Archives for June 2007

Internet Radio Day of Silence: Show Notes (sort of)

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Chris Vallance | 18:09 UK time, Tuesday, 26 June 2007

I'm on holiday and not able to listen to the show (no access to real player here) so I'm typing these notes from my memory of what was set up before I left

I'm sure I'm missing a name or two off the list so please add corrections etc in the comments. Normal posting will resume July 3rd.

A Marble Computer

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Chris Vallance | 11:00 UK time, Friday, 22 June 2007

Here's a bit of fun for a Friday. Computers add in binary and this video shows how they do it using marbles and wood. If you've ever wondered how your PC does sums, this is a nice illustration.

The creators website is also highly recommended. Now I know what I'm doing on the next Hack-day.

Hackday07 Photos and Audio

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Chris Vallance | 11:42 UK time, Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Hackday07_edit.jpg I've uploaded some of the photos from the BBC/Yahoo Hackday featuring several of the teams who took part, and the closing band The Rumble Strips click here to see them all. My memory however has failed me when it comes to describing what all of the hacks were (what did the soft-toy pictured do?), so if you're featured please feel free to leave a comment on the flickr page.

You can also listen to interviews I recorded with the teams here. There's a strange glitch (either that or a dodgy edit) in Ewans rocket team interview. What were the two words that summed up their rocket experiment? Answers on a postcard.

Where Neither Death nor Taxes are certain.

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Chris Vallance | 13:31 UK time, Tuesday, 19 June 2007

The issue of taxation in virtual worlds has long been vexing lawmakers and a post by Wagner James Au, "Offshoring Second Life" raises the issue again

As Reuters reports gains in many virtual worlds (not just SL) increasingly have a real value, consequently some lawmakers are looking at ways of taxing them.

Wagners post focuses on Second Life and the latest user stats:

"Here are the first ten countries where Second Life Residents are most active, based on the average number of minutes they spend in-world per day, per user:

* 161 - Cayman Islands
* 132 - Indonesia
* 130 - Netherlands
* 128 - Canada
* 122 - United States
* 122 - Korea, Republic of

A surprising first place to the Cayman Islands. There's no way, of course, of knowing what Cayman Island nationals were doing in Second Life and the sample is small, but Wagner raises the possibility that residents of the tax haven may be engaging in a bit of tax management. The conclusion to his post points out just how complicated it all is:

So now, with our active Cayman Residents, the circle of economic unreality is almost surely complete: real money is converted into the currency of a virtual world, which is then converted back into the real money of a semi-virtual country, where it becomes the assets of a company that only exists as a post office box by the Caribbean sea

Of course there's not necessarily anything wrong with this, people world wide struggle to minimise the cash they pay in tax by legitmate means. But it is a nice example of the potential issues raised by the rapidly growing virtual economies. As one US official put it in the Reuters article:

“You could argue that to a certain degree the law has fallen (behind) because you can have a virtual asset and virtual capital gains, but there’s no mechanism by which you’re taxed on this stuff,”

The issue becomes even more complicated when one looks beyond Second Life and at the lucrative real businesses emerging in the secondary currency markets surrounding Massively Multiplayer Online Games. Could it be that some tax official somewhere is looking at how he can charge PAYE on your Elfs gold? The mind boggles.

Security Issues in Virtual Worlds

Chris Vallance | 06:06 UK time, Tuesday, 19 June 2007

David Grundy of Newcastle Business School is contributing to a new blog about security issues in Virtual Worlds, MetaSecurity. One of the posts is a write-up of our discussion of the potential risks associated with money laundering in virtual worlds. The following posts on a similar theme are also an interesting read, sure to provoke discussion.

Afghanistan, Hack Day and Wiimbledon

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Chris Vallance | 03:31 UK time, Tuesday, 19 June 2007

This week's segment can be heard here. On the show we featured:

Photo's from hackday will be uploaded as soon as I can muster the energy to crop the snaps. Also feedback from listener Paul (in Shropshire) who writes of the visibility of the International Space Station and web efforts to track it:

...The ISS (space station) is not very location-specific - there is no 'mirror' effect - you can see it easily whenever it's above the horizon. Iridium flares are *very* location-specific - they do show the mirror effect and being in the wrong place by a mile or two can make all the difference between a hugely bright flare and almost invisible.Better to stick to the horse's mouth at ..

.As Billy Bragg once sang, "I saw two shooting stars last night...I wished on them but they were only satellites..." clearly he'd been hoping for the ISS

The New Media: Prometeus Unbound

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Chris Vallance | 17:39 UK time, Monday, 18 June 2007

This video produced by an Italian net consultancy imagines how the new technologies will transform the media. Like all good science fiction it probably says as much about the present as the future.

Is the vision Utopian or Dystopian? I'll leave that for you to decide. Indeed, the creator of the video is asking for feedback here

Impartiality and blogging

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Chris Vallance | 15:06 UK time, Monday, 18 June 2007

As you may know the BBC's impartiality has been scrutinized in a new report commissioned by the BBC. Here's some of what the report has to say about the new broadband world we inhabit:

Now the first broadband channels are gaining a foothold: 18 Doughty St Talk TV is but one harbinger of partisan television in a parallel TV world – unlicensed and unregulated, just like the pirate radio stations of old. But this time it is legal. As digital switchover in 2012 approaches, the unregulated undergrowth in the forest is advancing on the impartiality clearing.
This territory is where the BBC, with its obligations to the whole licence-paying population, stakes its claim to be impartial. The broadband world is saturated with personal opinion, and it requires confidence and courage to stand apart from this trend. The audience values fair and open minds in broadcasting. It values bright colours, energy and excitement too. That is the impartiality challenge for the BBC – to meet those sometimes conflicting needs, and to continue to build its relationship of trust with the audience.

This is just a snip from a much longer document which you can read here. The last paragraph, I think, sums up the challenge for someone like me writing a BBC blog: trying to paint in bright colours while being fair and balanced. I'd be interested hear your thoughts on this issue. Can an interesting blog be balanced, or is blogging something that is best done from a particular perspective? And what would be your tips for keeping a blog entertaining while not expressing personal opinions about controversial matters.

Link-o-rama: Podcast worries and Wonky Printers

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Chris Vallance | 00:18 UK time, Friday, 15 June 2007

Podcasters are getting worried about the World Intellectual Property Organizations proposals for the new broadcasting treaty. The Open Rights Group thinks it will harm podcasters as does the UK Podcasters Association

Social scientists discuss the stats about online sexual predators and, according to this author, debunk some popular misconceptions. (via Boingboing)

American communications giant AT&T is reportedly planning to filter the net traffic it handles for pirated content. Some in the British music industry have been pushing for ISP's to take a bigger role in enforcing copyright; we'll see if any UK firms decide to follow AT&T's lead.

Wonkly BBC Printers attempt radio mash-up. We haz your filez say the newly upgraded LOLprinters which seem to be randomly printing mail from various bits of the building. Fortunately mine only went to the next door studio. Bizarrely Rhods ended up in the paper tray of the PM programme.

Apple, Living on a Cuban Budget and Copyrighting Virtual Buildings

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Chris Vallance | 03:10 UK time, Tuesday, 12 June 2007

As ever you can listen to the segment here. Tonight we featured:

Thanks for all your ideas/suggestions for stories. We'll feature Yang May Ooi's blog Fusion View on Monday 25th June. Listen out for that, it's Amy Tan meets John Grisham...

The Final Trumpet

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Chris Vallance | 18:58 UK time, Sunday, 10 June 2007

The London Symphony Orchestra has produced a podcast review of the career of principal trumpet Maurice Murphy who retires after enjoying a 30 year career with them. Even if you don't think you know much about classical music you will have heard Maurice - to quote his wikipedia biography:

Maurice can be heard on film soundtracks including Gangs of New York, Johnny English, Reign of Fire, a solo in Mr. Holland’s Opus, all six of the Star Wars movies, Superman 1, 2 & 3, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Philadelphia, Batman, the Alien movies, Frankenstein, Gladiator, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and many more.

Its a good listen with plenty of great music, some fun insights into the world of brass bands, and for Star Wars fans of the completist variety an interview with John Williams.. More to the point it reminds us that podcasts can be successful as one-offs.

Virtual Shoot-out angers Spiritual Body

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Chris Vallance | 11:28 UK time, Sunday, 10 June 2007

The Church of England is angry that a virtual Manchester Cathedral has been used as the backdrop for a violent shoot out in a video game. The Church says it will write to Sony on Monday, but if the game is not withdrawn the church will consider legal action.

Leaving to one side the weighty issue of violence in video games, the question here seems to be what actual rights do owners of real property have over virtual instances of it. According to Sony's David Wilson, quoted by The Times newspaper: "It is game-created footage, it is not video or photography" So Sony is quite clearly underlining the point that this doesn't fall under standard photographic image rights rules, what we have here is a represtentation of the building.

Seamus McCauly in the Virtual Economics blog thinks that restraint on the grounds of "use without permission" would be a dangerous precedent, "The artistic principle at stake here is whether someone who happens to own a building can set limits on artistic representations of (or within) that building. Art - and computer gaming is art, indeed perhaps the only truly original artform of the C20th - cannot be so constrained."

Seamus has a point. If one could claim rights to visual representations of buildings, one could I suppose urge that a building outline was removed from an A-Z map, or claim image rights over the various Sunday water-colourists who often congregate outside our great buildings.

Tech Digest, echoes the arguement, though the author thinks the choice of venue was inappropriate, "Why did Sony feel the need to use Manchester Cathedral anyway? Would the game have been any less dramatic had it been set in an obviously fictional cathedral?" but in spite of this the blog wonders if the owners of real property have any jurisdiction over its virtual equivalent, "How about what happens in worlds like Weblo and Second Life? Does anyone in the real world have the right to say what can happen with their virtual property?"

However, I wonder if legal action would necessarily rest upon the rights or wrongs of representing the Cathedral in the game, or whether the basis of any case will be the alleged harm done to the image of the church itself? Any lawyers reading this please do jump in comments with your thoughts.

Meanwhile, legal issues apartJoystiq echoes views in many gaming blogs and wonders if, by making this public statement, the Church hasn't zapped itself in the virtual foot, "Well, this oughta help sell a few copies of the game and a couple PS3s. Maybe it'll even get a few people to check out the church. Good show Church of England, good show"

Be careful what you wish for...

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Chris Vallance | 18:33 UK time, Friday, 8 June 2007

One of the brand pillars of the new 2012 Olympic Logo is participation. People have been participating on the Olympic blog, but not all participation is equally welcome. This is a comment by the "London 2012 team" :

Update: We have received many comments that reflect the tenor of negative comments found elsewhere on the web and often containing offensive language that, for obvious reasons, we cannot publish. Rather than act as an echo chamber we have published a selection here that say something a little different

Most people would say a blogger is under no obligation to publish abusive, offensive posts but negative comments when you have invited participation are a different matter. Is this the right decision? We have a few negative comments up here, but I'm not sure how I'd feel about a flood of them. I might, after a point, call the conversation to an end as the Olympic blog has done, but I'm not sure. Your thoughts?

The Stars of Reality TV

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Chris Vallance | 12:03 UK time, Thursday, 7 June 2007

Blogger Brian Richmond has terminal cancer. This is how he puts the situation on his blog:

I'm 45 years old, married for 19 years, father of a 7 year old boy. A freelance copywriter, I'd just recently started making inroads into the world of fiction, particularly with a story of mine winning a place in the anthology 'Next Stop Hollywood' dues out in May from St Martin's Press in NY. 2 weeks ago, I learned that I have pancreatic cancer and have, if the averages are to be believed, 6 months to a year to live. Im pain-free, sleeping well and, at the minute, trying to drain the sweetness out of every second.

Perhaps not every second. He spares some time for us. Brian is blogging. It's an important description of something society would rather ignore: our own mortality and our vulnerability, still, to terminal illness. Although the subject is grim, Brian is a skilled writer who handles the tragedy of his situation with a lightness and deftness of touch, there's plenty of humour to help coat the bitter pill:

Watched TV on the ward on Saturday night: Channel 4's 50 Movies To See Before You Die. See, if anybody should be compiling those lists, it should be me. It reminds me of an old story about Vietnam. The Vietnemese used to dig this really complex tunnels so the Americans had these guys, nicknamed tunnel rats, whose jod was to go down these things in the dark with a flashlight and a handgun. So, one day, the squad is sitting around listening to the radio and they hear Pres. Johnson's speech about the war where he says he has seen the light at the end of the tunnel.
The Tunnel rat grunts: "What the **** does that guy know about tunnels?" he asks in disgust.

Another post finds a dark humour in a hospital test result when, because of a fault, a machine prints out the result "expired". But every so often, there are events which remind us of what is at stake, and humour is impossible:

My son's school sports day. Every parent knows that, what the spring and winter equinox were to our ancient ancestors, the navitity play and sports day are for us. Of course, it has that terrible sense for me of being the last I'll attend, in all probability. Strange to think of it...made even more so by the fact that he's still ignorant of the fact that I'm dying.
I love being a dad.

Why does Brian blog? In an interview from hospital, Brian told me we all play the lottery but none of us think we'll get cancer. A glance at the statistics will tell you how common Brian's situation is, a story repeated in hospital wards up and down the country.

In 2005 cancer was responsible for more than one in three (36%) deaths in people aged under 65 years in the UK. In females under the age of 65 cancer causes 46% of deaths, while in males it is only 30%. In people under the age of 75 years, deaths from cancer outnumber deaths from diseases of the circulatory system a, including heart disease and stroke, and the respiratory system combined.

Sadly death from cancer is not unusual. Brian reminds us of this, and in doing so encourages us to do something about it. While the media obsess about so-called reality TV, stories like Brian's are too infrequently told. You won't see Brian in Heat magazine anytime soon, but his blog is "reality TV'" of the greatest importance, I encourage you to read it..

Blogsong: Posts from the Front in WW1

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Chris Vallance | 14:39 UK time, Wednesday, 6 June 2007

In 1917 28 year-old lace factory worker Harry Lamin, from Ilkeston, Derbyshire left behind his wife and young child and went to serve his country as conscripted soldier in the trenches of the First World War.

We don't know whether Harry made it through to the end of the war, whether he like so many of his countrymen perished in the awful charnel houses of Ypres, in the bloody battles of Messines Ridge or Paschendaele. Like Harry's relatives, his wife, his brother his sister we must anxiously await his letters from the front.

We can share their experience of Harry's war, because his letters have been turned into a blog, by his grandson Bill Lamin a school teacher from Poole. Remember that Bill's father had been born before Harry went to the front, so we can't infer from his grandchildren what fate awaits Harry.

Reading the posts currently on the blog there are some early accounts of action, understated, but giving some hint of the dangers and horrors of the conflict.

We have had a very rough time lately the Germans were only about 40yds away from us, we had a very trying time for the first, but I don’t care so long that I keep alright. It will be a good job when the war is over

But it is the human detail of the letters that annihilates the distance of 90 years between us and Harry:

Jack has sent me some sardines and chicken paste which is all right here and it works the bread and butter down. I am glad Connie is going on alright at school I don’t think it will do her any harm.

The letters are a treasure trove, and blogging them helps us empathise with Harry but also with the family at home in England. Bill's students are very lucky to have this resource, as are all who visit the blog.

It's interesting to compare Harry's epistolary blog with modern Milblogs. I know from writing and talking to Milbloggers that while many are maintained as a means of communicating with relatives and friends, most blog writers are acutely aware that they are publishing. A ware eye is kept on who might be reading, and in many there is an important political (and polemical) dimension. And there are security issues too of concern to soldiers and top brass alike.

Harry's letters one assumes, would have gone through the censor, I haven't asked Bill Lamin how much is redacted from the letters, I'd be interested to learn. I'd love to hear from modern milbloggers too, and what they think of Harry's blog, and how it differs from their own writing. Do they imagine that 90-years hence school children may be reading their blogs, wondering about what it was like to fight in Iraq or Afghanistan

The wwar1 blog is a time travel blog. Diaries and letters, even newspaper reports, make excellent raw material for the blogger and the ability to link and to add commentary, to expand upon the original text means that the blog becomes much more than an act of republishing. Pepys Diary is perhaps the best known, but there are others. A number of the great diaries are on-line too, but not in blog form. John Evelyn's diary of 1657 resonates, because it refers to my own neighbourhood.

July 3, A ship blown-up at Wapping, shooke my whole house, & the chaire I was sitting & reading in my study.

Reading the diary entries like that you realise that blogging doesn't have to be complex. In 250 years perhaps people will read, "CuttySark on fire, much smoke, strange odour from fridge" or the endless quotidian minutiae of Twitter with more interest than the extensive op-eds that so often get the most traffic.

Piggy Prozac

Chris Vallance | 12:32 UK time, Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Colour me amused

Olympic Logos, WW1 and the Music of Intermissions

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Chris Vallance | 23:48 UK time, Tuesday, 5 June 2007

You can listen to this week's segment here. On the programme we featured:

Thanks to Bill for getting in touch, and for all those who suggested ideas. Do keep sending us all your ideas

And finally...I'll leave you with this loving link to the LOLPhilosophers Flickr group. Had I the time and a copy of Photoshop I think mine might go Plato: I haz ur formz

Google on Video

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Chris Vallance | 21:30 UK time, Monday, 4 June 2007

Cubicgarden-InterviewWithEdParsonsAtGoogleDevelopmentDay564.jpgBBC Backstage's Ian Forrester has some excellent films from the Google Developer Day. Ian's a wonderful interviewer, not lease because he really knows what he's talking about and there's no flam. More of Ian's videos here, and his thoughts on his blog CubicGarden here

On Pods and Blogs we'll be taking a look at some of the controversy surrounding Google Streetview, but I don't want to knock the spirit of innovation that lies behind its development. Unfortunately being the first to do something often means being the first to ask the hard questions. And I'm glad we've got these video's to highlight some of Google's other, less controversial, but no less innovative, products

An Olympic Logo 2.0?

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Chris Vallance | 17:13 UK time, Monday, 4 June 2007

The new Olympic logo is out, apparently "It will work with new technology and across traditional and new media networks." Really? That's good, a badly designed logo could easily break your computer.

Oddly, there are no comments only a few comments about it yet on the Olympics blog, but plenty over at 606 as the BBC Sports Editors blog reports. Indeed the BBC Sport online, purely indicative, online poll suggests that 83% of those who voted (last time I checked) think it deserves "the wooden spoon". Citizen designed logos seem a bit more popular, your designs for a logo are now the most read story on the BBC News website though the fact that an inappropriate image made it onto the list and into may have something to do with it.As an East Ender I'd like to have seen a bit more of the area where it's being held reflected in the logo, the new one does remind me a bit of a 12inch cover from the 1980's, in fact is it just me or does it look a bit like Big Generator by Yes (see pic)?200px-YesBigGenerator.png But perhaps I'm missing the point, someone has just told me that if you stare at it long enough and then look at a white wall.....

UPDATE: On the Olympic 2012 blog there's a spirited defence of the new logo. It also helps elucidate some of the remarks about working with new technology:

A brand which is flexible enough to render in multiple different formats on multiple platforms.It’s not about the shape. It’s not about the colours. It’s about what we can do with it - there is a lot more to see, and you’ll see it soon.In the course of playing with it over the past few weeks our new media team has enjoyed playing with the flexibility that the whole system around the brand offers.

Adrian Shaughnessy of DesignObserver said on the show that he thought it looked like a logo designed by blazer wearing types. Not so apparently:

Most of all this is a brand to live up to which will force us to deliver a games in a way which no other host city has ever done - not a comfortable blazer badge with “endearing” qualities or cute London skylines but a big statement of intent.

I see also the excellent DoctorVee is fighting the logo's corner too. As a bit of a blazer wearing fogey myself I guess we'll just have to chalk this one up to De Gustibus Non Est Disputandum...

UPDATE II Design Observer writes about the logo, and a bit about the tabloid press coverage. Long debate among design buffs in comments, "It is the Pontiac Aztek of logos. " says one. That's going a bit far old chap...

Everything is Miscellaneous

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Chris Vallance | 13:32 UK time, Friday, 1 June 2007

The full 29 mins of my interview with David Weinberger about his book Everything is Miscellaneous is now available for your listening pleasure.

In this interview we trace how the web is changing the way we order knowledge, what happens when we move from rigid taxonomies to fluid folksonomies generated by the tags individual net users apply to information. The discussion gets a bit philosophical at times, but I think it's worth underlining how the new technologies relate to some very old intellectual puzzles, such as the problem of universals. But don't be put off by that link, like most problems in philosophy the problem is simple to state, but hard to answer.

You can listen to the full interview here


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