Day Four of #AudioMo and I’m outside Relevant Record Cafe on Mill Road with a coffee and a sandwich talking about masks and plugging the new book @GearsForQueers which you *should* read!
Day three of #AudioMo and I’m reflecting on the difficulties facing people at the start of their careers in a ‘socially distanced’ world
Today’s #AudioMo recording finds me on the roof of a boat thinking about cinema and remembering the Pixel Palace at Tyneside Cinema in 2008. As I was recording this Mark Cosgrove (@msc45) was posting his excellent meditation on the same topic – so listen to me, read him, and rethink cinema
It’s usually dangerous to draw analogies between computing and any other field except possibly mathematics, because the way we do things in computing is so bounded by technical constraints, business models, and naive modelling assumptions that trying to apply our approach in other domains is either laughably simplistic or clearly unhelpful.
However as I reflect on the state of the world as the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic continues to disrupt so much about the lives of so many, it seems that one idea from our profession offers a useful way of thinking about what we are going through.
That idea is ‘technical debt’: the cumulative impact of taking the easy path to delivering a solution instead of doing it properly that will one day be repaid, either by redoing the work as bug reports come through, or through lost data, lost effort and lost trust in the software.
Although he came up with the term ‘cyberspace’ in the early 1980’s, William Gibson entered a version of it for the first time on October 9, 1999, in a darkened room in Cheltenham Town Hall during the town’s literary festival. I know, because I was his guide and he told me so.
We had just come off the main stage after a discussion about his recently published novel ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’, and I’d invited him to the festival’s online zone to hang out with me in LinguaMOO, a text-only teaching system where I had a virtual office.
After he’d signed some books we went into the computer room and he logged in as Bill_Gibson, chatting for a few minutes with members of the the LinguaMOO community, including the TrAce writing community that I was part of. He started off well:
Bill_Gibson says, “Hello, this really is Wm. Gibson, tho you won’t believe me…”
These are my notes for a talk I gave at the Messy Edge, a conference curated by Laurence Hill as part of Brighton Digital Festival 2019, at the University of Sussex on October 18 2019.
I had just turned 19 when arrived in Cambridge in October 1979, with a full grant and a maintenance payment which meant it didn’t cost me or my parents anything.
I’d been brought up by my mum in a council house on one of the tougher council estates in Corby, Northants, and we weren’t in a position to pay fees or well-disposed to taking out loans and if it hadn’t been for the implementation of the Robbins Report I doubt I’d have gone to any university.
Find out about the Robbins Report
Corby was a thriving new town with a massive steelworks when we moved there in 1965, moving down from Tyneside with my mum and sister. One of my earliest memories is arriving in Brixham Walk, parking near a lamppost and walking from the road to the house in the dark. We lived there for the next fourteen years.
On September 21 2009 I sat with Roly Keating, at the time the Director of Archive Content for the BBC, outside this Starbucks in what was the BBC’s Media Centre, and talked to him about taking on a six month role to work in his team as the Head of Partnership Development. It was a quick job, sorting out a partnership strategy for the recently formed BBC Archive Development team run by Tony Ageh and setting up a couple of key agreements.
I’d been asked to go for the job by Tony as he and I had worked together back in 1994 when he ran The Guardian’s innovation group, the PDU, and I’d come over from PIPEX to run the New Media Lab and build the first iteration of The Guardian’s online presence. We’d stayed in touch since, and I’d been involved after he had arrived at the BBC in 2001. After working to develop the website and iPlayer, Tony was currently trying to make the archive more accessible, especially to other cultural institutions.
Over the last few weeks the degree of complicity between the technology community and the financier Jeffrey Epstein has started to become apparent, and it makes difficult reading for all of us in that community, because it shows that many of the people we believed were sincere in their attempts to develop technologies that could sustain humanity were happy to have a convicted paedophile in their midst and listen to his ill-formed ideas, take his money, burnish his reputation and even lie about his involvement in their work.
It’s hard to believe we’re all working to enhance the human condition when that’s the case, and the awareness of our involvement should be the occasion for some serious reflection and changes to our assumptions and behaviour.
My awareness of Epstein came from news coverage of his crime, especially the reporting of Julie Brown in the Miami Herald. He appeared to be another man who used his power – in his case derived from wealth rather than celebrity – to exploit and abuse children, another predator whose behaviour was odious and yet tolerated by those around him, and who used his influence to gain immunity.