This is the blog of Ant Miller, senior research manager and dilettante geek at large at the BBC.
I wail moan and cuss about the challenges and fun to be found here.
These are my personal opinions, and not those of my employer. Or anyone else here for that matter.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Blinking Digital

To my great shame I only spent a half day at this year's Thinking Digital conference, Herb Kim's intellectual gymkhana on the banks of the Tyne. I am profoundly grateful to have been able to join his role call of luminaries for the one afternoon and for the dinner too though.

I actually turned up a little early for the event so spent the morning trying to polish off my presentation at the cafe at Baltic in the sparkling company of Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, co-founder and CEO of Alex is a profoundly cool and intelligent person, and she's probably forgotten more about the people and places around the digital culture in the UK, US and Canada than I will ever know, and with I think she and her colleagues are making a real positive difference to the world today. I think, hope, this is being recognised- keep a look out for more about on the BBC's technology web site. Whilst Alex was polishing off what turned out to be an excellent presentation for the afternoon session, I struggled on with Prezi (a quick overview in another blog post).

Thence to the Live Theatre to register, and meet our fellow presenters for the afternoon session. The first session was streamed, with Social Media in the main theatre, Practical Wisdom back over at Baltic, and The DIY Gadget session upstairs in the Live Theatre, hosted by the BBC's own Ian Forrester, and with yours truly one of the six presenters.

My fellow presenters are an excellent bunch:

  • Alex I've already mentioned- she gave a great overview of Arduino, and her company's role in it, and ran through a load of the coolest projects they're working on, plus giving an excellent socio-philosophical grounding to the importance of the technology.
  • Adrian McEwen of MCQN ran through more of the hacker projects he's been working on, including a live demonstration of the bubbleduino, which was reacting live to tweets of the event by spattering our guest of honour with detergent (he took that very well).
  • Richard, Stuart and Dave of Jam Jar Collective- aka the Friispray crew- then gave a brilliantly energetic three hander presentation of their project, giving a massive tip 'o the hat to Johnny Cheung Lee, the previously mentioned guest of honour- I think they were a little nervous that their hero was sat front and centre in the audience (slightly spattered with detergent). I've seen friispray a few months ago, and it's great to see not only how they're developing the technology, but also using it in really important and original contexts; club nights are fun, sure, but in education environments for kids with learning difficulties their tech can be a transformative and important step forward, making a very real difference.
  • Andy Huntingdon then followed with a spectacular and pretty wonderfully noisy demonstration of his projects that use low power embedded computing to turn everyday objects into rhythm sequencers. His tappity boxes have a great sense of the dramatic built in- the three second lag makes every use an act of knife edge anticipation.
  • Ken Banks then presented his revolutionary SMS hub software, FrontlineSMS- I mean revolutionary very specifically. Ken's software allows anyone with a phone and a pc to set up a powerfull SMS communications hub, and it's being used around the globe to dramatic, life changing, culturally and politically significant ends. It is the engine of revolution in many areas, and saves lives because it allows communication and peaceful activism to be more powerful than riot and violence. He's such a sweet guy too- genuinely moved by the way that people worldwide have run with the tools he's made and crafted a better future for themselves and others.
  • Me- I did the usual schtick about a BBC Micro for the 21st century- reviewing the old micro, how and why it had come about, and then exploring what the modern, equivalent challenges are, and then exploring the whole culture of makery hackery, the culture my co-speakers had been propounding, to see how today, the best way to acheive analogous goals would probably be to aly ourselves closely with all these guys, to support them, help them and foster a wider cultural uptake of their ethos. (One day I'll do a post about that!)
After our presentations Ian interviewed Johnny and they explored the role of the 4 minute video clip, properly, but not 'over' produced, as a great tool for sharing ideas. I'm looking forward to the video from that chat, and Thursday's presentation, as I think there's stuff for us in R&D to learn there.

Anyway, all in all a great session- thanks so much to Herb, the theatre staff, and all the Thinking Digital crew. That night's dinner was mind blowing too- but that's for another post!

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