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There was a piece featuring me and the sale of BiNS on the BBC News site last week. As ever with ‘news’ I felt the interesting stuff didn’t make it to the actual article and in fact I’m sure I didn’t say anything about gaps quite like that. I thought what I said was a bit more like this tweet:

But that’s the way it goes.

There’s also two writing projects that I’ve contibuted to over the last few days. One is 280 stops—a sort of Internet piece of collaborative fiction. I’ll let Jon Hickman explain:

“This is a tribute to two wonderful things: the 11 bus route which runs through Birmingham (oh, and bits of Solihull and Sandwell), and Geoff Ryman’s novel/website 253.”

The other is not fictional at all. An idea by Jez Collins and Craig Hamilton‘101 Things Birmingham Gave the World’ is a tumblr that celebrates Birmingham’s impact on World Culture.

Why I’m giving up Birmingham: It’s Not Shit

At some point over the weekend, I decided to out the low level moving on campaign and put my most famous website up for sale on eBay.

I started the site back in the May of 2002, before there were really such things as blogs in the mainstream and the term ‘hyperlocal’ was not even a glint in an irritating theorist’s eye. Pretty much everything that’s ever been on it, and definitely everything technical was written or created by me, I’ve had a couple of ‘columnists’ for short whiles and a couple of bits of ‘holiday cover’ but that’s all. The site was flat, hand coded HTML until I learned of PHP and wrote a simple news updating section. Later I discovered that there wasn’t only a name for such things but software out there to do it more prettily and better.

And now it, or sites like it, are either the future of the media or a disappointment to those that thought they should be.

But, it didn’t start because the media was dying, it started because the media was crap: crap at explaining why people connected emotionally with a place that—when looked at objectively—was a bit shit. Crap at self awareness, crap at understanding real life. The media has changed a little, but mostly the contents have just shifted in transit.

I have always been proud of it being not only independent, but seen to be, so not taking advertising and clearly marking anything churned from a press release was always part of the plan. It was fun at times, maybe important and influential at others, but always fairly time consuming and costly. I’ve got lots of other stuff on now, and for the first time in years a regularly hour-ed job (that’s also in another city)—so it’s time to give up.

There’s also a way in which the landscape of ‘hyperlocal publishing’ has changed—the Corinthian spirit beaten down by encroachment of money or officialdom: from ad sales bullshitters to quango reports that do nothing but serve the interests of the establishment. I don’t have the energy to fight, but don’t want to lose that battle really. So the idea is to let someone with the energy try something else with the cultural cache that the site’s built up. There is a way forward for local content created by people that can reach an audience without aping what’s gone before, but just right now I don’t know what it is.

And I’d like to recoup some of the costs if possible, so I’m selling.

I’ll no doubt return to the themes, and the location, but for now time’s up.

(Here’s what I said just over two years ago about how it all started, I still think pretty much the same.)

The worst captain in the World

I was on Danny Baker’s Radio Five show earlier, which was great. I’ve always been a big fan of his and consider him to be one of the few genuinely innovative and brilliant broadcasters.

I’d texted in in response to a question about being a terrible sporting captain, and it was a good opportunity to tell about when I was captain of Dogpool Rovers in South Birmingham Sunday League Division Three:

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Improving the happiness index

After my talk at Oxford Geek Night I was happy to have a couple of suggestions to see if the algorithm could produce better results. One was to remove retweets from the search, which makes sense as we all know from many Twitter bios “a RT does not imply endorsement”—and that was easy to implement as the basic Twitter search api returns retweets ‘old-style’ with “RT” at the head.

The other was more complex, so I’m going to quote Owen who emailed me directly:

“This morning I thought up an analogy. Suppose you have weather readings for the last 100 days. For each day you have temperature (T), humidity (H) and mm of precipitation (P). What you’re doing is multiplying these all together, presumably because you want to get one number out. Unfortunately this number is meaningless. If you wanted to combine these quantities in some way you should really be thinking about what meaning you’re attaching to the number you get out. I’m ignoring here the fact that you multiplied them all together, when in all likelihood adding them would make more sense. I suggest it would be more meaningful to keep track of them separately, and plot three graphs instead of one. Indeed, this is what is done with weather data.

You spoke about wanting to get a measure of how much spread a set of data has. What you want is the variance, or something like it. The average (more properly called the mean) of a set of numbers is obtained by adding them all up and dividing by the total number. This tells you something very useful, but it loses all information about how spread out the information was. The variance captures that. It’s a bit tricky to calculate. I’ll try to explain it here, but you can always google for more details. Suppose you have numbers a1 up to a100. The average is M = (a1 + a2 + … + a100) / 100. The calculate the variance we have to calculate some intermediate numbers. First, you have to calculate the average. Then you have to calculate the average of each number squared: Z = (a1^2 + … + a100^2) / 100. Now the variance is V = Z – M. I know that doesn’t seem to make much sense. There is a way of calculating the variance which makes it clearer why it’s any use, but it’s a bit harder to actually implement.

You might want to square root the variance to get the standard deviation. This is measured on the same scale as the original numbers you had, so it makes a bit more sense to use that instead.”

So, @IsOxfordHappy and the location sensitive page now do both of those. I’ve removed the ‘word scale’ for the time being till I can see roughly what the numbers are. Thanks everyone for your suggestions.

Open government, data and transparency

While working on Siôn Simon’s push for there to be a directly elected Mayor for Birmingham I contributed an ideas paper around the possibilities for a more open system of government in the city. It covered open data (in broad strokes rather than technical details), comms and transparency. It was always a plan for the team that ideas and plans be released as soon as they were ready—happy for any other campaigner to use what we thought were good things.

So, when the referendum went against us I talked to a few people about releasing this stuff anyway. I couldn’t do any harm, I figured. It’s taken me a while to get round to it.

These docs were my own work, so don’t take them as being ‘official’, I’m also not planning to do anything with them at this stage. Some of the ideas may already be part of the political plan of the city’s new council leadership, but to be honest I don’t know.

Feel free to use any of this if it’s interesting.

Continue reading Open government, data and transparency

Is Oxford happy?

After moving down to Oxford I did an update of my Birmingham Emotions conversational psychogeography project. That’s now quite simple as I have built a ‘happy monitor’ that can centre anywhere. I’m not as happy myself as I was with the results however, whether due to the increasing volume of the Tweets that it analyses or something else the rating doesn’t move around too much. Such was the problem I proposed in a very quick talk at Oxford Geek Night 27. Here are the slides from the presentation, I think the audio was being recorded and will add if I get hold of it.

I’ve already had a number of suggestions about improving the equation or analysis, if they’re code-able by me I shall try. If not I will have to ask for help…

On a side note, the whole idea of conversational psychogeography came to me when I was thinking of putting an emotional wellbeing indicator in the form of a light at the top of Birmingham’s Rotunda (see how it’s still unfinished right at the top. That was back in 2008, but it seems that London has finally installed something a little similar. Drat.

You can get twice daily Oxford updates on Twitter.

Going up in The Public

Jon is a proper artist!

From 18th July until September the large glass edition of the Birmingham Music Map is going to be on display at The Public in West Bromwich as part of their Summer Exhibition. It’s free to visit and has a rather nice coffee shop-cum-bar.

Thanks to Jez from the Birmingham Music Archive for his continued support of this.

You can still add your memories to the map, here. And paper editions are on sale.

Fused – Special edition

Fused magazine, which (as well as sister publication Area) I’ve done stuff for in the past, has just released a very special edition. It’s thick, beautiful and perfect bound and it’s the first volume of what they’re calling the second volume of the mag. It’s got some fantastic photography and illustrations and rather wonderfully for me three of the best interviews I’ve ever done. Read what happened when I talked to bass-god Peter Hook, Barney out of noisecore legends Napalm Death and David Shrigley who’s one of may favourite artists.

 

Buy it for a fiver, here.

You can read it online too, here.