Initial reflections on Newsfoo

On arrival at Newsfoo a couple of weeks ago in Phoenix, Arizona, each participant was given a notebook. The notebook may have just been a rather fine example of conference schwag, but looking back at it after the weekend, I realise that mine speaks volumes – not what I jotted down during sessions, but what I didn’t. Or rather, the pattern of my note-taking during the event.

Newsfoo notebook

I noted down on a fresh page the name of the session I was attending, and the time, so I would later be able to piece together the sequence of sessions I attended at least, through a fug of jetlag. Underneath each session’s title, there follows about a page of notes – the questions under discussion, framing the topic, perhaps, or salient quotes and ideas. And then, by the time we get to the second page, the notes descend into lists – of names (people in the room and beyond), book titles, publications, other references cited, half ideas, questions – all headed by an underlined FOLLOW UP LATER.

This tells me two things about my experience of Newsfoo: One, that I was frequently too busy listening, thinking and participating to record the event. There was so much going on! And two, that each session acted as a catalyst for further thinking, reading, conversation afterwards. In other words, you needed your attention in the room; and the session was only the beginning.

This perhaps provides some context for the misunderstood suggestion from O’Reilly organisers, who dissuaded people from liveblogging and tweeting during sessions. Some – who weren’t there, incidentally – saw this suggestion on the event wiki and reacted angrily, referring to a “twitter ban” and alleging that this was part of a conspiracy to keep the content of the event secret, cabal-like.

On the contrary. My impression was that people were free to socialise and cover their perspective of the event (at least anything that wasn’t covered by O’Reilly’s famous FrieNDA, which is like a person- or statement-specific Chatham House rule), just not in real time. And since the weekend in Phoenix, there have emerged a number of stimulating, informative and thoughtful blog posts – and I expect more will emerge in time.*

So it’s not that nothing was said. It’s that, like coffee, Newsfoo reactions took time to percolate – though, as a non-coffee-drinking Brit, I’m bound to say that a good cup of tea needs time to steep (we call this “masting”) before it’s ready to drink. Whisk the teabag out too soon and your cuppa is insipid, weak – hardly worth bothering with at all.

In my experience, inserting a pause in usual social reporting activities/obligations provided time and mental space to listen to, reflect on and add to what was being said.
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Look, but don’t touch

News today that visitors to the new Ai WeiWei Turbine Hall installation at the Tate Modern are being prevented from walking on the ceramic seeds, as the artist intended:

“Although porcelain is very robust, the enthusiastic interaction of visitors has resulted in a greater than expected level of dust in the Turbine Hall. Tate has been advised that this dust could be damaging to health following repeated inhalation over a long period of time. In consequence, Tate, in consultation with the artist, has decided not to allow visitors to walk across the sculpture.”

The work is intended to be interactive and to have people walking through it, although some visitors, mainly children, had more fun in the seeds than curators might have liked.

I’m interested in the idea of artworks that you can’t predict: although Ai Weiwei conceived the artwork as interactive, it’s not until 100 million ceramic seeds are being shuffled through by gallery visitors that the true size of the dust-cloud is revealed. That’s art in itself.

Also, health and safety has played a role in visitor interactions with installations at the Tate Modern before….

Don't fall in

While the world watches…and waits

The world – and the media – is transfixed today by the ongoing rescue of the 33 miners who have been trapped underground for two months in a collapsed mine in northern Chile. As they emerge blinking behind sunglasses, into the desert daylight, we heave another sigh of relief. The unfolding story of their survival and planned rescue has brought hope to a world weary of bad news, and its successful executionn throughout last night and today is a testament to the power of planning, engineering, organisation, politics, money, hope, character, luck, faith…in fact, whatever people want to hang on this moment, they are doing so.

Throughout the morning, as news of the emerging miners breaks, I’ve had an earworm playing at the back of my head, which I’ve been trying not to give focus to, but here we go:

The song is the Ballad of Springhill, originally by Peggy Seeger (the version I know is by Martin Carthy) which was written about a mining disaster in Springhill, Nova Scotia, in October 1958. An underground seismic “bump” caused the coal faces deep underground to collapse, killing many men instantly and trapping others. Over the days which followed, survivors slowly made their way to the surface and contact was made with a group:

“After five and a half days (placing it around the morning of Wednesday, October 29, 1958) contact was established with a group of 12 survivors on the other side of a 160 foot rockfall. A rescue tunnel was dug and broke through to the trapped miners at 2:25am AST on Thursday, October 30, 1958…. Of the 174 miners in No. 2 colliery at the time of the bump, 74 were killed and 100 trapped but eventually rescued.” [source]

Thankfully, it looks like all the miners in the Chilean situation will be rescued safely throughout the course of the next couple of days.

Tangent: I think going by their onscreen graphic Sky News will refer to this as “Miners rescued: 33/33 – Achievement Unlocked!” Though people seem to find the count variously tacky and/or helpful, I think there are many who echo the sentiment of this twitter user:

“Anyone else reminded of lemmings whilst watching sky news’s coverage of the miner rescue? They have a counter, so far 0/33 rescued”

Anyone doubting this similarity is urged to study any Lemmings screenshot, and compare that with Sky’s on-screen graphic.

The 1958 “Springhill bump” was notable for another reason, too: it was the first major international story in Canada to be covered by live television broadcasts — a new service being developed by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) [more info]. Then, as now, the media circus camped at the minehead, watching and waiting.

While you watch the rolling news today, and follow the liveblogs and twitter updates, take a moment to watch this archive footage from CBC with interviews and coverage from the pithead. The events change, but the live media coverage is eerily similar, together with questions from the studio to our man at the pithead: “What’s going on right now? What can you see?”

Some things change, some stay the same. Meanwhile, in a Chilean desert, the miners rise one by one, blinking from what could have easily been a tomb. The world welcomes them back.

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Autumn is here

Autumn is icumen in



A turning time

Happy dog

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I was saddened this week by the story of the US college student who committed suicide after he discovered his roommate had secretly filmed his tryst with another man, and then published it online.

I add the emphasis, because it’s the most disturbing thing about an already tragic situation. Clearly we don’t know everything about the circumstances and there’s almost certainly a lot more going on than is apparent when a closeted teen commits suicide, but any way you look at it, his roommate’s actions were cruel, invasive, bullying and wrong.

There are two things jostling for attention in my head about this:

One: I’m not blaming social media, but I do worry about the habits that a social life (amplified by social media and networks) can fall into. Performing. Feeling like you have to constantly feed (/amuse/entertain/shock) a hungry audience, it’s easy to slither unawares across the line into behaviours and activities which are just wrong – like bullying – or stupid – like revealing too much about yourself online. I think some people – ok, many people – get seduced by the noteriety and enjoy the buzz of microfame, which means their boundaries of privacy and acceptable behaviour get ever so blurry. This can come back to bite them – or others.

Two: how do you support teens (especially) who are being bullied because of sexuality, appearance, intelligence, economics or anything else, especially within the artificial cruel crassness of a school or college dorm?

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iPhone photography apps: addendum

After writing not long ago about my favourite iPhone photography apps, I have a small update.

I don’t know if it’s got something to do with the quality of the iPhone 4 camera, or the way they’ve tweaked the algorithms in the app, but my love for CameraBag (at least its Helga setting) has dwindled. It no longer seems to be able to bring out the punch in shots.

So for punchiness these days I turn instead to Lo Mob, which comes with 28 different filters, including TTV, instant, and more. Some are more interesting than others, and I’ve been particularly pleased with the transformative effect it’s had on some of my recent shots – the black and white ones with high contrast are especially effective.

Hard as

Keep calm

It’s almost as good as using an actual retro camera, like my beloved Holga.

Hunstanton groynes


Want to play a game?

I sometimes play a game when I’m reading stuff on the internet. It’s called Commentogeddon – or, if you prefer, Crystal Ballocks. Do you want to join in?

Here’s how you play:

1. Read an article which has comments open. Since most things have comments these days – wisely or otherwise, YMMV – this can mean anything on a blog, news site, content portal or whatever. It helps if the comment count is greater than 0, but don’t read the comments just yet.

2. As you are reading the piece “above the line” (i.e the blog post, article, original content), try to predict the nature of the comments which will follow. Your prediction may concern form, tone or content of comments. For example, you might keep a mental tally (NB this is not the same as a mentalist tally) as follows:
– there will be a comment consisting of just one word
– someone will complain about the topic, insisting that this has already been discussed and concluded
– people will mention (and take issue with) the third paragraph

3. Now read the comments.

4. Award yourself a point for each comment type or form you correctly predicted would occur “below the line” as a result of the piece above it.

Over the years, you will hone your instincts to such an intuitive level that you’ll be able to accurately predict the content of any thread without needing to read it.

Whether you then decide to do so is entirely up to you.

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Know your place

My new commute involves taking the train and transferring at a big, busy urban interchange. I’m learning a lot about my commute – and the fine art of commuting – of which more in time, I’m sure.

But a little glimpse for now: last night, waiting at St Pancras, I noticed that the people on the opposite platform (waiting for the northbound train) were huddled in particular formations relating to where the doors open when the train eventually arrives.

Know your place

This tells us three things.

1. The train’s obviously going to be busy when it arrives, so proximity to the door is everything
2. You’ve got to do a lot of commuting before you know not just which zone to stand in so you’re near the exit when you get off, but where the doors open
3. If you’re not standing in prime position (by the doors when they open), you’re going to get left behind

A few recent moments

Given that there’s so much going on at the moment (of which more anon), rather than leaving this place to echo silently (frequently thought of but untended) I’m going to try and get into the habit of posting a few random things whenever I get a chance – photos, links, moments – without much context.

Wafting statue


My favourite iPhone photography apps

Hot on the heels of my chapter about iphone photography in lomokev’s new photo project book, and inspired by Heather’s list of apps (and my [not so] recent upgrade to an iPhone 4) here is my list of favourite iPhone photography apps, with some examples of each in action…
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