The first FT Blogger Meet

Ben Matthews from Hotwire PR recently invited a handful of UK bloggers to spend an afternoon with The Financial Times. I was intrigued. Or rather, I was interested while also being nervous that my soul might be sapped. I went along anyway.

FT Blogger Meet FT Blogger Meet FT Blogger Meet FT Blogger Meet FT Blogger MeetFT Blogger Meet

I’m glad I did. I got to meet Neville Hobson, Sarah Blow (Girly Geekdom), Patrick Altoft (BlogStorm), Andrew Donoghue (ZDNet) and Robert Andrews (UK editor, PaidContent). From the Financial Times side, we got to spend some quality time with James Montgomery (Editor, FT.com), Kate Mackenzie (Interactive Web Editor), Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson (Media Editor), Tim Bradshaw (Digital Media Correspondent), Tom Glover (Senior Communications Manager), Sam Jones (Alphaville), Steve Ager (video team). We briefly met Rob Grimshaw (MD, FT.com) and Robert Andrews got an interesting interview with him which you can find here.

Do I feel like I’ve been duped into thinking about and linking to the FT? Not really. It was quite nice to be invited in. The tour of the news room alone was worth the trip. I think Ben and Drew at Hotwire set up an interesting day for us, and I was particularly impressed with the level of access we got, especially to James Montgomery and the news room. My biggest bit of feedback was that internet access would have made our lives a bit easier. Despite being encouraged to live blog, Tweet etc, there was no guest wifi internet access provided for us.

Some notes..

  • This is the first in a series of blogger events. “We’d like you to take an interest in FT.com and we’d like your views. We’d like to pick your brains about blogging”.
  • In October 2007 the FT.com access model changed to be more ‘blogger friendly’. Return to non-subscription based. Now, anyone can access 5 articles per month without registration. 5 articles per month = register, 30 per month = pay.
  • The pool of registered users has grown from nothing to over 450,000 registered users since October last year.
  • Embedded video ‘mini player’ being added to the site very soon (next month?)
  • Kate Mackenzie fielded some predictable hassle about not offering full content feeds. (And even hinted they might remove them from the FT blogs which do still offer full feeds). Big discussion about letting go of control and finding a way of opening up content without damaging the business model.
  • Anecdote about Alphaville, which apparently didn’t see a traffic drop when they switched from full feeds to partial. Hmm. There’s a bigger picture here. The desire to be open and helpful is in tension with metrics and revenue streams which rely on pageviews?
  • (Catching up on this today, I dug around. If you’re an Alphaville user looking for the full feed, Paul Murphy gives a helpful link in this chat transcript. The full feed is still out there, you just have to look for it. This made Felix Salmon happy too.)
  • “Digg is the only social bookmarking site which gets us any significant traffic”. del.icio.us is used by some people on the ground, but not seen as a traffic source.

Other people’s thoughts:

LEGO is full of WIN – my Interesting 2008 talk

Here are the slides and audio for the talk I gave at Interesting 2008 yesterday. 30 slides in 3 minutes.

SlideShare | View

I’ll post my notes on the day later when my brain recovers a bit more. Rest assured it every bit as interesting as last year. Update: my notes are here.

For now, see my Flickr set, interesting2008 on Flickr and
on Technorati.

Update: the Guardian are hosting a series of videos of the Interesting 2008 talks. Here’s my talk.

My CV, as a Wordle tag cloud

Inspired by Ian I’ve just dumped my CV into Wordle (which I bookmarked last week but forgot to write about. It’s great). Lots of options for fiddling with and it’s really easy to make something gorgeous.

My CV, according to Wordle.net

Update: compare and contrast (inspired by Andy) the tags on my del.icio.us account

My del.icio.us bookmarks, according to Wordle.net

I’ve wanted a beautiful tag cloud generator service for ages. Thanks Jonathan.

Welcome to the New Sincerity

For the past few decades, western culture has been marked by a postmodern ironic appreciation of the kitsch and the corny. I’m beginning to wondering what comes next. Bear with me.

In this essay from 2006 the British philosopher Alan Kirby identifies the successor to postmodernism as being pseudo-modernism, which includes “all television or radio programmes or parts of programmes, all ‘texts’, whose content and dynamics are invented or directed by the participating viewer or listener”. Kirby certainly makes some great points in this piece, and it’s well worth a read. He’s noticed that in becoming more digital, the world is increasingly participatory (and he does all of this without saying 2.0 anywhere).

In postmodernism, one read, watched, listened, as before. In pseudo-modernism one phones, clicks, presses, surfs, chooses, moves, downloads.

Despite being a decent summary of a possible view of the world today, the conclusion is hard for me to swallow.

Here, the typical emotional state, radically superseding the hyper-consciousness of irony, is the trance – the state of being swallowed up by your activity. In place of the neurosis of modernism and the narcissism of postmodernism, pseudo-modernism takes the world away, by creating a new weightless nowhere of silent autism. You click, you punch the keys, you are ‘involved’, engulfed, deciding. You are the text, there is no-one else, no ‘author’; there is nowhere else, no other time or place. You are free: you are the text: the text is superseded

While he makes some great points (particularly about an increasingly participatory culture which makes the world which came before it feel, to its members, drab and oppressive) I can’t help think that whatever comes – and has been coming – after postmodernism is going to have to be not just participatory but also a lot more positive than what Kirby is describing. It’s not going to be single-user either; the idea that “there is no-one else” makes a mockery of the social implications which underpin his vision. That there may be not always be a (discernible) author doesn’t mean there won’t also be other people in the experience.

I mentioned last week that I’ve been listening to a lot of Jesse Thorn this year. It turns out that Jesse Thorn is the founding father of a movement called the New Sincerity, which might just hold the answer to my current “what’s next?” question regarding post-postmodernism.

A great starting point for understanding the New Sincerity is this episode of ‘The Sound of Young America’ from 2007, particularly the first 10 minutes or so. The New Sincerity movement was not born with this broadcast (there are references going back a long way earlier) but it’s a rallying cry to live a New Sincerity summer and enjoy life unironically. The New Sincerity is something we already understand, if only we can strip away some negativity and appreciate something for its merits rather than for some sort of ironic kitsch value.

A perfect example of the New Sincerity is Evel Knievel. There’s no way to take Evel Knievel literally. It’s impossible. The man has a leather jumpsuit and he drives a rocket car. The leather jumpsuit has red, white, and blue stars and stripes on it. It’s absolutely preposterous. On the other hand, there’s no way to appreciate Evel Knievel ironically. He’s too awesome, right?. He has – I don’t know if we’ve mentioned this – a leather jumpsuit with the Stars and Stripes on it and a rocket-powered car. That’s why we appreciate Evel Knievel with the New Sincerity

The New Sincerity replaces postmodern irony not with Kirby’s trance but with an almost childlike exuberant appreciation of everything that is awesome. In the earlier Manifesto for The New Sincerity, Jesse concludes with these words:

Our greeting: a double thumbs-up. Our credo: “Be More Awesome.” Our lifestyle: “Maximum Fun.” Throw caution to the wind, friend, and live The New Sincerity.

In absorbing the tenets of the New Sincerity, I naturally think about Ze Frank, a man who exhibits awesomeness in his own right but also has a clear desire for other people to be awesome. Obsessively watching his popular (and highly interactive) video podcast ‘the show’ last year, I was repeatedly stuck by his genuine joy in the strangeness and creativity of the world. If you’ve never watched any and want to get started, these are some of my favourite episodes.

Ze’s term for his own viewers is Sports Racers (and he usually singing a little song when he uses the word: “sports racers, racing sports. What’s your power move?”.) If Ze Frank has been full of old school irony, he might have referred to his viewers using the tired sports cliche of ‘sports fans’ (“Hey, sports fans!”) but he isn’t, and he doesn’t. In the (current) words of the ‘Sports Racer’ Ze Frank wiki entry:

Ze is switching it up, with a nod to the theoretical ‘interactivity’ of our new medium of internet, and so, instead of sports fans, we are sports racers. Participators in the dialogue

Ze Frank may never even have heard the term, but he exudes the New Sincerity like flying a kite with Bruce Lee on a sunny day.

Back to Jesse. In an interview with the Gothamist in November 2006 he shared more insights about the New Sincerity:

At its core, it’s a rejection of what we called The Old Irony, which ruled the cultural roost, or at least the hipster part of the cultural roost, for the past fifteen years or so.

Part of what the New Sincerity is is being larger than life and the acknowledgment that the coolest stuff comes from being completely unafraid of being seen as uncool. It encompasses everything from small things like high-fiving and flying a kite to bigger things like being Evil Knievel.

it’s a willingness to earnestly appreciate something even if it’s bigger than something someone would earnestly feel comfortable earnestly appreciating. Even if it means taking the risk of someone thinking it’s ridiculous because, ultimately, it’s more important to be awesome than to be cool.

Personally, I think I’ve had enough of irony and I don’t think I’m alone. I’m sick of feeling that I have to be sarcastic in order to be funny, or admire things because they are so-bad-they’re-good. My wife and I already hi-five each other unironically, so although it’s going to be hard to break my long-ingrained habits of ironic appreciation, it shouldn’t be a massive lifestyle change to earnestly embrace everything that’s genuinely good. New Sincerity? Count me in.

Roo’s desk / Ray’s desk

Roo's Desk / Ray's Desk

Here’s a photo my wife took in January, in which she compared my desk (clean, covered with monitors) with her desk (messy, covered with textiles).

I don’t think I work at the desk in my home study nearly enough. My desk at work certainly isn’t as tidy as that. My office wall looks like this, but the desk surface beneath and to the left of that is covered in whiteboards, sticky notes and scraps of paper. If I actually used my desk at home, it would look the same pretty quickly.

At the moment, I’m actually much more likely to sit on top of the bed with a couple of laptops around me though. Not great for my back, or wrists, I’m sure. Perhaps I should start using my desk a bit more.

Hursley in the sunshine

Post-Cha Chillin'

Photo by Andy Piper. Used here with permission.

The recent few days of hot weather seems to be coming to an end. To celebrate it while it still lasts, here’s a photo Andy took yesterday of some friends enjoying the sun on the steps of Hursley House. Left to right: Hanan, James, Rob, Helen, Alice and me.

IBM Hursley really is a beautiful location. Here it is from a slightly different angle, taken last week by Darren. (He describes the process of making a 360 degree panorama on his blog).

Planet Hursley

Photo by Darren Shaw. Shared under a Creative Commons license.

If Darren wasn’t out in Arizona (taking even more amazing photos) with Ian, they both would have been on the steps with us above. I’m not sure if they would have been eating ice creams or would have stuck with the traditional cup of tea though.

Making Marbles

Reminiscing about childhood games last night, my friend Arthur wondered out loud how marbles are made. Nick and I googleraced to find the answer, and (unsurprisingly) both ended up finding the same bit of video.

‘How It’s Made‘ is surely one of the most interesting series on Discovery (perhaps beaten by Mythbusters). The marble video caused us to go on a mini knowledge quest, in which we learned how many other things were made. Golf balls, bubblegum, jawbreakers all have extrusion in common with marbles (though are fractionally less cool), while filing cabinets are about as interesting as they deserve to be. Aren’t the internets brilliant?

Game Camp 08

I was at Game Camp 08 on Saturday. It was held in Sony’s 3Rooms building near Shoreditch which is amazing. Imagine your dream flat, but full of rather more PS3s and PSPs than you could ever need. That said, the Sony branding wasn’t actually overpowering, and the venue was a very good choice.

The day was held in the style of a barcamp, with sessions run by participants. There were sessions on ‘How to play Doerak, a semi-russian card game’, ‘ARGs, are they f****d’?’, ‘Playing SLorpedo (mixed reality naval warfare in Second Life)’, and many many more.

Bobbie Johnson of the Guardian organised the event and has since written up a conclusion as well as a quick review of one of the busiest sessions, Matt Biddulph on ‘hacking game controllers with Arduino’.

Lots of photos of the day on Flickr, including this great one taken by Justin Hall (lead PMOG genius) and shared my Matt Jones.

London’s first Game Camp was great. I’m already looking forward to the next one.

ETS Rocket Day 2.0

I joined the IBM Hursley ETS (Emerging Technology Services) team just a few weeks after their first Rocket Day in 2005. Today was version 2.0, and it was the most fun team-building day out you can imagine; a field full of geeks and their (water, air and coke-and-mentos powered) rockets, cameras, access to good food and great beer. Good times.

I took some photos and videos, and there’s also a Flickr group containing photos from the day.

Best of all, Rob made a video which includes some footage captured using a tiny camera fixed to the nose of one of the rockets. There’s a long version on YouTube. Here’s the short ‘trailer’ version (music by yours truly).

Recent addictions

  • A few years ago, I was playing more online poker than was probably healthy (though only ever invested about £10 in online poker at my peak had built it up to well over £100, which I inevitably lost. Frighteningly quickly. (Though not before I extracted the original £10.) I don’t particularly want to start again at the moment).
  • Reading (this is an addiction anyone would be proud of. I regularly get through 5 or 6 books in a month).
  • I bite my nails (and I hate it. If you see me doing this, tut at me or something).
  • EVE Online (I recently suspended my account, since I wasn’t playing it nearly enough to make the monthly payments worthwhile, so my character is currently in the equivalent of hibernation. The past two Christmas holidays have been marked by obsessively shooting space-based pirates though, and I’m sure I’ll get back into it one day).
  • The addition of an Xbox 360 has meant I’ve  been recently hooked on some excellent games. (Call of Duty 4 is amazing, and having played through the single-player game I got sucked into levelling up in the multi-player game until I reached ‘Presetige’ mode. Grand Theft Auto 4 came out this week, and I think it’s already my latest addiction. For a few weeks anyway).

I seem to have a slightly addictive personality. But doesn’t everyone?

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