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Tuesday, 30 June 2009

How a politician should address a web conference

At the Personal Democracy Forum Conference in New York, which has just finished, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave a keynote 'speech' (more a discussion actually) via Skype which should be an exemplar to British politicians.

PDF is:
the world's largest and best known conference on the intersection of technology and politics. For the sixth year, more than 1,000 top opinion makers, political practitioners, technologists and journalists will come together to network, exchange ideas, and explore how technology and the Internet are changing politics, democracy, and society.

Apart from Tom Watson, maybe Milliband, I'm scratching my head to think of any British politician who could tick off so many boxes in understanding what they are - and should be - talking about to a crowd such as this.

Certainly wouldn't be Boris ...

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Tatchell barred from Pride parties by Brown + Boris

If you were to stop people in the street and ask them to name a gay rights campaigner I would bet money they would name Peter Tatchell. For twenty years he has been in front of the media.

Yes, Sir Ian McKellan is more famous but I doubt most people would see him as a more prominent campaigner than Tatchell.

But Peter is a thorn in the side, not least to those who are quick to praise Labour and slow to critique it. Last year he had a very public word with Harriet Harman at Pride about LGBT asylum - 'why are we sending gays back to Iran?' This followed her being heckled as she spoke. Of course Harman made promises which were immediately forgotten about.

Most notable of those who don't like Tatchell are the gay establishment, those whom Labour have awarded gongs to. So it's unsurprising to learn that when Ten Downing Street hosts an event for Pride Month on Saturday morning Tatchell won't be there. Neither will he be at Mayor of London, Boris Johnson's soirée, according to Tatchell's tweet, despite being a patron!

Tatchell also says about another Downing Street event in March, held to dismiss the widely believed idea that Gordon doesn't like the gays, he was actively dismissed from the guest list.
An insider tipped me off that my name had been removed from the invite list, at Gordon Brown's personal request. He was apparently still angry that I had heckled him over his government's erosion of civil liberties, when he opened the Taking Liberties exhibition at the British Library late last year.
You could imagine that those invited into the golden circle are not exactly likely to say 'I'm not coming if Tatchell's not there' given that Peter says they're "tame apologists for Labour". And that is precisely what is happening.

Not that Tatchell gives a shit:

I don't do my human rights work to win awards, honours or invites. It doesn't matter to me that I haven't been invited.

What angers me is the principle - the way the Prime Minister invites and fetes mostly tame pro-Labour loyalists in the LGBT community. It is a manipulative tactic by an insecure government that knows its record on LGBT human rights is not as glorious as it claims.

And if the evidence of the Mayor's non-invitation is anything to go by "mostly tame pro-Labour loyalists in the LGBT community" deliberately exclude him precisely because he just so damned awkward.

Monday, 29 June 2009

BBC making a big gay effort on 40 years since Stonewall

It makes a nice change to be praising the BBC on LGBT content but this week they are carrying some excellent programming.

This is an interview with Martin Boyce, about his memories of the night it all kicked off, 40 years ago on Sunday.

BBC Radio 2 has Stonewall: The Riots That Triggered the Gay Revolution on Tuesday, with legend Tom Robinson.

The BBC News website has an excellent feature, 'Stonewall gave me new gay role models', by David Carter, author of Stonewall: the riots that sparked the gay revolution.

Justin Wells had Armistead Maupin on his 'Americana' Radio 4 show yesterday, reflecting on 40 years of 'Gay Power'.

Today on Thursday had on Jim Fouratt, who was there in 1969.

Let's just hope it isn't another several years before we get such a feast.
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Sunday, 28 June 2009

Update: A SocMed history moment

Following up from my post about the kerfuffle in the White House press corps when a blogger got to ask Obama a question. The question was solicited by the Huffington Post live-blogger on Iran, Nico Pitney,from Iranians and was a hardball one which Obama dodged.

Today Nico said on CNN that President Obama's selecting him for a question during a press conference was not orchestrated, as the MSM has worked itself into a tizzy about.

He debates MSNBC's Dana Milbank, who wrote what Nico called a "dishonest" column about the exchange (it ended up having to be corrected). He calls Milbank - and by extension most of the rest of the press corps - out for using their opportunity to ask questions for frivolous ones like why Obama gets photographed in a swimsuit.

Go Nico!

Nico writes about the encounter; claims Milbank called him a "dick".

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Friday, 26 June 2009

Music: Beat it! (you fanatics, get out of my land)

My previous post, although with extremely appropriate lyrics for Iran, has images about Obama. This one (made today by an Iranian - they love their MJ) really effectively merges the two 'memes' of the moment: Iran and Michael Jackson!

Brilliant. moving and inspiring. Watch and tell others to help it go viral

Music: The Jackson 5: The Young Folks

This track from the ABC album seems apropos what's happening in Iran

HT: Nico Piney

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

A SocMed history moment

This has caused quite a stir. The White House press corps seem mightily upset that some blogger upset 'protocol' and got in a question to Obama.

Only it wasn't just some question, or just some blogger.

Huffington Post's Nico Pitney, who's been doing near 24/7 stellar work aggregating and blogging news from Iran, got a question at the press conference, delivering a query from an Iranian reader about whether Obama would ever now recognize an Ahmadinejad government

As Arianna noted, the press pack hated it. Here's the moment.

Pitney talked first about the live-blog he's been running to Rachel Maddow.

Here he speaks to C-SPAN's Washington Journal explaining the question and how he got it, and how he 'orchestrated' its delivery with the White House.

This is a historical moment. A question from Iranians, via social media, gets asked of the US President. Mark this one down ...

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'This is a massacre!'

This is an incredibly emotional affecting report from Iran. Today eyewitnesses are reporting a massacre. Live, with Twitter et al - a massacre. I am ashamed to say this is not being relayed prominently via the BBC, who appear to have down-ranked Iran over the past two days.

From Twitter:
"In Baharestan Sq we saw militia with axe choping ppl like meat blood everywhere like butcher"

'What can you say to the family of the 13 year-old boy who died from gunshots and whose dead body then disappeared?'

world needs to know of the atrocities and massacre at Baharestan Sq. & lalezar sq., ppl butchered today

they pull away the dead into trucks - like factory - no human can do this - we beg Allah for save us

@persiankiwi we must go dont know when internet they take 1 of us, they will torture and get names now we must move fast

Via @dailydish More then 150 killed on Saturday? #iranelection
A witness describes beatings at a new protest under way in downtown Tehran.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Obama: Nerd in chief

John Hodgman speaks after Barack Obama at the Radio and Television Correspondents Association dinner in DC and discusses the central question of our age: "how we can heal the great and shameful division that has plagued our nation for so long — the age old conflict between jocks and nerds" and ask Obama: 'Are you now, or have you ever been, a nerd?'"

Olbermann picks at the scab:

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Music: Man Hamoon Iranam

In the 1970s, Googoosh was considered the most celebrated recording artist in Iran. In addition to music, Googoosh was also an actress in many Persian films of the 1960s and 1970s.

She is more widely known as a singer than as an actress. After the Iranian Revolution in 1979 she remained in Iran until 2000 but did not record or perform again due to the ban on solo female singers. Still, her following grew. Younger people have rediscovered her music via bootleg recordings.

In the song below, meant for Iranian expats, she asks if they have forgotten about Iran since the '79 revolution. She answers the question with the title of the song - "Man Hamoon Iranam," or "I am the same Iran." She dedicates it to the young Iranians who have died in Iran during the last week.

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Friday, 19 June 2009

Allahu Akbar

I cannot in any way claim to know what people are thinking or meaning on the ground, but for centuries, 'Allahu Akbar' has been in the Muslim world a battlefield of meaning and ultimately of political legitimacy. They are five syllables pregnant in meaning, mutability and richness, not simply a ritualistic or fundamentalist dogmatic trope. Nor is 'Allahu Akbar' simply a prayer. In fact, despite all its negative, violent connotations in the West, 'Allahu Akbar' has been uttered by Muslims throughout history as a cry against oppression, against kings and monarchs, against tyrannical and despotic rule, reminding people that in the end, the disposer of affairs and ultimate holder of legitimacy is not any man, not any king or queen, not even any supreme leader, but ultimately a divine force out and above directing, caring and fighting for a more peaceful, rule-based, just and free world for people to live in. God is the one who is greatest, above each and every mortal human being whose station it is to pass away.

The fact that 'Allahu Akbar' is echoing through the Iranian night is not only an indication of the longing of people there to find a peaceful and just solution to this crisis. It also points to how deep the erosion of legitimacy is in whosoever acts against the will of the people, in whosoever claims to act on God's behalf to oppress his fellow human, including in this case some of the 'supreme' Islamic jurists themselves. This all goes to show that Islam, far from being merely an abode of repression and retrogression, has the capacity of being a fundamentally restorative and democratic force in human affairs. In the end, so it seems, at least in the Iranian context, 'Allahu Akbar', God is greatest, is a most profoundly democratic of political slogans. So deep is this call, that what is determined out of this liminal moment may very well set the terms for (or against) a lived, democratic Islamic reality for decades to come.

From Huffpost's (Nico Pitney's) incredible coverage

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Thursday, 18 June 2009

Get you stylish green avatar 'ere

Peeps are changing their avatars on Twitter to show solidarity with Iranians by throwing a green gloss over them, which makes everyone look like they're caught with a night vision camera.

Here's the one stop-shop which will do that for you.

Instead you might want to pick from the following!

Having attended a very stylish demonstration opposite the Iranian Embassy this evening, taking the trouble with your avatar seems to me to be entirely at one with the Iranian opposition!
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Wednesday, 17 June 2009

No, you cannot look at the naked pigs

Chinese dude relaying censored informationImage by inju via Flickr

I have posted numerous times about the 'issues' with web filters. Their side-effects and their lack of evolution (despite manufacturer claims).

So the news that China was softening its requirement that all new computers come loaded with a censorware program called (honestly, something lost in the translation) Green Dam Youth Escort because of over-blocking comes as no surprise.
While the government claims that the software is aimed only at blocking violence and pornography, it has emerged that it also blocks discussion of homosexuality and other non-pornographic gay content. It had even been found to block pictures of pigs, mistaking the image for naked human skin.
It must be progress, China-wise, that they feel the need to respond to such inanities!

Amusing, but this is exactly the same scenario which school web administrators find themselves in in the UK all the time - having to decide whether to unblock something (think gay, sex education, abortion, history of Nazis) the machine has decided is damaging.

Despite what they tell you, the people selling this stuff know that it is possible to get around it. However they also know, like the regime in China, that for most people it works. Censorware works.

And that's the problem with censorware, anywhere. Unless it is democratically controlled it is privatised or state-controlled censorship.
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Iran: video from the frontline

I am publishing YouTube clips from Iran on

New common tag format + some useful firefox add-ons

Diagram for the LOD datasetsImage via Wikipedia

Been meaning to mention a few new Firefox add-ons which I've been using and some PR today prodded me.
Web Companies Develop Common Tag Format
A group of Web companies announced today the development of a new tagging format for Web pages called Common Tag. The companies--AdaptiveBlue, DERI (NUI Galway), Faviki, Freebase, Yahoo!, Zemanta, and Zigtag--offer services that help publishers use semantic tagging to make their content more discoverable, connected, and engaging.
This is about developing the 'Semantic web', which is about a web which can be more easily read by machines and hence made more useful for humans. The tags would be commonly defined and linked to rich data.

Zemanta is a tool I'm already using - that's why the 'blog this' button is now appearing at the bottom of my posts. It offers up tag suggestions as well as related web content and free to use images.

It's fairly new, so the image suggestions can be a little limited. But it is extremely useful.

Two other new add-on for me are Shareaholic - which allows you to send a page quickly to social networks plus email - and Scribefire which allows you to quickly blog about something you've seen on the web and is integrated with Zemanta. I'm using it now.

As well I use - which does what it says on the tin and auto-tweets new blog updates to Twitter.

All I need to do now is completely update the tags on all my blog posts, gulp :[

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Tuesday, 16 June 2009

More on Twitter and the events in Iran

Expanding on the points made by the head of BBC News, Richard Sambrook, about the issues with sorting through the outpouring of tweets from Iran, Kevin Drum writing for Mother Jones underlines some lessons about the way in which Twitter is best used at a moment like this.

Firstly he actually quotes me, unwittingly:
One of Andrew Sullivan's readers writes:

Ahmadinejad's and Khamenei's websites were taken down yesterday — I saw the latter go down within a couple of minutes because of a DDOS attack organised via Twitter. @StopAhmadi is a good source for tweets on this. The other important use of Twitter has been distribution of proxy addresses via Twitter. This would be how most video and pictures of today's rally have gotten out.

That was Andrew quoting from my email (but no credit). It was late GMT Sunday and @stopahmadi linked to an auto-refresh address for Khamenei's website. Literally within a minute of his tweet the site was showing an error.

Drum cites what I'd seen happening by the middle of Sunday with Twitter:
There was just too much of it; it was nearly impossible to know who to trust; and the overwhelming surge of intensely local and intensely personal views made it far too easy to get caught up in events and see things happening that just weren't there.
I kindof agree with Drum but as I pointed out yesterday this was if you just followed the hashtag(s) and hadn't sifted out the best sources (like @stopamadi). I have had a big lot of new followers, I assume because I'm retweeting news and tweeting links on the situation and people have spotted this in the hashtag stream.

Looking at the past few days coverage, who Drum rates are:
The small number of traditional news outlets that do still have foreign bureaus and real expertise. The New York Times. The BBC. Al Jazeera. A few others.
The Times did have a good newsblog up by Sunday, However, on Sunday the BBC's reporting and The Guardian's was terrible because, I assume, it was a Sunday and maybe because the reporters on the ground couldn't get stories past weekend editors. It was very noticeable that the latter launched a 'liveblog' on Monday and the first few hours were spent with the blogger catching up.

I also watched the BBC go from 'Amadi won' to something a bit more nuanced and taking much more reporting from their Tehran guy and their Persian service by yesterday afternoon. Unfortunately we were still treated to the ramblings of the sort of star, flown-in reporter as seen in Drop The Dead Donkey.

Everyone appeared to be caught off guard by Tuesday's events, including most noticeably the BBC's star foreign reporter, John Simpson. And perhaps this was becuase they weren't paying enough attention to Twitter where there was intense chatter about the rally, almost all about encouraging people to go. The UK MSM reporter who has impressed me the most is Channel Four's Lindsey Hilsum.

The real star reporters has been HuffPost. Their Nico Pitney has been going with frequent updates on a liveblog since early Sunday and appears to have had little sleep.

Andy Sullivan, as well, has been open all hours and has been very good but has he repeated a lot of rumours, some posts have consisted of just a lot of tweets, and not put them in context. HuffPost has been a lot more careful and made clear what is rumour and what isn't. Where he has been good is in linking to articles which discuss the shenanigans going on in the background as well as the reaction in American politics.


If you are on Twitter and want to help Iranians then this is a MUST READ: #iranelection cyberwar guide for beginners by Esko Reinikaine.

Esko's website appears to have been taken down, so I have taken the liberty of republishing his guidance:

The purpose of this guide is to help you participate constructively in the Iranian election protests through twitter.

1. Do NOT publicise proxy IP’s over twitter, and especially not using the #iranelection hashtag. Security forces are monitoring this hashtag, and the moment they identify a proxy IP they will block it in Iran. If you are creating new proxies for the Iranian bloggers, DM them to @stopAhmadi or @iran09 and they will distributed them discretely to bloggers in Iran.
2. Hashtags, the only two legitimate hashtags being used by bloggers in Iran are #iranelection and #gr88, other hashtag ideas run the risk of diluting the conversation.
3. Keep you bull$hit filter up! Security forces are now setting up twitter accounts to spread disinformation by posing as Iranian protesters. Please don’t retweet impetuosly, try to confirm information with reliable sources before retweeting. The legitimate sources are not hard to find and follow.
4. Help cover the bloggers: change your twitter settings so that your location is TEHRAN and your time zone is GMT +3.30. Security forces are hunting for bloggers using location and timezone searches. If we all become ‘Iranians’ it becomes much harder to find them.
5. Don’t blow their cover! If you discover a genuine source, please don’t publicise their name or location on a website. These bloggers are in REAL danger. Spread the word discretely through your own networks but don’t signpost them to the security forces. People are dying there, for real, please keep that in mind.
6. Denial of Service attacks. If you don’t know what you are doing, stay out of this game. Only target those sites the legitimate Iranian bloggers are designating. Be aware that these attacks can have detrimental effects to the network the protesters are relying on. Keep monitoring their traffic to note when you should turn the taps on or off.
7. Do spread the (legitimate) word, it works! When the bloggers asked for twitter maintenance to be postponed using the #nomaintenance tag, it had the desired effect. As long as we spread good information, provide moral support to the protesters, and take our lead from the legitimate bloggers, we can make a constructive contribution.

Please remember that this is about the future of the Iranian people, while it might be exciting to get caught up in the flow of participating in a new meme, do not lose sight of what this is really about.


Rachel Maddow discusses the use of the web by the opposition with NBC correspondent Richard Engel. Importantly, Engel notes the use of Twitter as an organisational tool.

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Monday, 15 June 2009

Twitter and the events in Iran

Head of BBC News, Richard Sambrook, has blogged about the issues with sorting through the outpouring of tweets from Iran.

He cites a list of rumours which I've also seen flowing around. None are yet confirmed but many have the ring of truth (or past practice) behind them.

Interestingly, he doesn't use the rumours to damn Twitter, saying:
If you had a reasonable understanding of social media, how to set up and assess feeds, how to compare and contrast information, if you had a reasonable understanding of news flows, a developed sense of scepticism, and an above average understanding of the political situation in Iran, you would have emerged much better informed than the lay viewer relying on TV or Radio news. The information online ran significantly ahead of the news organisations (who hopefully were taking time to check what they could) but it came at a high noise to signal ratio....(at one point I measured almost 2500 updates in a minute - though usually it was closer to 200)
There are at least two other uses which I have watched Twitter be put to.
This is in addition to being an information distribution channel inside Iran - there is an official Mousavi Twitter account - and a great boost for the protesters seeing the support from the rest of the world.

As well thousands of followers around the world have narrowed down the individual accounts they should follow from the fast-flowing river that #iranelection has become.

Many have been following Change_for_Iran, a student who has been tweeting, sometimes harrowing messages, throughout the siege of Tehran University.

Another good source has been StopAhmadi who has tweeted at a furious rate but has made a point of saying if information is confirmed or not.

For more see this FriendFeed compilation of messages coming from Inside Iran.

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Sunday, 14 June 2009

Twitter: let the last doubter now shut up

cartoon by Nikahang Kosar of ahmadinejad with a raised middle finger with his election percentage

Cartoon by Nikahang Kosar

First they came for the newspapers, like they always do. Then they went after the opposition's leaders, like they always do. Then they shut down the TV, like they always do. Then they cut the telephone lines including the mobile networks. Then they slowed down the internet and tried to block youtube and social networks, like they now have to.

This left Twitter as the last channel of opposition organisation standing.

And after midnight in Tehran this led to:
@pauloCanning #iran thousands on Tehran rooftops chanting 'Allah O Akbar' sound 'deafening'
This was the update which did it:
ALL internet & mobile networks are cut. We ask everyone in Tehran to go onto their rooftops and shout ALAHO AKBAR in protest #IranElection
Followed by:
0:05 PM ET -- Twitter goes dark? I noted earlier that Twitter was the only major social network still operating in Iran. Now something has changed. All of the Iran-based Twitter users I've been reading haven't posted for at least 30 minutes or so. The reasons are unclear. Some on Twitter are claiming there is a complete electricity shut-down in Tehran. One Iran-based Twitter user, @tehranelection, last posted an hour ago: "I have to shut down for a bit, the police are looking for satellites." Will update as soon as I hear more.
It is coming to something if in order to completely silence opposition you have to shut off the electricity.

The events I describe here are completely absent from almost all of the MSM (BBC, CNN, Fox) The New York Times is an exception, they have a liveblog running which they're promoting from their homepage. Also, the best UK reporting from Tehran seems to be coming from Channel Four's Lindsey Hilsum.

Not for the first time, has the place to watch and find out the latest been blogs and social networks.

a woman challenges police in tehran

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Gongs, Sir TBL and speeding up freeing up the data

LONDON - FEBRUARY 12:  Queen Elizabeth II meet...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

The gongs have been handed out for the Queen's Birthday and, scanning through, I couldn't see one for a webbie or a tekkie. This seemed particularly odd looking at the ones locally for Cambridge - home of the 'Silicon Fen' - and the business related ones didn't include any webbies or tekkies, neither did the academic ones.

So I was wondering about all that in the context of the announcement that one webbie who actually has a gong, Sir Tim Berners Lee (TBL), was appointed to drive the freeing up of government data in the wake of Gordon Brown's near-demise, a week which also saw a large number of the unelected enter his cabinet and him appoint Sir Alan Sugar, of TV fame, to a government post.

So the first thing which struck me was 'this is another celebrity appointment'. Then it struck me that at least TBL is a webbie who is part of the establishment. Then it also struck me that with the exit of Minister Tom Watson, who is also a webbie, perhaps we do need someone with establishment clout to knock heads together at the top table.

What we don't know if whether TBL will have the skills to be effective. To actually be able to move Whitehall and the rest of government.

But the consensus from those close in is that - chaneling Princess Leia - he's our best hope.

Simon Dickson:
But what he will be able to do is intimidate persuade those people who always seem to block the initiatives which have already gone before. He may have more success saying the exact same things many of us have already been saying for some time, because of who he is.
Emma Mulqueeny:
It just makes sense – and the fact that data sets are in such a muddle in most organisations where I work, is almost testament in itself that nothing organised will come out of such chaos without serious intervention and dedication.
However Rory Cellan-Jones asked TBL himself and came away unconvinced:
But will the cry "raw data now" resound through the civil service, with Sir Tim leading a chanting crowd of bureaucrats through Whitehall? "We'll see - listen carefully!" was the web creator's advice. But I fear he may be in for a bruising few months, as he tries to convince Sir Humphrey et al to let it all hang out.
I can think of a few other people with no media profile whatsoever who would know how to do that - Tom Steinberg seems to know his political shit-stirring stuff - and with the loss of Tom Watson it's going to be seriously needed.

I won't judge Sir TBL until he's done something - but it did come off as another of GBrown's headline-lead, showbizisation bad ideas like Sir Alan.

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Friday, 12 June 2009

Yanks go for our beloved leader

Daily Show 'does' both Nick Griffin and, gulp Our Beloved Leader.

Screen grabs:

How very dare they?

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Indecision 2009 - Everywhere but Here Edition
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorNewt Gingrich Unedited Interview

Mapping Iran’s Blogosphere on Election Eve

John Kelly and Bruce Etling have produced some very interesting maps.

The first one maps total mentions of the elections across the blogosphere. The second one shows the proportion of bloggers from which sector are linking to the candidates' sites.

They say:
Based on our monitoring of the Iranian blogosphere on election eve, it looks like Mousavi has broader support in the online blog community than Ahmadinejad.
This site has been covering the Iranian election online, where video has played a key role. See this post by Hamid Tehrani as well as various posts by Andrew Sullivan.

One of the, perhaps, surprise facts about the Obama victory was just how closely the online interest, such as searches, matched election results. For example, when he lost New Hampshire to Hillary Clinton this mirrored a search decline.

Be extremely interesting to see if this translates into a country like Iran.

HT: Michael Tomasky

Thursday, 11 June 2009

The park that's in the sky

New York's fabulous new High Line park has finally opened, well a section. It's up in the sky along an abandoned elevated railway which runs 22 blocks to the Hudson River.

Here's the blog post I did about it last year:
Here's a load of pictures of the new park.

*wallpaper's take on the High Line:

A four-minute fly-through animation of the design for Sections 1 and 2

London Benefit gig for Iraqi LGBT

Next Wednesday June the 17th there will be a benefit gig at the Grosvenor in Stockwell. It is for the Iraqi LGBT UK group who are raising much needed cash to help shelter Iraqi LGBT activists from all kinds of bigoted repression including beating, torture and murder.

Line up is:
PONYPACK (holland)

The Suicidal Birds.
Monica and the Explosion.

8pm till close. £4.00/£5.00 Wednesday June 17th
The Grosvenor
Sidney Road, Stockwell, London, SW9 OTP
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Tuesday, 9 June 2009

How to design for .gov

Like this ...

Sample Twitter reaction 'IT ROCKS!'

I am reminded of the Mac o/s interface though :] (which, woods'n'trees, apparently hadn't crossed their minds).

Immediately appealing, the just redesigned site has very strong usability - this was the central aim of the redesign. Behind the scenes it makes use of - I think unusually - a wiki as a platform for adding and maintaining new content.

It aggregates 27 blogs, over 100 Twitter accounts (separately, they are building a Twitter aggregator), a Flickr group and more than 120 online videos. It has a successful 24/7 chat feature which was launched last year and this success has already resulted in the closure of state offices on Friday due to web redundancy.

The state of 2.7m inhabitants outsources it's web work. is managed and operated without tax funds through a public-private partnership between the state and Utah Interactive, the Salt Lake City-based official eGovernment partner for the state of Utah. Utah Interactive is a subsidiary of eGovernment firm NIC, Inc.

The new site has a full tool set, including, I was very pleased to see, widgets such as ones for the latest sales available online from the State Surplus Property Program and air quality measurements. The widgets are built using the Sprout tool. tools

See — and for the data resources they make available and, a transparency portal which aims to be "the most detailed transparency site around". The latter has massively grown as legislators add more and more legal requirements for information to be made available online.

About the data portal, they say "by allowing public access to this raw data, is encouraging citizens to utilize and merge it in new and innovative ways – giving citizens the ability to participate in making government services more effective, accessible, and transparent."

It also has integration of emerging geographical detection technology to estimate the location of the user and display relevant location-specific information, including local meetings, local government Web sites, local school and library information, local park information, and available local online services. The site is optimised for mobile - see this presentation by Rashmi Sinha for more about that.

After tweeting about it a question came in to me about accessibility, so I asked their Chief Technology Architect Bob Woolley and he told me that apart from a few minor browser issues, "the site is engineered for low speed connections, and non-flash users, many accessible choices." Here's their policy on accessibility.

It makes great use of Flash - the State looks stunning from the animated photo choices - which followed from the finding that 97% of users had it installed. Looking at tweets about the flash banner it has succeeded in branding Utah as both a beautiful place to live and as a tech leader.

The site has enormous legislator buy-in and engagement (but, nevertheless, technology investment has suffered budget cuts).

David Fletcher, Utah CTO, has been measuring and says "the impacts of Utah's egovernment efforts .. amount to at least tens of millions of dollars in savings to the state, its businesses, and its citizens. It has also had a large impact in lowering unemployment, improving the business climate, and promoting entrepreneurship."

"There are some challenges in quantifying this impact, but even for some individual online services, the numbers are surprising." They have some services being provided nearly 100% online.

On doing all they have despite budget cuts he says (something UK egov could perhaps identify with) "like always, we [had] to get more creative and find ways to get what we need done for less." is like every egov person's dream come true and, very interestingly, the site has been noted as way in advance of other US states — perhaps in part because, as Fletcher notes, some of the ideas driving it have come from the UK!

Here's their video about the new site:

HT: Ari Herzog

Monday, 8 June 2009

Elie Wiesel's moving remarks at Buchenwald

This made me weep.

"Has the world learnt, I'm not so sure ..."

"Although we had the right to give up on humanity ... we rejected that possibility, we must continue to believe in a future"

"Memory must bring people together rather than set them apart"

"Memory is here not to sow anger in our hearts but on the contrary, a sense of solidarity with all those who need us"

Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, Iraq ...

Here is the Buchenwald Gay Memorial

Past posts:

Music: Change - Paradise

Change are a fabulous studio band. One of the best, but also one of the most underrated in the soul, disco and R&B genres during the late 70s / first half of the 80s. They created a catchy, smooth and polished disco - very much inspired by Chic - and later R&B and pop funk sound, with a touch of heaven.

They were the creation of Italian producers Jacques Fred Petrus (1949-1986) and Mauro Malavasi and included both Luther Vandross and Jocelyn Brown over the years.

This is my favourite, with vocals by James Robinson and Deborah Cooper and the bassline of death.

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Another way to look at lawnmowing

The great Michael Pollan interviewed by Bill Maher about the new documentary Food Inc.

Here he explains a plant's-eye view in a fantastic TED talk.

"I'm a dupe of the lawns, whose goal in life is to out compete the trees"

"Looking at the world from another species point of view is a cure for the disease of human self-importance"

Incidentally, WTF can't Oxbridge do something like TED online?

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Socially responsible outsourcing

15 million Africans ready for work. Got tasks?

I posted recently about mobile developments in Africa and how they are being used in a number of imaginative ways - many of which which we're yet to see in the 'West'!

As well as being used to organise day labour they're also used by people to do small jobs such as translations. In Kenya, with its many languages, this is how help resources for mobile companies' customer services are being built - word-by-word

Nokia being used for translation job

Samasource is a fantastic new San Francisco non-profit that partners with small, talented, tech companies and nonprofit training centers in poor and rural communities (currently Kenya, Cameroon, Uganda, rural India, and Nepal) to find them clients.

It derives its name from the word sama, Sanskrit for “equal”.

Their partners must meet stringent social impact criteria - fewer than 20% of applicant firms are selected - and they specialize in services ranging from data entry to advanced software and website development.

It's about giving work, not aid to people in the world's poorest countries.

Here's a profile of Ann Wangui, a graduate with honors from Nairobi's Methodist University. She is an example of the sort of person who is struggling to find a job in Nairobi despite her qualifications and who Samasource aims to help.

This is certainly a much better approach than the one being adopted by the world's large tech companies. Erik Hersman recently posted Microsoft vs the Open Source Community in Africa.

If Microsoft developer communities do emerge in Africa, Erik writes, even with the massive hurdle of paying for expensive access to developer tools, "we’re still left with what one person wrote: …they will be formed from programmers who are completely dependent on American software for the livelihood: it’s neo-colonialism, pure and simple."
In Africa organizations have a lot of hurdles to overcome, not least of which is the straight cost of doing business. Where it might be simple for some organizations in the US and Europe to wave off a couple thousand dollars worth of licensing fees, the same is not true in Africa. The margins are lower, so every cent counts.

In a region where cost is so important, it’s amazing then that the most lucrative deals go to the Western organizations that have high costs for ownership and maintenance. These outside organizations use backdoor methods to gain contracts where in-country options are available, usually with less expense and with greater local support.
Hersman also reports that Microsoft are trying to muscle in on the African-developed Ushahidi crisis reporting social software with a new product called Vine. He says "if they really are about creating emergency and disaster software for use by normal people, then I would encourage them to not charge for it and to make it as open as possible for others to work with it."

Fat chance, I suspect.

HT: Owen Barder
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Sunday, 7 June 2009

Betty Bowers Explains Traditional Marriage to Everyone Else

A respectful disagreement with Ben Goldacre (and Jack Pickard)

Abacavir - a nucleoside analog reverse transcr...Image via Wikipedia

A post by my friend Jack Pickard calling alternative therapies mere placebos, echoing Ben Goldacre's arguments, has prompted me to write about a painful part of my past.

I should say first that I admire Goldacre, author of Bad Science, for his work on nailing down tricksters who sell stuff which doesn't do anything and has no science to back it up. In particular his posts about the media-driven hysteria around MMR.

Back in the 90s I worked with a therapist friend on testing whether any alternative therapies would help relieve AIDS symptoms. I could see that some of them did help and this makes sense as much conventional medicine is derived from nature: this is why drug companies send people out to indigenous peoples to find new therapies from amongst their traditional medicines, a process known as bioprospecting.

My generation of gay men, until the first effective medicine started to appear in the mid 90s, faced multiple funerals and would look at anything which might help.

When the efficacious medicines started to appear I witnessed something close to the sort of desperation I could imagine occurring in an Ethiopian refuge camp as the emaciated fight for the last scraps of food and water.

Two things in particular stick in my memory and my throat.

I had friends who literally were making choices between medicine, rent and food - they were poor. They did not have boyfriends or family to support them, they were isolated. Some were literally growing their own food. The largely middle-class and highly educated people living with HIV/AIDS who ran the decision making bodies and sat on government advisory panels only cared about drug trials, they refused to see that before those breakthroughs they were waiting for others would die from such situations and the stress they engendered.

When the drug trials really took a turn towards what would eventually become the therapies which keep people alive today the drug companies decided who lived and who died. Amongst those who couldn't get on them were women, 'because they might become pregnant'. It didn't matter if they were lesbian, as a friend of mine was, to protect themselves and maybe for scientific reasons, women had to be turned down.

The biggest problem myself and my friend faced in trying to produce science on alternative therapy was the impossibility of getting funding or any support to test them.

The system for 'proving' the efficacy of a substance is radically bent against the ability of alternative therapies to do that as it is so expensive, even simple blood tests - we had to do this by cheating or with the help of a few sympathetic doctors.

Unfortunately the experiment came to an end with the premature death of my friend. But I know others around the world at this time who were trying similar experiments and - much as the use of marijuana has been shown to be effective against glaucoma - despite all the odds there is scientific proof that some alternative therapies do work to relieve AIDS symptoms.

So it is a plain fact that alternative therapies are not all placebos.

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