Tag Archives: UK

Embracing my inner geek and fandom: Nine Worlds

In February, I backed a Kickstarter campaign for a new conference event called Nine Worlds Geekfest – an event which promised to be a first-of-its-kind mixed genre gathering of geeks, sci-fi fans, gamers, cosplayers and (as you can read below) lots of other fun topics.

Whether you’re into board gaming, film and film-making, Doctor Who / Torchwood, science, feminism, Tolkien, SF&F academia, video games, partying like a dancefloor demon, role play gaming, Discworld, My Little Pony, social gaming, SF&F literature, knitting, Harry Potter, creative writing, Star Wars, queer fandom, buying cool stuff, steampunk, open culture, Star Trek, skepticism, costuming, comics, or fanfic, chances are you’ll find something that rocks your world. [from Lanyrd]

#nineworlds #geekery The event took place at two hotels near Heathrow this past weekend, and I took a rare Friday off work to be there from the start, staying until late on the Sunday in the end, for reasons which I will mention in a moment. If you follow me on Twitter, no doubt you’re already aware of my weekend activities 🙂

Aside: perhaps it isn’t much of a surprise to those who know me, but yes, I am a geek. I like science fiction and comic books. I’ve enjoyed the Whedonverse (Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse etc), Star Trek, Babylon 5, superhero movies based on cartoons and comics I grew up with, Star Wars, The Matrix, Doctor Who, etc etc. In fact, one thing I have really started to get back into this past year has been the latter, Doctor Who… I grew up reading the Target novelisations (Peter Davison was my Doctor but I’m a fan of the whole series), avidly listen to Big Finish audio plays, and listen to several of the great podcasts about the show from fellow fans. It is also the 50th anniversary year of the show, and I’ve also been lucky enough to attend BFI screenings of showings from the Tom Baker and Sylvester McCoy eras, with Eccleston and McGann screenings to come.

What kind of a fan or geek does that make me? Doesn’t matter. Go listen to this great (short) podcast from Shannon, or read her great blog post of the same. No really, follow that link and go read it, I’ll wait. She makes a beautiful statement on how we should accept one other.

… and that brings me back to where I started, Nine Worlds. The team that put the event together set out to create an interesting, fun, volunteer-run, inclusive and diverse event – and that is the standout memory of my 3 days at the con. The range of tracks, fandoms and cultures on offer and on display was outstanding and I enjoyed the opportunity to mix with all kinds of folks and make new friends from across all of them. I had a lot of fun, and met a lot of fantastic new people I’m looking forward to seeing again either next year, or at events in between. I went to a couple of Red Dwarf talks – Robert Llewelyn and Chris Barrie were both great, funny and engaging speakers in the main theatre. I was late to arrive at the Film Fest Quiz and as a result ended up spectating, but it was great fun to see cheesy clips from 1980s horror and teen crush movies! The evening comedy session on the Friday with Helen Keen was hilarious. It was also good to see her moderate the Saturday morning “Future” panel with Charlie Stross, Cory Doctorow, and Lilian Edwards, even if I did leave that one feeling despondent about society’s ability to be optimistic about the potential benefits of technology and its ability to decide to use it for good!

To satisfy my Dr Who obsession I spent a large part of Saturday on the dedicated track. I wandered past Andrew Cartmell in the trade room and stopped for a chat and an autograph (great to talk to him about the Big Finish “Season 27” Lost Stories, and happy to discover that he’s also a fan of the line “unlimited rice pudding!!” from Remembrance of the Daleks). Simon Fisher-Becker’s session competed with a bunch of others and saw very low attendance, but Simon gamely just said “why don’t I just come down off the stage and sit in a circle with you”, so 5 or 6 of us got to quiz him in a very casual setting about his life and career, which was lovely. Later in the afternoon I found myself on the wrong side of the RTD vs Moffatt debate, which got pretty passionate… The evening session was a hilarious and great Big Finish panel with Gary Russell, Joe Lidster, Una McCormack, Matthew Waterhouse, James Swallow and Robert Dick – it just reinforced my love for the company and the amazing quality output they produce, as well as prompting me to want to go off and buy more of their stories!

Big Finish Panel

Sunday saw additional Dr Who panels, including Chicks Unravel Time (I’ve now bought that book of essays); the Ones You Love to Hate, about villains in the series; and one on companions. I was disappointed that none of the panelists really mentioned Turlough, but someone else in the audience did say that he was her favourite, and I’d have to agree that he was one of the more interesting additions to the TARDIS crew in the past 50 years.

On the technology side, I got to play with an Oculus Rift developer headset. Very impressive stuff, and it left me wishing I had jumped on board at Kickstarter time.

Another aside: I’ve posted photos on both Flickr and Facebook, depending on your preference. I need to replace the Flickr set with better resolution copies.

Last evening fun - geek singalong

The most fun I had all weekend, though, were the singalongs. I arrived early for the Once More with Feeling session and got talking to the pianist, David Merriman, about how he was going to run it… and ended up being the man nearest to the microphone when we needed to get things started and people gathered around the piano! My intervention(s) led to me being identified as “the music guy” (sorry, David!) around the con halls the next day, and several people insisted that I had to stay late for the Sunday evening sci-fi singalong as well… which ended up incorporating a spontaneous recreation of the end scenes of Dr Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog, when I jokingly shouted “solo number!” to a cosplayer dressed as Captain Hammer. You had to be there, but it was so, so much fun. Evidently I’ve impressed the Whedon track team enough that they want me involved next year…

Oops #schwag #books #autographs #lego #geekout I left with a stash of goodies (including a number of signed books)  which will only reinforce my fan tendencies… I’ve marked up with picture with notes on Flickr if you are curious enough to look at what I picked out.

Criticisms? none really, just learning points I hope. Firstly it was unforgivable for the venue to a) charge for wifi at all, let alone b) not flag up their discounted rate to con guests as they checked in (should have been £5/day not £15/day if you were attending); and then they locked access to a single device, which was rubbish – especially given that many sessions were in the basement where there was no mobile reception. The bar was also expensive, and I was amused to discover that the cash only con-bar was actually more expensive than the main hotel (£4.90 a bottle at the con-bar; £4.50 a pint at the hotel bar; I took my choice). I’d hope both things can be negotiated in future years. I haven’t booked my return ticket for next year yet… but it is looking pretty likely.

Thank you to everyone who made Nine Worlds happen – organisers, volunteers, track leads, and speakers. And thank you to everyone who attended… you were all Brilliant!

There’s so much more I could say about the weekend, but then lots of people had different experiences, from different tracks – check out the various write-ups on Lanyrd.

I’m hoping to record a short segment for The Doctor Who Podcast covering the Dr Who track soon, so if you are a fellow subscriber, listen out for that.

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Makers. Creativity. Learning. LEGO FTW.

It began, as these things sometimes do, with a childhood passion.

One of my earliest memories is of kneeling on the floor at the back of my bedroom making LEGO cars – it was in version 1.0 of my bedroom as I grew up, before new furniture and decoration. I must have been about 4, or 5. I had a castle, knights, some space stuff including base boards with little moulded “craters”… lots of fun as a child.

When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.

I’d long known that many of my friends and colleagues have remained huge LEGO fans (Cerys has just blogged about her interest; Ben made some fun timelapse videos of building his Christmas present). For me, a key moment was Roo‘s 3 minute masterpiece of a paean to the medium at Interesting in 2008, embedded here for your enjoyment. Listen to the audio slidecast – closest you can get to having been there, and Roo did a wonderful (and amusing!) job.

Also, a memorable talk at the CRIM Crystal Ball Conference in Montreal in April 2010 (at which I also spoke) came from then Professor of Innovation at LEGO Group, David Robertson – a tale of Rebuilding LEGO, and how the company had saved itself from bankruptcy by refocusing on its core values and customer needs. It was a fantastic story and I was rapt.

More recently, I went along to the Internet of Things meetup in London last month, and was delighted to see Ken “monsonite” Boak – creator of the Nanode, a fantastic UK-grown prototyping platform akin to Arduino – use LEGO as his metaphor for a talk exploring Open Source electronics. Ken was kind enough to pop his slides up on Slideshare today, so you can take a look. He’d just been out to get some LEGO the previous weekend…

That talk was more-or-less the moment when I realised – I needed some LEGO. I wanted some. Both as a way of seeing where things had gone to, and to help me to prototype things, and just… well… just because! I’d already started to use dioramas featuring minifigs in a couple of presentations recently and had good feedback, so I figured that was another excuse 🙂

So, on Saturday I decided to dip back into my passion for LEGO. It started with a bucket of bricks from the nearest toy shop… but then I noticed the LEGO Star Wars sets with slight discounts[1]… and I figured well, obviously I’d need some wheels of some kind so picked up some City sets… and some of the foil-bag Minifigures…

The splurge quickly developed into a binge via a @darachennis-inspired trip to the LEGO store in Westfield White City on Sunday… picking-and-mixing bricks from the back wall, and signing up for the VIP program. There may be no hope left for me…

Celt Bucket o' bricks LEGO splurge

So what have I learned?

  • Minifigs are brilliant. The aforementioned David Robertson gave me his business card, his details printed on a minifig resembling him, in Montreal in 2010 and that reawakened my interest. When I was a kid they all had the same pair of staring eyes and identical pleasant non-threatening smile, but the range of looks and expressions now available make them as much fun to customise as the full sets.
  • People talk about the beauty of Apple’s designs – both inside and outside of the product (not that I’ve ever cracked open an iPhone to look inside). LEGO is blocky and “harsh”… but the designs and assembly process is beautiful. Assembling little cars and other sets on Saturday evening, following simple pictorial instructions, I realised that every piece had a place and it all fitted together wonderfully, perfectly. That (re)discovery had me as delighted as an adult, with a more architectural and design-oriented brain, as I was as a kid with the sheer enjoyment of being able to build and modify things.
  • In my opinion, all kids should be given some LEGO, and allowed to build the models from the boxes themselves (much though I’m sure as an involved adult I’d be itching to take over!). I’ve blogged recently about my excitement for the maker culture, and this is really where it can all begin.
  • I need to keep an eye on my bank balance, and a check on my excitement. I love it, but I bought it for “professional” reasons… 🙂

Last week, the UK Government announced that ICT courses would be replaced with Computer Science, including a programming element (one of the campaigns I’ve been passionate about). At an event from The Education Foundation in London the next day – The Future of Technology Education – I was privileged to hear one of my personal heroes Ian Livingstone (of Fighting Fantasy books, Games Workshop and Eidos fame) speak and refer to “digital Meccano” – and I owned Meccano as a child too.  He also highlighted the need to combine science and art to push the digital boundaries.

Here’s what I think: we should be giving children a choice of physical LEGO, Meccano, and other toys; encouraging their creativity and building skills; and helping them to bridge between both the digital and physical worlds. No child should be excluded, and none should be pushed down a particular path. We should be supporting and helping every child to discover their passions and explore them; recognising that not every individual will want to program, or draw, paint, build, or write – but never belitting anyone for their talents or interests.

I’ve rarely been as excited about the future than I have been right now!

[1] as a child in in the 1980s I owned significant numbers of the Palitoy Star Wars figures and vehicles[2]. Whoever thought of combining LEGO and Star Wars is a genius – so much MORE FUN than the original, inflexible, non-customisable toys. So much more interactive, and through the video games, adding a humorous new twist on the Star Wars saga. LOVE.

[2] … I never had the Millennium Falcon or the Death Star, though… always wanted those…

Teaching technology in the future – Raspberry Pi

Before you dismiss this as TL;DR – it’s a subject dear to my heart, and I believe that there’s some cool content as well as some storytelling – do give it a chance!

A sad state of affairs

I believe that we have lived through the best period to teach and learn about computers and technology, and that over the past few years we have been creating a void, a vacuum, in which progress may be diminished.

Google’s Eric Schmidt recently called out the British education system as holding back or dismissing our technology heritage. According to a ZDNet article on his speech in Edinburgh:

Schmidt said the UK’s approach to technology in education — not making IT compulsory as a subject at the GSCE-level and not providing enough support for science students at colleges — meant the country was “throwing away” its computing heritage.

See also the BBC and Guardian coverage of the story.

I can’t say I think he’s wrong, and I can’t say I’m surprised. Anyone who has heard me ranting about the state of things in a side conversation at any recent event in the past couple of years, will have heard me tell a similar story. When I was a lad – and I know that some of those who read this will be older, just let me reminisce without interrupting, OK? 🙂 – I grew up on an early Commodore PET with green screen, followed by BBC Micros, Acorn Electrons, etc. I’ve had a couple of occasions to look back on that era recently, with a visit to The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park, seeing the team from TNMoC visit the Brighton Mini Maker Faire, and through talking to folks at TransferSummit (of which more, in a moment). In my day, you plugged in the power, the machine made a satisfying BEEP! and you were presented with a black screen with the word BASIC and a > prompt. That’s just how things worked. To do anything else, you had to tell the computer to do it – and you learned a lot as you did so!

Without wanting to sound like some kind of old fogey – kids today never had it so good! They have grown up in an era where all they have ever known is a world where every computer is connected to the Internet, a giant brain which appears to be all-knowing (and I know that this is how a 3 or 4 year old thinks: my own younger family members have said “we’ll just look it up on the Internet, it knows everything”, without understanding that humans have known everything, and the computers just tell us what we’ve told them, at a basic level). They have fast, interactive machines which are dramatically more usable – and instead of bulky noisy systems which were just about user-serviceable, ideally when you had an antistatic wrist strap to hand… they have magic, thin, sheets of glass that can be controlled at the slightest touch.

That’s fantastic. It puts children today in a position where they can be more creative than ever before – I could barely edit low-quality digital scanned photos by the time I left school, let alone edit full HD video with a variety of awesome effects. So one thing we can teach them is how to use creative tools like… oh I don’t know… Office suites (capitalisation deliberate, sarcasm heavy).

The thing is – we don’t need to teach schoolchildren how to use a productivity tool like that. By the time they have sat watching us for 5 minutes aged 6, they intuitively “just get it”. Worse is the fact that we’ve nearly removed the ability to look under the covers at what makes the machines work – certainly in a hardware sense you’d need a very advanced knowledge of microelectronics to do anything with the innards of most smartphones, and software is often becoming more and more locked up to the whims of the hardware manufacturers (naming no Apples). Plus of course, everything is online. So what does this mean for the curiosity to take things apart either in hardware or software, see how they work, and build something new?

(the irony is not lost on me that as a History graduate, I’m an unusual spokesperson for this debate)

Makers and getting back to basics

KitTen, Uno, Nanode One of the reasons I’m excited by the trend towards making things – what I’ll term the Maker movement, in a nod to the Brighton Mini Maker Faire and the magazine that has inspired the events – is that it reflects both our natural human curiosity and interest in building things, and making them work. I also think that is part of the reason behind our interest in prototypable electronics like Arduino – we have gone through a period of making things smaller, more compressed and proprietary, and the pendulum is swinging back towards open hardware, simple construction, and ease of learning. This is a huge, great and important step, in my opinion.

Enter – a Raspberry Pi

So how can we take advantage of that trend towards discovery and learning, and combine it with small cheap electronics, to really make a difference? Well, you may have heard of the Raspberry Pi Foundation – it has had a fair amount of coverage in the UK anyway, with the promise of a new low-cost computing platform which could theoretically replicate the success of the BBC-sponsored, Acorn-built, BBC Microcomputers from the 1980s (and backed by one of the most successful computer games authors of that era). Those BBC Micro systems were rolled out across schools all over the UK, and pretty much anyone in the 30-40 age bracket will have learned to write some kind of BBC BASIC or LOGO code at some point in their education, and have looked at fractals and played a variety of classic 8-bit games. My first home computer was an Acorn Electron, an affordable beige “keyboard box” that could be plugged straight into a home TV in 1984, with games and programs loaded off a (then) common cassette player.

The folks at Raspberry Pi believe that having a cheap computer which can be presented as an education device could be a success. At the TransferSummit last week, I met Eben and Liz Upton from the project, and had a chance to play with the system first hand. I also made a quick film of this amazing little computer playing full HD video – and the excitement is obvious in the fact that it has received nearly 50k hits on YouTube in just 4 days, probably helped by an appearance on the Raspberry Pi blog and also in a feature on Geek.com!

One of the things that Eben spoke about was the idea that it would almost be more interesting for these things to boot to a Python prompt instead of a full Linux desktop (which it is well-capable of doing), in order to ignite kids’ imaginations and force them into doing something more creative than simply doing what they would do with any other computer. I kinda like that suggestion!

Risks, and what else can we do?

I’m excited. As I said several times to Liz and others at the event this week – it’s a British organisation with vision, with an amazing idea, a product that works, and the desire to really reconnect children – particularly those in the developing world – with technology and how to drive it.

I can see a  number of risks, but the last thing I want is to be a naysayer here – I really, really want these folks to succeed. However, just looking at the excitement amongst hobbyists like me, and reading some of the comments posted on my video already, I realise that there’s a danger that the supplies of these things will quickly be snapped up by those wanting to make funky small home systems for themselves, rather than the altruistic wanting to help youngsters to learn (heck, I want one! so I understand that!). Or, kids may see these as just another form-factor of computer of the kind they are used to, plug it in, go online, and do nothing different to what they are already capable of. Another issue is that a bare board (the initial version won’t have a box, although that would be easy enough to fab) and a lack of instructions or clear fixed “syllabus”, if you like, may discourage teachers now used to teaching desktop computing and productivity tools, from embracing the potential to help students to create. It’s also entirely possible that these things will simply be cloned elsewhere. For all of these reasons, I’m determined to do what I can to promote the Raspberry Pi concept as an educational tool, and to support the team behind it. It’s important. It deserves to be a massive success.

So, what else can we do?

One thing is to go and sign the brilliant Emma Mulqueeny (aka @hubmum)’s e-petition on the UK gov website. She’s campaigning for an earlier entry for programming into the classroom, at primary level, particularly to encourage more girls to take an interest in technology. I think this is a brilliant step. Nik Butler has posted about the importance of teaching this stuff, too, and I encourage you to read his post – I particularly support the way in which he refutes the list of reasons why this sort of teaching is allegedly a “bad” idea. He’s also talked about the Raspberry Pi on the Social Media White Noise podcast #70.

Another thing is to visit and support The National Museum of Computing, preferably with some kids you know – help them to see where we have come from and where we are going.

It’s obvious to me that we need to change the way we think about teaching IT, computing, and technology. Earlier teaching of programming is important. I also think that a basic understanding of how a computer system fits together would help, as well as a high-level understanding of the way in which the Internet works. Importantly though – and this rolls into a whole other passion of mine which I won’t rant about today – increasingly as we come together online, I think it is increasingly important to teach tolerance, understanding of other cultures, and good online community behaviour. How we collectively go about doing that, I’m not entirely sure – but it feels important.

Thanks for indulging me on this particularly long post – it really is a subject I care deeply about. And all that stuff about technology – from an historian and Arts student 😛

The late, late OggCamp 11 write-up… and more UUPC

Forever Delayed

Oggs!It has been several weeks since OggCamp 11 now. I’ve been meaning to post a quick recap for a while.

I’ve written before about being friends with the crew from the Ubuntu UK Podcast (UUPC), so I’ve been following the progress of OggCamp over the past couple of years. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend either OggCamp 1 (2009) in Wolverhampton or OggCamp 2 in Liverpool last year.

Waitaminute… OggCamp?

Sounds like a weird name, huh?

Well… yeah ok, it is a bit odd. Breaking it down, there’s an audio file format called Ogg Vorbis which was intended to be a non-patent-encumbered, higher quality alternative to MP3. Many FLOSS (Free/Libre Open Source Software) supporters and audiophiles prefer it to MP3 and many podcasts aimed at these communities offer the .ogg format as an alternative to .mp3. The “Camp” idea is basically that of an unconference, popularised by events such as BarCamp – often a weekend-long gathering about nothing and everything in particular, with late night hacking and geekery. And being an unconference, the first rule of the event is that you definitely, definitely, have to talk about whatever you are ever passionate about, and participate.

So you smoosh together Ogg + Camp and you get…

… a very cool event populated by folks from the FLOSS and audio communities, often attracted by listening to podcasts like Linux Outlaws or the Ubuntu UK Podcast… the two teams that started the OggCamp events a few years ago as a kind of successor to the previous LugRadio Live. It’s not only about audio, although there tends to be some content on that subject, as well as some live podcast recordings, and other craziness.

Crew at #oggcampOggCamp 11 was “my first time”. It was held at the Farnham Maltings, a lovely venue that is very close to where I live (and also where we’ve held some Digital Surrey events in the past), so it would have been mad for me not to have attended, and just rude of me not to have offered to volunteer as part of the crew.

My excitement turned to a slight amount of trepidation a few days before things kicked off, when our now-legendary crew chieftan Les Pounder sent us out an email to check that everyone was “OK with heavy lifting”… 🙂 as it happened, that wasn’t too much of a problem! It was a pleasure to work with Les and the rest of the team actually – everyone was very laid back, happy, and just made things happen. I’d been wondering how onerous crew duties would be and whether they would prevent me from participating as an unconference attendee, but everything was shared around so I still found time for yet another talk on MQTT, and for some trademark heckling from the cheap seats during various other sessions.

You can explore my Flickr set from the event, but let me pick out a few small highlights:

  • meeting Roger Light for the first time, on the same day that Facebook mentioned their use of MQTT 🙂
  • hearing Ken Boak talk about his Nanode project from London Hackspace (and here’s one I made later!)
  • meeting Laura Czajkowski and hearing her talk about how to get involved in real world communities beyond IRC!
  • seeing a fantastic community that had formed around some great people from two podcasts I greatly enjoy.
  • a brief converation with Karen Sandler, the new lead of the GNOME Foundation.
  • winning a ChipKit Max32 and a Canonical goodie bag in the raffle 🙂
  • … and of course, watching Popey‘s demonstration of Extreme Ironing!

I hadn’t been to an event quite so specifically oriented towards freedom and Open Source for a while, and I’d forgotten how polarised some people can become around certain topics. In my career choices I’ve had to make some choices which make me a little more… shades of grey in my views about the technology landscape, so it is always good to have the challenging discussions and hear other views.

I’d definitely want to attend OggCamps in the future. A lot of fun, a great experience, and thanks to the organising team and sponsors. Recommended.

Even more talking

Following on from OggCamp, I was invited back to the UUPC Studio last week to cover for Alan – evidently I’ve not made too many slip-ups yet, since this is my third time as a guest presenter now. It’s really a fantastic experience and their production process and quality is always superb and well-planned and executed. Check out Episode 14 of Season 4 of UUPC “Revelations” to see how we got on with all the news, interviews, and listener feedback!

Historical perspectives

For those of you who have never read my About page, you may be surprised to know that as well as being a “techie”, I’m MA in Modern History (the story of how I came to have a career in technology is possibly less interesting than it might outwardly appear). As such, I wanted to take a moment to comment on a couple of things that have come up in the past week.

History teaching in the UK

I don’t remember my first history lesson, how I became aware of my own cultural background, or when or why I fell in love with the study of history. I just remember, when I came to choose exam subjects at 13/14, that for me History was a no-brainer, something I thoroughly enjoyed and wanted to dive deeper into. Despite my affinity for and interest in science (I was working on some Chemistry software for RISC OS with a friend of mine at the time), it was also a natural study for me to pursue into A-level and, eventually, as my Degree subject.

I won’t claim that the transition to a technical career was straightforward. It’s true that while (in my opinion) a History graduate has a range of flexible and totally transferable skills, recruitment out of universities in the UK 15 years ago (and, I suspect, even more so today) was limited in outlook. Although I’d a number of examples of technical knowledge and had my own business selling RISC OS software with a friend, many larger organisations simply wanted a science education, and I didn’t have one to show them. I was grateful of the UK Post Office taking a broader view of my skill set and taking me on as an IT Graduate (or, one of the “Graduates in IT Services”… yes, you work out that acronym… charming!).

Back to the subject though. Academically, philosophically, politically, and in the pursuit of knowledge and understanding, I believe that History is vitally important. What did I gain from devoting a number of years of my life to that study? Strong analytical skills spanning multiple media; broad and I believe, sensitive, cultural awareness (yes, really – from a Brit!); and an understanding of how we became the human race we are today.

Facts about history education in the UK :-(

This past week, Professor Niall Ferguson published an editorial piece in the Guardian claiming that British history teaching was at a point of crisis.

[aside: Niall Ferguson is the best lecturer I ever had… I clearly remember his first lecture to my fellow students and I, which began with the clanging industrial noises of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, immediately capturing the attention of even the most feckless and disinterested mid-90s Oxford student (although my female colleagues seemed captured not so much by the audio, but by the visuals and voice…)]

I was disappointed to read about the state of affairs described in his piece, and the accompanying article describing the loss of cohension in the UK History curriculum. Now let’s be clear – to an extent, I was always in a privileged position with regard to education generally and to History education as well. If things are really in such dire straits today I do despair – I don’t get the same sense of ignorance from friends of other nationalities, and whilst I don’t advocate any kind of imperialist triumphalism in British History education, by ignoring trends, and what Niall Ferguson calls the “long arc of time”, our children clearly miss out. I’m not going to trot out cliches about how we have to understand past mistakes to avoid repeating them – we do that regardless, it’s part of the human condition and pride. The point is: there’s excitement and interest in our story. And honestly, how annoyed would you be if every story you ever heard, read, listened to or attempted to understand, arrived in disjointed pieces that were impossible to lace together?

I hope the UK teaching profession, and the appropriate education authorities, listen to reason. And I hope that the apparent focus on science as the be-all-and-end-all of education learns to flex in favour of other subjects, too – speaking as a STEM Ambassador, myself.

History on the web

I’ve remarked before about the web as a historical source. The death of archive services like DejaNews (it was the archive for Usenet, and finally bought by Google, which turned it into Google Groups, before burying / de-emphasising access to older content) was a terrible thing, even if it does mean that it is now very difficult to locate evidence of my embarrassing mid-teen and early 20s days online! The move to the real-time web, and the increasing focus on sites like Twitter and Facebook (through which historical seach is both de-emphasised, and technically virtually impossible), is increasingly reducing the value of the  web as a historical resource.

Suw Charman has written about this issue this week, and it caught my attention particularly in the context of the other issues currently exercising my brain.

I return to a thought I’ve expressed previously: sites that revolve around EVENTS have an opportunity here. When I wrote about Lanyrd I said:

here’s what I think is a really cool feature. You can attach all kinds of “coverage” to an event, be it slides, audio, video, liveblogged information, blogged write-ups, etc etc. So your point-in-time event suddenly gains a social and historical footprint with an aggregation of all the content that grew up around it, which people can go back to.

The thing that really grabbed my attention this week was the seemingly-minor and gimmicky discovery that someone has created an entry for the 1945 Yalta meetingsh on Lanyrd. This is awesome – a demonstration of what it can provide, and what we need – the ability to tie content together and aggregate, link, and retain related information in the context of people and events. All of which is only really interesting if we have a population that understands where we (globally) have come from…