the internet laws of the jungle

firefox-copyright-1Where are the boundaries between freedom, license and exploitation, between fair use and theft?

I found myself getting increasingly angry today as Mozilla Foundation stepped firmly beyond those limits, and moreover with Trump-esque rhetoric attempts to dupe others into following them.

It all started with a small text add below the Firefox default screen search box:

firefox-copyright-2

Partly because of my ignorance of web-speak ‘TFW‘ (I know showing my age!), I clicked through to a petition page on Mozilla Foundation (PDF archive copy here).

It starts off fine, with stories of some of the silliness of current copyright law across Europe (can’t share photos of the Eiffel tower at night) and problems for use in education (which does in fact have quite a lot of copyright exemptions in many countries).  It offers a petition to sign.

This sounds all good, partly due to rapid change, partly due to knee jerk reactions, internet law does seem to be a bit of a mess.

If you blink you might miss one or two odd parts:

“This means that if you live in or visit a country like Italy or France, you’re not permitted to take pictures of certain buildings, cityscapes, graffiti, and art, and share them online through Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.”

Read this carefully, a tourist forbidden from photographing cityscapes – silly!  But a few words on “… and art” …  So if I visit an exhibition of an artist or maybe even photographer, and share a high definition (Nokia Lumia 1020 has 40 Mega pixel camera) is that OK? Perhaps a thumbnail in the background of a selfie, but does Mozilla object to any rules to prevent copying of artworks?

mozilla-dont-break-the-internet

However, it is at the end, in a section labelled “don’t break the internet”, the cyber fundamentalism really starts.

“A key part of what makes the internet awesome is the principle of innovation without permission — that anyone, anywhere, can create and reach an audience without anyone standing in the way.”

Again at first this sounds like a cry for self expression, except if you happen to be an artist or writer and would like to make a living from that self-expression?

Again, it is clear that current laws have not kept up with change and in areas are unreasonably restrictive.  We need to be ale to distinguish between a fair reference to something and seriously infringing its IP.  Likewise, we could distinguish the aspects of social media that are more like looking at holiday snaps over a coffee, compared to pirate copies for commercial profit.

However, in so many areas it is the other way round, our laws are struggling to restrict the excesses of the internet.

Just a few weeks ago a 14 year old girl was given permission to sue Facebook.  Multiple times over a 2 year period nude pictures of her were posted and reposted.  Facebook hides behind the argument that it is user content, it takes down the images when they are pointed out, and yet a massive technology company, which is able to recognise faces is not able to identify the same photo being repeatedly posted. Back to Mozilla: “anyone, anywhere, can create and reach an audience without anyone standing in the way” – really?

Of course this vision of the internet without boundaries is not just about self expression, but freedom of speech:

“We need to defend the principle of innovation without permission in copyright law. Abandoning it by holding platforms liable for everything that happens online would have an immense chilling effect on speech, and would take away one of the best parts of the internet — the ability to innovate and breathe new meaning into old content.”

Of course, the petition is signalling out EU law, which inconveniently includes various provisions to protect the privacy and rights of individuals, not dictatorships or centrally controlled countries.

So, who benefits from such an open and unlicensed world?  Clearly not the small artist or the victim of cyber-bullying.

Laissez-faire has always been an aim for big business, but without constraint it is the law of the jungle and always ends up benefiting the powerful.

In the 19th century it was child labour in the mills only curtailed after long battles.

In the age of the internet, it is the vast US social media giants who hold sway, and of course the search engines, who just happen to account for $300 million of revenue for Mozilla Foundation annually, 90% of its income.

 

lies, damned lies and obesity

2016-07-15 11.02.43 - inews-obesityFacts are facts, but the facts you choose to tell change the story, and, in the case of perceptions of the ‘ideal body’, can fuel physical and mental health problems, with consequent costs to society and damage to individual lives.

Today’s i newspaper includes an article entitled “Overweight and obese men ‘have higher risk of premature death’“.  An online version of the same article “Obese men three times more likely to die early” appeared online yesterday on the iNews website.  A similar article “Obesity is three times as deadly for men than women” reporting the same Lancet article appeared in yesterday’s Telegraph.

The text describes how moderately obese men die up to three years earlier than those of ‘normal’ weight1; clearly a serious issue in the UK given growing levels of child obesity and the fact that the UK has the highest levels of obesity in Europe.  The i quotes professors from Oxford and the British Heart Foundation, and the Telegraph report says that the Lancet article’s authors suggest their results refute other recent research which found that being slightly heavier than ‘normal’ could be protective and extend lifespan.

The things in the reports are all true. However, to quote the Witness Oath of British courts, it is not sufficient to tell “the truth”, but also “the whole truth”.

The Telegraph article also helpfully includes a summary of the actual data in which the reports are based.

obesity-table

As the articles say, this does indeed show substantial risk for both men and women who are mildly obese (BMI>30) and extreme risk for those more severely obese (BMI>35). However, look to the left of the table and the column for those underweight (BMI<18.5).  The risks of being underweight exceed those of being mildly overweight, by a small amount for men and a substantial amount for women.

While obesity is major issue, so is the obsession with dieting and the ‘ideal figure’, often driven by dangerously skinny fashion models.  The resulting problems of unrealistic and unhealthy body image, especially for the young, have knock-on impacts on self-confidence and mental health. This may then lead to weight problems, paradoxically including obesity.

The original Lancet academic article is low key and balanced, but, if reported accurately, the comments of at least one of the (large number of) article co-authors less so.  However, the eventual news reports, from ‘serious’ papers at both ends of the political spectrum, while making good headlines, are not just misleading but potentially damaging to people’s lives.

 

  1. I’ve put ‘normal’ in scare quotes, as this is the term used in many medical charts and language, but means something closer to ‘medically recommended’, and is far from ‘normal’ on society today.[back]

Alan’s Guide to Winter Foot Care

My feet are quite wide and so I prefer to wear sandals.  I wore sandals for over 700 miles of my round Wales walk back in 2013, and wear them throughout the winter.

When the temperature drops below zero, or snow gathers on the ground, I am often asked, “don’t your feet get cold?“.

Having been asked so many times, I have decided to put down in writing my observations about healthy winter feet in the hope it will help others.

Basically, the thing to remember is that it is all about colours, and follows a roughly linear series of stages.  However, do note I am a sallow-skinned Caucasian, so all reference to skin colour should be read in that context.

Look at your toes.

What colour are they?

Stage1.  White

Press the side of your toe with your finger.  Does it change colour?

1.1   Yes, it goes a bit pink and then fades rapidly back to white.

That is normal and healthy, you clearly aren’t taking this whole extreme winter walking thing seriously.

1.2  Yes, it goes deep red and only very slowly back to white.

You have an infection, maybe due to stage 2.2a on a previous walk.  Visit the doctor to avoid stage 3.

1.3 No, it stays white.

Bad news, you are a zombie.

Stage 2. Red

Are your toes painful?

2.1 Yes.

Well at least they are still alive.

2.2. No.

Well at least they don’t hurt.  However numbness means does cause certain dangers.

2.2a – You might prick your toe on a thorns, or rusty wire and not notice, leading to infection.

2.2b – You might step on broken glass and bleed to death.

2.2c – You might step in a fire and burn yourself.

Stage 3.  Yellow

Blood poisoning, you missed warning 2.2a

Stage 4.  Blue.

Your circulation has stopped entirely.  This will lead ultimately to limb death, but at least you won’t bleed to death (warning 2.2b).

Stage 5. Black.

Is that charcoal black?

5.1.  Yes

You forgot warning 2.2c didn’t you?

5.2  no, more dull grey/black.

Frostbite, get to the hospital quick and they may save some of your toes.

Stage 6. Green

Gangrene, no time for the hospital, find a saw or large breadknife.

Stage 7.  What toes?

You missed stages 5 and 6.


Download and print the Quick Reference Card so that you can conveniently check your foot health at any time.

Quick Reference Card


Last word … on a serious note

My feet are still (despite misuse!) healthy.  However, for many this is a serious issue, not least for those with diabetes.  When I was child my dad, who was diabetic, dropped a table on his foot and had to be constantly monitored to make sure it didn’t develop into gangrene.  Diabetes UK have their own foot care page, and a list of diabetes charities you can support.

 

Into the heart of darkness

Life is not all joy and fun, but often dark, depressing and painful.

Easter and Christmas are part of popular culture: Easter bunnies, Easter eggs, Christmas presents and Santa Claus. However, except for the odd Hot Cross Bun, Good Friday slips under the radar. The birth of a child and the glory of renewed life are images that are obvious causes for celebration, but a tale of abandonment followed by painful and bloody execution maybe has Gothic overtones, but is hardly party-worthy.

And yet, for those of different and no faith as well as for Christians, Good Friday touches issues of mythic as well as deeply personal significance.

Sometimes we simply need someone to share the darkness with us.

In days past the season of Lent with its fasting and sobriety helped build a sombre tension. Reading the Gospel accounts of Easter week is like one of those disaster films, where life appears to go on as normal, but with small and growing signs of the catastrophe to come. While we also know of the Easter story that follows, this does not shield us from the deep pit of despair that precedes it, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me1.

I love Nina Bawden‘s books for children, and often in them are very real and flawed characters who, while young, can sometimes cause real pain and harm; they dig at one’s own buried memories and knowledge of our own flaws.

The Easter story is full of such characters, Peter falling asleep as Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, just at the point he was needed most as a friend; and later, after Jesus was arrested, in fear for his own life, denying that he ever knew Jesus. Each time I read it part of me wants to shout at him, warn him, encourage him, knowing that in his position I would do the same.

And Judas, the friend turned betrayer. Just like the actions of Lubitiz, who crashed the plane in the alps, many have speculated on the reasons in Judas’ heart: disillusionment that Jesus was not going to oust the Romans, greed for the bribe of silver, self-destruction, or maybe simply that bitter rancour in the presence of someone better than ourselves.

The 1960s protest song “There but for fortune” talks of the prisoner, the hobo, the drunk and the war-torn, but now I often think of the Auschwitz guard, the Rwandan militia, the ISIS terrorist — what are the life chances and life choices that brought me to where I am compared to those that took them?

Reading of Judas his betrayal, his remorse, throwing the tainted money back at the Priests’ feet, and taking his own life — there but for fortune.

And it is no accident that the blood money, the price of a life, the price of Jesus’ life, was used to buy a burial ground for strangers and foreigners2. The death of one who sought out the marginal, the poor, the disabled, and the ‘immoral’ buys a resting place for the same.

Jesus death on the cross is, of course, at the heart of Christian theology, Paul once wrote to early converts on Corinth, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”3. The main focus is often on sacrifice, both personal, “greater love has no man than he lay down his life for his friends4, and also theological, cosmic atonement for sins.

However, as well as this message that Jesus died for us, there is also a parallel message, that Jesus died with us, alongside us in the darkest hour. This is the end point of the Christmas story, one who was “like us in every respect5, entering the world, a tiny head crowned in the blood of childbirth, and leaving crowned by bloody thorns.

While the early Church was never at doubt as to the resurrection of Jesus, the completeness of this moment, Jesus dying, flanked by criminals and a weeping prostitute at his feet, is so intense that the earliest versions of Mark’s gospel rush through the Easter morning itself in a mere 8 verses, and end with the empty tomb, the astonished disciples and the words, “for they were afraid6.

The Apostles’ Creed repeated in various forms across all Western churches says Jesus “was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell“. Hell is not an easy concept for the modern mind, filled with images of half-comic horned demons. But despite its B-movie connotations, and irrespective of whether you read it literally, figuratively or mythically, Hades, Gehenna, the pit are powerful images.

Hell of 1st century Palestine is not just for the lifeless shades of Greek Hades, but more like Tartarus, the place of damnation, the abode of the sinner. Peter says that Jesus “preached to the dead7, and other authors simply that death could not ultimately hold him8, but all agree that for three days that was where Jesus was, not simply dying for and with us, but entering the very place of the Auschwitz guard, of Judas, of the ISIS killer, of our own deepest darkness, and sharing it.

The one of whom they said, “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners9, the one who spent his life with outcasts and prostitutes, would he be anywhere else?

 

  1. Matthew 27:46[back]
  2. Matthew 27:3-8[back]
  3. 1 Corinthians 2:2[back]
  4. John 15:13[back]
  5. Hebrews 2:17[back]
  6. Mark 6:8[back]
  7. 1 Peter 4:6[back]
  8. Acts 2:24[back]
  9. Matthew 11:19[back]

It started with a run … from a conversation at Tiree Tech Wave to an award-winning project

Spring has definitely come to Tiree and in the sunshine I took my second run of the year. On Soroby beach I met someone else out running and we chatted as we ran. It reminded me of another run two years ago …

It was spring of 2013 and a busy Tiree Tech Wave with the launch of Frasan on the Saturday evening. A group had come from the Catalyst project in Lancaster, including Maria Ferrario and she had mentioned running when she arrived, so I said I’d do a run with her. Only later did I discover that her level of running was somewhat daunting, competing in marathons with times that made me wonder if I’d survive the outing.

Happily, Maria modified her pace to reflect my abilities, and we took a short run from the Rural Centre to Chocolates and Charms (good to have a destination), indirectly via Soroby Beach, where I ran today.

Running across the sand we talked about smart grids, and the need to synchronise energy use with renewable supply, and from the conversation the seeds of an idea grew.

fiona-crossapol-beach-2663997355_ea73a75f4c_z-cropped

I started my walk round Wales almost immediately after (with the small matter of my daughter’s wedding in between), but Maria went back to Lancaster and talked to Adrian Friday, who put together a project proposal (with the occasional, very slow email interchange when I could get Internet connections). Towards the end of the summer we heard we had been short-listed and I joined Adrian via Skype for an interview in July.

… and we were successful 🙂

The OnSupply project was born.

OnSupply was a sub-project of the Lancaster Catalyst project. The wider Catalyst project’s aims were to understand better the processes by which advanced technology could be used by communities. OnSupply was the main activity for nine-months of the last year of Catalyst.

OnSupply itself was focused on how people can better understand the availability of renewable energy. Our current model of energy production assumes electricity is always available ‘on demand’ and the power generation companies’ job is to provide it when wanted. However, renewable energy does not come when we want it, but when the wind blows, the tides run and the sun shines. That is in the future we need to shift to a model where energy is used when it is available, ‘on supply’ rather than ‘on demand’.

The Lancaster team, led by Adrian consisted of four full time researchers, Will, Steve, Peter, and of course, Maria, and the other project partners were Tiree Tech Wave, the Tiree Development Trust, Goldsmiths University, and Rory Gianni, an independent developer based in Scotland specialising in environmental issues.

The choice of Tiree was of course partly because of Tiree Tech Wave and my presence here, but also because of Tilly, the Tiree community wind turbine, and the slightly parlous state of the electricity cable between Tiree and the mainland. In many ways the island is just like being on the mainland, you flick the switch and electricity is there. While Tilly can provide nearly a megawatt at full capacity, this simply feeds into the grid, just like the wind farms you see over many hillsides.

However, there is also an extent to which we, as an island population, are more sensitised to issues of electricity and renewable energy.

TTW6_DanPictsForSaturdayPitch-3-604x270

First is the presence of Tilly, which can be seen from much of the island; while the power goes into the grid, when she turns this generates income, which funds various island projects and groups.

But, the same wind that drives Tilly (incidentally the most productive land-based turbine in the UK), shakes power lines, and at its wildest causes shorts and breakages. The fragile power reduces the lifetime of the sophisticated wireless routers, which provide broadband to half the island, and damages fridge compressors.

Furthermore, the aging sea-cable (now happily replaced) frequently broke so that island power was provided for months at a time from backup diesel generator. As well as filling the ferry with oil tankers, the generator cannot cope with the fluctuating power from Tilly, and so for months she is braked, meaning no electricity and so no money.

So, in some ways, a community perfect for investigating issues of awareness of energy production, sensitised enough that it will be easier to see impact, but similar enough to those on the mainland that lessons learnt can be transferred.

wirlygigThe project itself proceeded through a number of workshops and iterative stages, with prototypes designed to provoke discussions and engagement. My favourites were machines that delivered brightly coloured ping-pong balls as part of a game to explore energy uses, and wonderful self-assembly kits for the children, incorporating a wind and solar energy gauge.

The project culminated in a display at the Tiree Agricultural Show.

While OnSupply finished last summer, the reporting continues and a few weeks ago a paper about the project, to be presented at the CHI’2015 conference in South Korea in April, was given a best paper award at the CHI’2015 conference.

… and all this from a run on the beach.

 

lies, damned lies, and the BBC

I have become increasingly annoyed and distressed over the years at the way the media decides a narrative for various news stories and then selectively presents the facts to tell the story, ignoring or suppressing anything that suggests a more nuanced or less one-sided account.

BBC-news-headline-13-Feb-2015-croppedSometimes I agree with the overall narrative, sometimes I don’t.  Either way the B-movie Western accounts, which cannot recognise that the baddies can sometimes do good and the goodies may not be pristine, both distort the public’s view of the world and perhaps more damagingly weaken the critical eye that is so essential for democracy.

For the newspapers, we know that they have an editorial stance and I expect a different view of David Cameron’s welfare policy in The Guardian compared with The Telegraph. Indeed, I often prefer to read a newspaper I disagree with as it is easier to see the distortions when they clash with one’s own preconceptions.  One of the joys of the British broadsheet press is that whatever the persuasion, the underlying facts are usually there, albeit deeply buried towards the end of a long article.

However, maybe unfairly, I have higher expectations of the BBC, which are sadly and persistently dashed.  Here it seems not so much explicit editorial policy (although one hears that they do get leant upon by government occasionally), more that they believe a simplistic narrative is more acceptable to the viewer … and maybe they just begin to believe there own stories.

A typical (in the sense of terrifyingly bad) example of this appeared this morning.

After the wonderful news of a peace agreement in Ukraine yesterday, this morning the report read:

Ukraine crisis: Shelling follows Minsk peace summit

The ceasefire is due to start on Sunday, so one can only hope this is a last violent outburst, although to what avail as the borders are already set by the Minsk agreement.

The first few lines of the article read as follows:

New shelling has been reported in the rebel-held east Ukrainian cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, a day after a peace deal was reached in Minsk.

There are no confirmed reports of casualties. Both cities are near the front line where the pro-Russian rebels face government forces.

The ceasefire agreed in the Belarusian capital is to begin in eastern Ukraine after midnight (22:00 GMT) on Saturday.

The EU has warned Russia of additional sanctions if the deal is not respected.

If you have kept abreast of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and can remember your geography, then you will know that this means the Ukrainian Army was shelling rebel-held cities.  However, if you are less aware, this is not the immediate impression of the article.

First notice the passive wording of the title.  Imagine if this had been Syria, the headline would have surely been “Assad’s forces bombard Syrian cities” or “Syrian Army shell civilian areas“.  While the BBC may want to avoid flamboyant titles (although do not demure elsewhere) the article itself is no better.

The opening paragraphs mention ‘shelling’, ‘rebels’ and the EU warning Russians to clean up their act.  The emotional and rhetorical impact is that in some way Russians are to blame for the shelling of cities, and indeed when I read the words to Fiona this was precisely what she assumed.

That is, while the facts are there, they are presented in such a way that the casual reader takes away precisely the opposite of the truth.  In other words, the BBC reporting, whether intentionally or unintentionally, systematically misleads the public.

To be fair, in the earliest version of the article its later parts report first Ukrainian army deaths and then civilian casualties in rebel-held areas:

On Friday morning, a military spokesman in Kiev said eight members of Ukraine’s military had been killed in fighting against separatists in the past 24 hours.

The rebels said shelling killed three civilians in Luhansk, reported AFP news agency.

(Although the second sentence is removed from later versions of the article.)

BBC-news-early-13-Feb-2015-cropped BBC-news-later-13-Feb-2015-cropped
early and later version of same BBC story

The early versions of the article also included an image of a wall in Kiev commemorating Ukrainian army deaths, but not the graphic images of civilian casualties that would be used in other conflicts1. This was later changed to a refugee departing on a bus to Russia ((Later still the image of an armoured vehicle was also added.  I’d not realised before just how much these news stories are post-edited)), which better reflects the facet behind the article.

Of course, this is not a one-sided conflict, and later reports from the region during he day include rebel shelling of government held areas as well as government shelling.  Both sides need to be reported, but the reporting practice seems to be to deliberately obfuscate the far more prevalent Ukrainian army attacks on civilian areas.

If this were just a single news item, it could be just the way things turn out, and other news items might be biased in other directions, but the misreporting is systematic and long term.  Many of BBCs online news items include a short potted history of the conflict, which always says that the current conflict started with Russian annexing of Crimea, conveniently ignoring the violent overthrow of the elected government which led to this.  Similarly the BBC timeline for Ukraine starts in 1991 with the Ukrainian referendum to separate from the USSR, conveniently ignoring the similar overwhelming referendum in Crimea earlier in 1991 to separate from Ukraine2.

To be fair on the journalists on the ground, it is frequently clear that their own raw accounts have a different flavour to the commentary added when footage is edited back in London.

In some way Ukraine could be seen as a special case, the Russians are the bogey men of the today, just like Germany was 100 years ago and France was 100 years previously, it is hard for a journalist to say, “actually in this case they have a point“.

Yet, sadly, the above account could be repeated with different details, but the same underlying message in so many conflicts in frequent times.  Will the media, and the BBC, ever trust the public with the truth, or will ‘news’ always be a B movie?

  1. Maybe this is just deemed too horrifying; a recent Times report of Donetsk morgue includes graphic accounts of shrapnel torn babies, but does not include the Getty images of the morgue preferring an image of an unexploded rocket.[back]
  2. While ignoring the history of Crimea. which does seem germane to the current conflict, the BBC timeline is overall relatively fair; for example, making clear that Yanukovych’s election was “judged free and fair by observers“.[back]

the year that was 2014

While 2013 was full of momentous events (Miriam getting married, online HCI course and walking 1000 years around Wales), 2014 seems to have relatively little to report.

A major reason for that is the REF panel and the time taken, inter alia, to read and assess 1000 papers.  I am not at all convinced by the entire research assessment process – however, if it is to happen it is needs to be done as well as possible, hence while still reeling from the walk (indeed asked whilst on the walk) I agreed to be on the panel at a relatively late stage late in 2013.

At the end of the year with the results out I guess the other members of the REF panels and I are either loved hated deepening on how different institutions fared … maybe it is good that I live on an island so far from anyone :-/

I guess I am no more convinced at the end of the process than I was at the beginning.  It was good to read so much over such a wide range of topics, I feel I have an overview of UK computing that I have never had before.  This was often depressing (so many niche areas that clearly will never affect anything else in computer science, let alone the world), but also lifted by the occasional piece of work that was theoretically deep, well reported and practically useful.

Beyond the many many hours of reading for REF, the world has moved on:

  • Fiona has begun to sell more textile art online and at events, including a stall at Fasanta where the Tiree Tapestry was also exhibited.
  • Miriam passed her driving test and has a car.
  • Esther has had a number of performances including a short film (although sadly I’ve not managed to attend any this year :-()

Personally and work-wise (the boundary is always hard to draw):

  • I eventually managed to fill in the remaining day blogs for Alan Walks Wales in time for 1st anniversary!
  • I’m gradually managing to spread the word about the unique data I collected at various talks including at events in Bangelore and Athens.
  • The OnSupply project about awareness of renewable energy production was wonderfully successful with several workshops in Tiree, a best paper nomination at ICT4S and an accepted CHI paper.
  • Work with Rachel on Musicology data, which has been slowly ticking along informally, has now been funded as the InConcert project and we ran an exciting symposium on concert-related data in November.
  • At Talis I am looking at the benefits of learning analytics and published my first journal paper in the area, as well as using it practically in teaching.
  • Tiree Tech Wave has gone from strength to strength with capacity attendance and digital fabrication workshops for the Tiree community in the autumn.
  • … and not least competed in the 35 mile round Tiree Ultra-marathon in September 🙂

… and in 2015

who knows, but I’ve already entered for next year’s ultra – why not join me 🙂

 

A week in Athens

Last week I visited Athens again to give keynote “Long-Term Engagement” at Usability And Accessibility Days 2014.  The rest of the event was in Greek, so I got excused to wander across to see the exhibition of contemporary icons by Helena Krystalli in the adjoining room.

The talks included vignettes about Walking Wales, Tiree Tech Wave and other technology projects on Tiree, the InConcert musicology data project, and Talis software for learning analytics.  the linking theme was the different time frames for engagement and key properties/heuristics at each level including ‘desire and disaster‘, matching cost–benefit, and ‘Micawber management’.

talk-themes

As well as the talk I got to see old friends in Athens, many of whom I’d not seen for five years since my last visit for the 2009 SIGCHI Greece event when I was talking about ‘Touching Technology‘.  Despite the years it seemed like just yesterday when we’d last talked together.

Although there was some evidence of change (Angela who I stayed with now has two daughters instead of one), much was the same (George’s house is still waiting to get its central, hearing working).

However, when I was in the research office the day after the talk I decided that Athens definitely is in stasis when I am not there.  We were sitting talking and I happened to look up at the board and saw writing there.  It was a little obscure, and intriguing, but as I examined it I realised t was in fact my own handwriting, written there 5 years ago during a discussion in the same office.

athens-stasis-cropped

 

To be fair there was some additional evidence of change beside Angela’s child; the new Acropolis Museum has opened, a wonderful building of glass and steel built to display the many treasures found by archaeologists, and most especially the whole of the upper floor laid out to recreate the frieze around the top of the Pantheon.  There are some gaps, but much of the sculpture is either there, or, where the original is elsewhere, in plaster cast.

The plaster cast sections all say where they come from, except the vast majority simply say ‘BM’ … it took a few before this sunk in, the British Museum … the Elgin Marbles – too sore a point even to write the words in full.  Indeed the whole museum is partly a statement to show just how much is in London not Athens, and also that Greece is now quite capable of preserving them.

It is a complex question undoubtedly much more would be missing, eroded or damaged if Elgin had not shipped them to Britain in the 19th century, and clearly not every work originating in a country should be returned … I imagine all the obelisks around Rome being sent back to Egypt!   However, seeing the museum and vast proportion saying ‘BM’ brings home that this is not simply a small amount elsewhere, but a large proportion, and in many ways the ‘best bits’.

There is also something different about the iconic monuments of any nation: it is as if parts of the Tower of Pisa were in Germany or London Bridge in Arizona …

To take our minds off such heady matters Angela and her family took me swimming in a volcano.  Christmas music playing in the background while bathing in water at 22° C.

Lake3

running and talking

September saw two events on Tiree; both exciting but each very different: at the beginning of the month the first Tiree Ultramarathon organised by Will Wright our very own Tiree superhero and towards the end ‘Re-Thinking Architecturally‘, a workshop of the European Network of Excellence on Internet Science organised by Clare Hooper from Southampton University.    I was lucky enough to take part in both.

In addition, in a few weeks time (23-27 Oct) there will be the eighth Tiree Tech Wave, which will include participants from Canada, Scotland, Wales and England (but no-one from Ireland yet).  As well as the usual unstructured serendipity, we will have some tutorial workshops of 3D scanning, 3D printing and laser cutting … but more about that in another post.

The Tiree Ultra

photo Rhoda Meek

I should first emphasise that I did not run all of the 35 mile ultra-marathon course around the coast of Tiree, but did about 50:50, walk/run.  I’d never done anything remotely like this before.  The longest I’d run was the Tiree half marathon back in May and the longest I’d walked during the Wales walk was a 29 mile day (although I did that over more than 12 hours).  I had as a schoolboy once done a 34 mile day hike up into the coal valleys above Cardiff, and one of the spurs to sign up for the Ultra was to beat my 17 year old self!

With my usual level of preparation it came to the beginning of August and I realised I’d not run at all, nor even taken a walk longer than to the beach and back, since the half-marathon in May.  Just before the event I found a couple of sites with training schedules for marathons, all of them were several months long and the ‘beginner’ level was “runs 15-25 miles  a week regularly” … what about zero miles a week?  Anyway my lengthy one month training schedule consisted mainly of short (2.5 mile) beach runs with the occasional 7.5 mile run to Hynish and towards the end a run of 8.5 miles along part of the route of the Ultra round the base of Ben Hynish.  I was aware I’d not done any really substantial runs and so, rather foolishly, on the Wednesday 4 days before the event I ran (and walked!) 21 miles around part of the route on the east end of the island and down to Hynish and back.  A good last run before the event, but one I should have done a week earlier.

Somehow or other, despite my foolish training schedule, I managed to get round without any serious injury.  My main problem was eating, or rather failing to eat. I found I could only mange food during walking stages, and then just a small amount of Kendal Mint Cake and few bananas, I guess overall I managed to burn around 4000 calories, but ate less than 1000, which really made the legs start to tire as I got to the latter parts of the course.  I’ve already entered for the 2015 Tiree Ultra next September (half the places are already gone and entries have only been open a week), but I will have to work out how to eat better before then.  Crucially I got round the course … and not even last.  The serious contenders managed times not much more than 4 1/2 hours whilst I got round in just over 8:20, but I was simply happy to get to the end.

Although it was further and faster than any day walking last year, it was in many ways a lot easier than the Wales walk.  About 2/3 of the way round the Tiree course my right ankle and calf started to stiffen, which was where I’d had Achilles ankle problems a couple of years ago.  Although I did try to ease a little I was not terribly worried; the worst would be that I’d be hobbling for a month or so after the run.  In contrast, last year I knew that I would be walking again the next day, and the next,and the one after that; with each ache I worried whether it would be the injury that did not get better, and stopped the walk. And, despite the worry of this, I had also learnt quite how resilient the body is, that most pains and strains did get better, albeit slowly, despite unrelenting exercise.

I was also reminded very much of the walk when I finished.  I took off my running shoes and socks, the latter sodden from beach and bog, and filled with fine layer of sand.  The soles of my feet, which had been subjected to 35 miles of damp sandpaper, felt like I was walking on coals and I hobbled about between van and Ceadhar where they laid on a post-walk pizza and party.  It was just like that so many days last year, I would get to where I was staying, ease off my boots, put on sandals, and then hobble out in search of food, wondering if I would get as far as the closest pub or cafe, let alone walk again the next day.

Re-thinking Architecturally

The Internet Science workshop was equally enjoyable, but a little less physically challenging!  It brought together economists, architects, lawyers, policy advisors, and some with more technical background from as far afield as Umea in northern Sweden. It was lovely being able to attend a technology workshop on Tiree that I hadn’t organised 🙂

Clare had been to one of the Tiree Tech Waves, and then, when she was organising a workshop for the European Network of Excellence on Internet Science, she thought of Tiree.  The logistics were not without problems, but after the event I’ve been getting together with the Tiree Trust to make an information pack for future organisers to make the process easier.  So if if you would like to organise an event on Tiree, get in touch!

The participants all seemed utterly taken with the venue, several brave souls even swimming in the mornings off the Hynish pier, in the words of one of the participants on the way back after the event “I’d rather be in Tiree!”.  Another said:

one great consequence of the week in Tiree was a kind of intellectual regeneration that let me set aside the stresses of the coming academic year and…think openly a bit.”
Alison Powell (London School of Economics)

In fact this is precisely the feedback I get from many who have been to Tiree Tech Wave.  It is hard to capture in words the way the open horizon and being at the wild-edge opens up the mind, especially when meeting with others equally committed to exploring new ideas freely and openly.

One of the memorable moments from the week was a debate of internet freedom and regulation.  We started off half on one side half the other and then part way through we all had to swop sides.  I can’t believe how passionate I got about both sides of the argument … and I managed to wheel in my school English teacher as authority on benevolent dictatorship1.

photo Parag Deshpande

photo Rory at Balevullin

People

While two very different events, a common story was the wonderful welcome of the people of Tiree.  During the Ulta-marathon, at every way-station there was a glorious array of tray bakes, chocolates, pre-sliced fruit, and above all smiling faces.  This was great for me seeing faces I knew, but clearly very special for the participants who came from afar being greeted as if they too were friends.  For the Re-thinking Architecturally workshop many people made it a success: the wonderful team at the Hynish Centre, especially Lesley who kept on smiling despite a seven hour wait for participants whose travel was disrupted, everyone at Ceadhar, Ring n Ride, and at the airport re-arranging travel across Europe when the Thursday plane was cancelled.

  1. I wrote what I thought to be a masterful mock O’level essay that asserted that Macbeth was actually a good king taking a ‘he made the trains run on time’ argument — my English teacher, Miss Griffiths, was not impressed.[back]

being British? always a second class citizen

The most important reason for a ‘Yes’ vote in the upcoming Scottish independence referendum is the potential for a new nation that is a beacon of a fairer, greener and more inclusive society.  This would ultimately be to the good of the whole of the UK.

However, I’ve also noted a general lack of comprehension by many south of the border who struggle to understand the desire for Scottish Independence.

This was voiced a few days ago in a Facebook thread and this was my response as a Welshman living north of the border.:

As a Welshman I have always had a romantic nationalist edge, but also felt a strong British patriotism.

However events over the years, and not least the referendum campaign have hardened this.  Again and again Westminster politicians tell us that Scotland is better with England, as if Wales and Northern Ireland did not exist.

I have heard this language all my life: in the 50th anniversary celebrations of the second World War, in numerous debates in immigration, in company registration (registered in Cardiff, a company in England and Wales, but subject to *English* law), … and has been noted several times the Bank of England.

The difference in this campaign is that this is when politicians are supposed to be being careful of their language.  We even had the government lawyer explaining that the separated rUK and Scotland would not be equally parts of a previous single nation when looking towards external international bodies, not based on measures such as the population (reasonable), but because really and legally Scotland was never a partner country in a union, but was always amalgamated unto England.

There have been hundreds of years to sort out these things, but it has not happened yet, what chance for the next 100 years?

As a  child I was pedalled a lie.

There never was, and never will be a Britain.

As a Welshman, I am as British as Indians were in the ‘British Empire’.

Within the UK I always have been, and always will be, a second class citizen.

In contrast to this Scotland (despite sectarian tensions that erupt occasionally in Celtic-Rangers crowds) accepts incomers as was amply demonstrated in the difference between the spitting bigotry of the Westminster leaders’ debates at the last General Election compared with the far more civilised, cultured,and above all inclusive Scottish leaders’ debate, with all parties, including the Scottish Conservative leader, praising the richness through diversity and immigration.

Whether it is a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’, the shape of the UK will change fundamentally tomorrow.

If it is ‘No’, I hope the UK will eventually wake up to the fact that it is a nation of nations.

If it is ‘Yes’, then I know, that even as a Welshman far from my birthplace, I will be in a country where I can feel at home.