Steve Walker

Some less or more well-organised thoughts

Archive for February 2009

More on Skinningrove Jetty

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I couldn’t resist this from Steve Thompson’s work. An RL/SL Mayoral visit to the SL Skinningrove Jetty they’re campaigning to have renovated (in RL). The mayoral avatar is there, with local MP Ashok Kumar fishing on the jetty. The mayor has invited Steve and his campadres to make a presentation in the council chambers too.Mayor and MP visiting Skinningrove jetty.

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February 28, 2009 at 5:30 pm

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Broadband and community development

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A link to this article on rural broadband in the US was circulated on the ciresearchers mailing list earlier today. It reminded me of a community broadband workshop I went to a couple of years ago. What struck me about that event was that, while the topic was ostensibly community broadband, what evidently ignited the passions of most of the participants was broadband technology. There was little explicit discussion of (or, when the subject was raised, apparent interest in) the technology’s relation to ‘community’. At the time this struck me as odd because as commercial providers were rolling out what I suppose we should now call ‘last generation’ broadband to places which had hitherto not had any broadband access, the case for devoting resources to an alternative infrastructure seemed substantially weakened. Unless, that is, it could be shown that a community approach has a different, beneficial, relationship to ‘community’ (however we define it) and community development. As Odassz’s article argues, it’s not that there aren’t examples of how these links can be made. In the UK, the Alston Moor community broadband network has for a long time demonstrated how a community broadband infrastructure can be embedded in local economic and community development.

This is significant, because the subject of broadband has a new currency, with Lord Carter’s ‘Digital Britain’ interim report in the UK (see writetoreply.org, as mentioned in an earlier post) and the roll out of rural broadband is part of Obama’s economic stimulus package in the USA. Certainly in Carter’s report, the contrast between the focus on infrastructure provision (and protecting primarily corporate intellectual property) and the rather general claims about wider social and economic consequences seems to leave the door wide open to critique from a community broadband perspective, if anyone’s in a position to make it.

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February 20, 2009 at 6:41 pm

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Skinningrove jetty

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Steve Thompson at Univ. of Teeside is well known in community informatic circles for his work with local communities. His work to assist a campaign to renovate a disused jetty in the village of Skinningrove has made perhaps the most imaginative use of Second Life that I’m aware of. Firstly, they built an SL version of what a renovated jetty might look like. Secondly, he worked with people from the village to create some rather realistic avatars, and familiarised them with SL. Thirdly, they staged an opening of the virtual jetty, complete with a speech from the (avatar of) local MP Ashok Kumar, and songs from schoolchildren. And fourthly, edited all of this into a film, available at:
http://www.ecol.org.uk/?p=149. I’m not a great fan of SL, but this is a fantastically imaginative use.

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February 12, 2009 at 1:35 pm

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Storm in a teacup

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Shaun Fensom’s Ethical Consumer column is becoming a very good read. Recently he’s been particularly concerned with claims made about the energy involved in various aspects of computer use. The current column looks at the claims made for the energy consumption of a Google search, noting that Google’s own figures for a search are 1/35th those claimed recently in the media. This figure still seems to me to be remarkably high (and I’m wondering what constitutes a search; does the second page of results count as a second search?). But that’s detail.

His passing comments about the semantic web are more debateable, but that’s for another day; but my one complaint is that there’s no RSS feed so I can subscribe to the column…

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February 10, 2009 at 6:52 pm

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OU, writetoreply.org

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This blog has been languishing since last summer. Since then, I’ve moved to the Open University. I’ve long been an admirer of the OU, with fond memories of the late night broadcasts of the 70s. It never ceases to amaze me that so many remember them for the appearance of the presenters (I’m looking forward to seeing how many of the ‘cool’ YouTube videos stand the test of time); much more significantly they were groundbreaking uses of technology to make higher education available to a wider audience, whether registered on a course or not. I enjoyed the peeks they offered into all manner of disciplines, but one that particularly sticks in the mind is a programme demonstrating the div, grad and curl functions with great clarity with the aid of a large tank of water; something that had baffled me as an undergraduate (though that may be related to my attendance at lectures…).

Over the last few years, I’ve done a fair amount of work in the area of learning technologies myself. The OU has stayeed at the forefront through its online and web-based distance learning technologies. It’s an exciting place to be.

But the immediate inspiration for having another go at keeping a blog has been seeing the work of colleagues in my new department, of Communications and Systems. Tony Hirst reacted to Stephen Carter’s ‘Digital Britain – Interim Report‘ and the rather limited opportunities to respond by creating (with Joss Winn) writetoreply.org. Here, the report is broken down and can be commented paragraph by paragraph (as reported in the Guardian). He’s also written an open letter to Carter and his team inviting them to treat this as a contribution to the consultation. It will be interesting to see to what extent they have grasped the significance of ‘Digital Britain’; the evidence of the interim report is not encouraging.

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February 7, 2009 at 12:11 pm

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