk – which is the short ver­sion of one he gave last month in Cam­bridge, for which a record­ing is cur­rent­ly unavailable.

Bill Thomp­son on “The Two Cul­tures Prob­lem”: Open­Tech 2009 from Richard Elen on Vimeo.

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Read more of Bil­l’s work at - and you may also find his BBC News | Tech­nol­o­gy arti­cle, A nation of pro­gram­mers? of interest.

July 6, 2009   Comments Off on Bill Thompson on the “Two Cultures Problem”

“Radio Drama At A Distance” OpenTech presentation

opentechOn 4 July I was pleased to be able to give a pre­sen­ta­tion at Open­Tech, held at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Lon­don Union, Malet St, on how to cre­ate radio dra­ma when the par­tic­i­pants are geo­graph­i­cal­ly sep­a­rat­ed. The tech­nique employs VoIP tech­nol­o­gy (Skype in this case) and the pre­sen­ta­tion includes an overview of tech­nol­o­gy choic­es, how to get the best results, and plan­ning, per­for­mance and pro­duc­tion tips. Hope­ful­ly it will be use­ful to oth­ers inter­est­ed in devel­op­ing new approach­es to the won­der­ful field of radio drama.

The pre­sen­ta­tion is informed by my expe­ri­ences work­ing with the Radio Riel Play­ers, a group based in the vir­tu­al world of Sec­ond Life around the radio sta­tion Radio Riel.

This pre­sen­ta­tion is now a Slide­cast, includ­ing not only the slides but also the audio of my pre­sen­ta­tion, cour­tesy of Sam and David at Open­Tech. Yes, there are some minor sync issues, but not dis­rup­tive ones!

For a more detailed descrip­tion of the pre­sen­ta­tion, please see this page.

July 5, 2009   Comments Off on “Radio Drama At A Distance” OpenTech presentation

“Beeching-style” BBC enquiry? You must be joking

ITN news­read­er Alas­tair Stew­art calls for ‘Beech­ing’ inquiry into BBCGuardian

ITN news­cast­er Alas­tair Stew­art attacked the BBC at a CBI NW region din­ner last night, sug­gest­ing that it would ben­e­fit from a “Beech­ing style enquiry” to assess whether its ser­vices are all real­ly “nec­es­sary and viable”.

A “Beeching”-style enquiry into the BBC? You must be jok­ing – look at the dam­age Beech­ing did that will hit us even hard­er as we enter the age of cli­mate change. Tak­ing the coun­try’s major assets and will­ful­ly destroy­ing them is not an answer to the ques­tion of why peo­ple aren’t watch­ing the competition.

Call­ing for a “Beech­ing-style” enquiry is equiv­a­lent to call­ing for a hatch­et job. In fact the sug­ges­tion is very reveal­ing of true intent.

Only some­one work­ing for a com­pet­ing media pro­duc­er could think of such a thing. Go out and do a bet­ter job than the BBC and then you can talk from a posi­tion of strength instead of one of des­per­a­tion. Make the invest­ments in new tech­nolo­gies, inno­v­a­tive pro­gram­ming, stuff that isn’t dumb­ed-down to the low­est com­mon denom­i­na­tor. Make some inter­est­ing pro­grammes that are worth watch­ing. And yes, cov­er the news better.

Every­one and their friend who still works on a news­pa­per wants to get at the BBC, but it is still doing a bril­liant job. It just lost its nerve back in the days of the Hut­ton Enquiry. Yes, every­one has some­thing to say about the licence fee — it’s the worst way of rais­ing mon­ey for PSB except for all the oth­ers — but by not being a tax it is not so much able to be influ­enced by a gov­ern­ment annoyed at crit­i­cism. We need ring-fenced fund­ing for qual­i­ty broad­cast­ing to ensure it does­n’t all go the way of ITV — down to the bottom.

Yes, we also need oth­er PSB providers, doing inno­v­a­tive things. We have at least one, in the shape of Chan­nel 4 with its remark­able devel­op­ment ini­tia­tives like 4ip, but we need more. Is top-slic­ing the answer? No. Unfor­tu­nate­ly there’s a prece­dent for that so no doubt we’ll see more, but at least keep it in the PSB arena.

We need a BBC that is free to make the pro­grammes and deliv­er the ser­vices that com­mer­cial oper­a­tors can’t, or won’t, pro­vide. Look at the world-lead­ing BBC web site; the world-lead­ing BBC doc­u­men­tary and fac­tu­al pro­gram­ming; the pop­u­lar BBC News chan­nel. These all offer amaz­ing val­ue at half the price of a dai­ly news­pa­per and half the price of an aver­age Sky subscription.

Of course there will be areas of the BBC that can be improved. I have no doubt that a bit of trans­paren­cy would go a long way — a process already start­ed. How about trans­paren­cy on the com­mer­cial side? No doubt we would like the Cor­po­ra­tion to pay less for celebri­ties — which is fine as long as every­one else does the same and it’s not in breach of con­tract. There’s room for improve­ment for sure — but a slash-and-burn dis­mem­ber­ment is not even slight­ly an answer.

Being unable or unwill­ing to com­pete is not a good rea­son for diss­ing the oppo­si­tion. It sounds a lot too much like sour grapes.

July 3, 2009   Comments Off on “Beeching-style” BBC enquiry? You must be joking