There is no such thing as a crap city, only a crap network

Like many people my age, I fled my hometown to escape the banility of small town life and attempt to make something  it all. My reasons remained the same throughout “I hate Ayr, there is nothing there and I need to get out!” – Now, as I sit in the middle of Leicester city centre,  (Costas at the Clocktower, which stinks of BBQ sauce, ciggys and B.O.) and I see the same as what used to depress me about Ayr – in droves!

But the difference is now that it is all about plugging into the right networks of people. It is always tough “back home”, you have the history of growing up to contend with – and then you have the joys of shared connections, build on who’s going out with who – or who as the most drunk last night, or who wore what – a history of social grooming (not getting things done). It’s no wonder that there is nothing going on in your life (and your town) if all you do is work, drink and bitch.

But I’ve rethought my attitude about it all. It’s impossible for a city to be crap, only your network can be crap. If you only expose yourself to crap ideas – you are never going to see beyond them. Therefore, somewhere, somehow there is a possible chance that our generation and society (in its current guise) isn’t as depressing as it seems. (But I’ve got to thank the Internet for a lot of this! ;-))

Space and Places

The Art Org - coming soon to Leicester!

I’m currently tapping out this blog entry on my netbook, whilst sipping on fairtrade coffee in The Art Organisation, Nottingham. It is a large converted gallary space, making do of the shop and office spaces that nobody wanted. It is remarkably peaceful, whilst being surrounded by beaten up, donated furniture and a brand new photography exhibition.

It is the sort of place, although may appear intimidating at first (it’s no one-size-fits all generic starbucks), that I could really see working as a place to “get stuff done” – look I’m no artist (even though I started off my academic career with an NC in portfolio prep (fail), followed by a full on degree in media theory production) I can feel inspired here. Being in an environment where  can sip coffee, interact with others and generally feel at ease with myself and recharge(an hour in the high street and I’ve had the self esteem sapped out of me.)

This is my learning space – it’s everywhere and nowhere. In the same way that I want to embedded myself within my research. Around people, whilst tapping into my own little world. I think I may have being going slightly nuts after 3 months in an office, not being able to move freely between 9-5 – and then an additional month working at home – on my own, with only a mad cat for company. I need to be on the go, stepping into different places and spaces – whilst interacting with my own. The closer I can get to this nomadic work ethic, the more sane I start to feel.

Those who don't use it – Control it!

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I don’t want a repeat of policy and permission – I want an honest reason why technology is denied. I don’t mind if there is a genuine reason, because then I can help work towards a solution (and a shared understanding) – but policy and permissions normally means that there is somebody that doesn’t use the technology is dictating the rules of its use.

And they say I’m banging my head against an open door?

Get Ambition DIY Livestreaming

getambitionliveYesterday, between experimenting (read: playing) with video, chat and screencasts, I periodically distracted myself with the livestream from the  final Get Amb:IT:ion event, “Art of Digital London.”

I only caught about an hour an a half of the event – so instead of discussion the content, I’m going to discuss the format (even though what I did catch was really interesting!)

Annoyingly, this is the first time I’ve actually had time to spare to watch an event like this online. Partly, when I was working at a desk at the University, it wouldn’t have been appropriate to watch a livestream of anything (not even sure if my computer set up would have been able to handle it!)- and more recently, I’ve had to work quite hard on a (now completed!) research project (involving social media outputs from an event) so was desperately trying not to confuse things by observing anything other than twitter, blogging, images and audio (enough data for one small research project, I’m sure!)

qikThe livestream from Amb:IT:ion captured my imagination in two areas: Firstly, it became obvious through the livestream.com chatroom that this was a homemade job (and a bloody good one at that) CJ mentioned that they were going to hire a team to web stream and it could have been around £2,000 for the two days (although there were around 30 people watching online, it still would have been difficult to justify it). Instead, this is just one camera, complimented with Qik videos from the audience. The audio was clear and crisp (could follow every word) and the visuals was just enough to make the event easy to follow and understand as an online participant. A nice touch was to also include a “Comment is Free” session at the end where audience members could say whatever they wanted about the event by accessing an IP address and adding things to a in-house website. Unfortunately, online participants were left out a bit (couldn’t access IP address) but they could get on the main stream and voice their opinion by tweeting the #getambition tag. Essentially, with the online media element, it’s acceptable for the feedback system to be asynchoronus (take this blog entry, for example)

The second area which interested me related to my experiments yesterday – and a previous discussion about virtual panels over phonecast. Having now seen how stable livestream.com is, I’m prepared to start looking at ways in which you could hold purely virtual (public) events online. The format would roughly be 3-4 people on webcams, discussing pre-arranged topics with a chatroom facility at the side. It also can allow for screencasts (or movies, images – like CamTwist does) can be pulled into the discussion – and we can do that stuff that we normally rely on meetings for. Importantly, I want to be able to  record and replay the discussions – so that it can be kept open and commented by others at a later time.

A related point would be to overcome two issues – access to the technology, and inclusion to the discussion (whether you are online, offline or both) – with all these tools at our fingertips (to explore and play with), good luck to those who are trying to ban simple text blogging at events!

The Battle of Skype

I recently treated myself to a netbook. Partly to save my back, mainly so I could get work done on the go. The netbook runs on XP (which I intend on keeping at the moment so shht) Having been a Mac person for far too long, and having not used windows in a very long time (Uni computers don’t count – they have limited access anyway, which is fair enough) I’ve forgotten that IT services in institutions have the facility to block stuff on your own (Windows) machine when using their wifi. When you use a mac (or linux), you live off the grid and you can pretty much do what you want without interuption.

Twice this week I’ve tried to use Skype for academic business – Twice I’ve been told I can’t do this without permission from the head of the department (which I’ve requested but not had granted yet). Why bother a busy somebody about such trivial matters? It’s just embarassing!

Maybe I’ve been spoilt with my mac – the golden ticket to just getting things done – but I’m actually a bit pissed that there are gatekeepers such simple tech access. This is my computer – and I can use this software on something other than windows, so it’s not the software that’s the problem, it’s having a windows machine. Using windows gives people the right to decide what software I use. I could go work in the lansdowne, the pub down the street. I could hold an event in the lansdowse, nobody there is deciding what I can or can’t do on my (windows) machine over their wifi. (hell, at least I’d be able to get my guests online!)

Ironically, I can have a webcam/audio chat using gtalk and tinychat. I can also use a very basic version of MSN messenger (I normally use adium) – I guess in the age of twitter, phonecasts, live streaming and just bloody getting stuff done without bothering the prof, I just expect somethings to just work.

So like Alan, I advise everybody at the University of Leicester to request access to Skype. The argument isn’t that you don’t use it so don’t need it, just think what you can do if you did have access to it.

We can start having useful, multimedia and private conferences, without eating into our work time, without travelling across the country, without having to resort to airing our concerns on public communication services like twitter and blogs.

Times are a’changing; Stop blocking, start embracing.