Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Geeks and bookworms

The wizard of OS.
You may remember the 5th of November as that time when a Guy got hanged, drawn and quartered by The Man. Happily, little drawing and quartering gets done around here these days.

My daughters send me out robot-hunting in London on a regular basis. I found two good ones for them this week. Firstly, the Tin Woodman's cyber cousin (see left) in the basement of Fluent Studios, a usability lab in Clerkenwell.

The second robot really took the cake: a camera-mounted Octocopter that a guy built in his garage. This was surely the coolest way that anybody arrived to Mozilla's November 5th festival on Media, Freedom, and the Web, at Ravensbourne  in Greenwich.

Mozilla, of Design Jam and Firefox fame, has now decided to hack the news. Yes, THE NEWS. Which is why the festival featured a data journalism sprint, a Popcorn hyper-video documentary, and a talk by Frontline SMS on using text to spread the news.

Being in the midst of so many wickedly clever people felt invigorating and humbling. It reminded me of a line from my favourite children's book, where a tiny snail gazes at a huge whale and says: "I feel so small."

All your news are belong to us.
But from the hacks/hackers hangout upstairs, to the kids web playground downstairs, these 600 bright people from all over media and the interwebs were focused on that most ancient of human things: storytelling. 

In the future, who will tell the stories? And...how?

I'm a huge fan of story-centred systems as the latest Mozilla add-on. From my dorky obsession with the Federal Writers' Project, to my Ray Bradbury fixation, I think I can reasonably claim to be a story-centric human.

Mozilla's focus on getting kids excited about technology is pretty cool. I can't wait to take my kids to this sort of thing when they are a little older than 2 and 4 and less prone to actually chewing on the interwebs.

Douglas Adams once said: "Anything invented before your 15th birthday is the order of nature." David Rowan of Wired offered a good example of this at Internet Europe Week on Tuesday. To today's child, he said, a typewriter is "a laptop that prints as it goes along and doesn't need electricity."

Sometimes geeks and bookworms look down their noses at each other. Mozilla's festival last Saturday wasn't one of those occasions - in fact the geeks and the bookworms were actually the same people.

Baby hackasaurus. 
Last Saturday the sun sank early as per winter opening hours. The bright lights of Ravensbourne danced in the cold Thames alongside the megalith skyscrapers of Dog Island. 

A smell of gunpowder leached out into the air from the darker corners of England, like ozone before a thunderstorm. Across the island, bonfire logs succumbed to their fate, uncomplaining, as they have done since pagan times (Guy Fawkes was not hanged for inventing bonfires). 

Down the river at St Paul's, a gathering tide of discontentment stood on the temple steps and stared at the city through Guy Fawkes's dead eyes. Like a scene from another of my favourite stories.


  1. Loved this post! I use to test a class in which the students had to build a robot. It was so much fun! It's so cool that your daughters like robots!

  2. Thanks! Robots are so fun, even for grown-ups, que no?