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CyberCity News continued
 

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Britain's First "Fibrecity" Announced - Bournemouth
city-block diagram For reasons indicated in our 2007 blog-posts [below], wireless is being abandoned as the main delivery method for wiring up conurbations to high-speed internet access. The favoured new delivery medium is fibre-optic cable, run through the sewer ducts to save digging up roads. Bournemouth has now officially announced in their glossy monthly PR magazine BH Life issue of July 08 that the Borough is to be Britain's first such "fibrecity." It won out in January over Northampton and Dundee as the test-conurbation venue for the BT-backed enterprise, the 3 towns being front runners as they already have fibre-sewer connections to Council offices. High-speed broadband (up to 100Mbs) fibre-optic cables are now being snaked through the sewer pipes by service provider H2O Networks Ltd. H2O's system is called FOCUS: Fibre Optical Cable Underground Sewer.
FOCUS is a simpler way of replacing BT's old buried copper wire cables, which have limited speed and bandwidth. (TV-style cable like Virgin-NTL's also has a built-in limitation in that the more people in a given street use the local mainline, the slower it gets - rather like a road being clogged by too much traffic.) The Bournemouth FOCUS project was first announced in March 07. Council offices and municipally-run centres like the Pavilion and the BIC were already wired up, providing a pilot-project system test.
Until now, the main "focus" of local government in regard to the new electronic technologies has been cost-saving, "enhancing" revenue collections, and other economic benefits to itself. Press coverage over the past year has continued to be largely on the theme of "Council snoopers". For example, the press reported that 25,000 'bin-bugger' microchips had been removed by Bournemouth residents since they heard about them from press reports (both the public and Councillors had been kept in the dark) - too many to prosecute. But this new technology should be usable by the main downtown businesses for video-conferencing etc, and later should offer similar services to homes in the residential districts for home-based business purposes as well as leisure use. So far, so good ...
2007 Year-End Roundup
-A year on, where are we with all the government's plans about wired-up conurbations? Clip-art of computer logo
This site was launched in 2006 out of concern at the way officialdom had been pushing the idea that government services should be online. Public offices would be replaced with websites, email addresses, and (for those not yet online at home) public kiosks with interactive terminals. To do this, provision would be outsourced in the usual way - probably to a firm that is a major Party donor, and is thus beyond ordinary controls. Thus if you wanted to access a Whitehall or Council service, you would have to log on to a special portal run by this private firm, in order to access personal data, again held by a private company - possibly the same one, possibly a different one. The company or companies would be involved in data-sharing, and security would be in their hands. The main technology to be used would be a WiFi "cloud" saturating each major conurbation.
The good news is that all these plans began to fall apart in 2007, and the enterprise locally has got almost nowhere. In America (where the idea came from), Muni-Wifi projects have either proven too expensive, failed to deliver in many areas, and/or sparked public controversy over health concerns similar to those over microwave towers. "They are the monorails of this decade: the wrong technology, totally overpromised and completely undelivered," commented the US think-tank Institute For The Future. In Britain, the loss of those 2 data CDRs with some 25 million taxpayers' personal details in November was the moment of public loss of innocence (or rather, ignorance) about the cavalier official attitude to security of public data. Since then, the press has been running similar exposes.
Locally, I began this blog out of concern that the conurbation would inevitably soon be a 'wired' one, with a municipally-sponsored wireless-enabled network. This would mean that any resident could go online from anywhere in the conurbation, even outdoors if they have a WiFi-enabled laptop or phone. That is, it would soon have the same type of public WiFi internet-access network as cities like Bath, Brighton, Bristol and cities in the USA and on mainland Europe.
The key word here, however, is 'cities'. Unlike the other three places in the south of England beginning with B, the Bournemouth conurbation isn't a city - yet. It is governed by multiple Local Authorities - Bournemouth, Poole, Christchurch, Ferndown. The first two are Unitary Authorities, while the other two are part of a multi-tier local-government setup. One is a Borough Council and the other is part of a District Council area, both of these being also part of Dorset County Council jurisdiction. Any prospective 'metro-net' provider like BT would have to negotiate with half a dozen entities. My guess is thus that local progress was held up by the fact there is no single local city council authority, or ad hoc central coordinating body, BT et al can contract with. By central coordinating body I mean something like the Greater London Authority established in 2000, which was itself a replacement for London's earlier (1960s-80s) Greater London Council, the GLC, where various London municipalities were represented by a central body to develop cross-conurbation services. We may see here such a 'city' setup here one day.
At present, if anyone were to suggest a 'Greater Bournemouth Council' arrangement for the provision of conurbation-wide communication and transport services, exponents of home rule for the other areas would surely rise up and object in the strongest possible terms, whatever the name. The reaction would be similar to the short-lived 1990s proposal to amalgamate the three towns as "Wessex City". However with Whitehall's determination to end duplication of services in multi-tier local-government setups, and their introduction of a regional governments system, it may become possible to set up a conurbation-wide 'economic development' area, with existing local councils being bypassed.
The present government has a tendency to plunge regardless into large IT projects and appoint managers from other sectors to develop and run it (e.g. the NHS is now largely run by those with no medical background). One purpose of this site was to make sure there was democratic participation in the process of establishing any 'wired-up conurbation', and that it was not just a matter of a local council quietly making a deal with BT and giving them access to residents' personal data, as has happened in other arenas. I say BT because they still own much of the telephone backbone system, are developing 'wi-fi' add-on services, and are actively pitching proposals to local councils.
Locally, there was indeed a pilot project set up in summer 2007 to bring Muni-WiFi to Boscombe with a kiosk in the pedestrian precinct, but when I looked at recently [Dec], it had gone dead. Wi-Fi of course has become notorious for being even more insecure than the "ordinary" cabled or land-line internet. In March, the news Bournemouth was utilising a FOCUS system - Fibre Optical Cable Underground Sewer - to install cabling for without digging up the roads got it headlines like 'Bournemouth Broadband In The Sh*t' and comments like that of Silicon.com, "if performance is slow, would it be due to excessive traffic or a log jam somewhere down below?"
The bad publicity over the hospitals using PatientLine (a bedside phone-radio-TV-internet console for hospital patients) also showed how people might be captive to paying premium rates for access to services after privatisation, as did the attempt by some GP firms to switch to 0870 'premium' numbers as a "service." The privacy risk in the trend to put personal info on "Web 2.0" social-networking sites like Facebook (which we covered earlier on an article about a local man who found 15 minutes of fame there), was driven home in November when millions found their purchases tracked on other sites using Beacon web-bug technology, and then publicized onsite, often spoiling Xmas surprises.
The most newsworthy development in Council electronic activity this past year was the 'bin bugger' row. Bournemouth, like other councils elsewhere, had been acquiring new wheelie bins with 'spy' bugs (wireless-enabled microchips) built in, so in future they can eavesdrop electronically on the amount of rubbish households throw out - with an eye to surtaxing this. That Bournemouth Council managers did not think it necessary to tell even their elected local Councillors they were doing this does not exactly inspire confidence for the future.
In the meantime, I'm focussing the site's coverage on DIY to encourage others besides government to get involved in publishing online, via a series on how to create your own webspace. This will also tie in with the Bournemouth 2010 Bicentenary, with which I'm already involved. I'll top-post links as I put together each how-to DIY guide. It will follow on to the basic organizational ten-step orientation outline already onsite here. If you want more info on local and regional governments, go to our local "e-gov" webpage here, our "Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The CyberCity- Local Public Services Websites," which has links to both official websites and contact details.
-DS
 

Of Course, We're All Bohemians Now
There's a news story been doing the rounds of print, TV and online sources, what they call a human interest story, albeit a media-contrived one. A Facebook webpage created by a Bournemouth University student devoted to a local ‘tramp’ who can tell time accurately has become a hit. Due to his online presence, he is now 'possibly the most famous person in all of Bournemouth' (though this is not saying a lot).
Facebook being more a student networking site than just a web host, students around the world have picked up on this 'trick' as amusing, or even amazing. The "Gordon The Tramp" appreciation group now has thousands of subscribers. Followers arrange "Gordon the Tramp" dress-up parties. He's now a "global superstar." Google lists 435,000 hits for 'Gordon+Tramp' These are apparently all news stories or blog items rehashing the same Press Association story, originally from a local agency outlet. (The PA is a syndication service owned by regional newspapers.)
Gordon seems to be bearing his new celebrity with good grace, posing with groups of student "revellers". (I'd guess this is how he was discovered, when one of them, out late, asked him the time.) This is despite the fact the site's home-page design patronisingly has his head in the centre of a Looney Tunes circular logo (you remember, where Daffy or Bugs or Porky Pig would say, in a speeded-up voice, 'Tha-a-at's all, folks.') Another page shows him wearing an enormous Photoshopped-on crown. In interviews, he seems uncomprehending at this online fame, understandable if he's probably not had much to do with the web in his life. However he did tell Meridian TV news (YouTube clip online) he is annoyed at the label tramp.
The students must have got this obsolete term from some literary source like a prewar Just William story. It meant someone who tramps, or travels on foot, around the country as an itinerant beggar. The reality until recently was that this lifestyle was enforced by local officials, who would have the police 'move on' homeless men (e.g. drive them to the edge of town and tell them not to come back, sometimes giving them a bag of chips as a consolation). Gordon is not homeless but has lived in the same house for fifty years. The reality of the life of tramps can be found in books like Orwell's Down & Out In Paris And London, or Autobiography Of A Super-Tramp by W.H. Davies.
Logo for Gordon's Facebook pageThe term has been hijacked by the student party set in names like Tramp's Nightclub and Brit progressive rock band Supertramp (one of whose founders, Richard Palmer - Palmer-James actually - is from Bournemouth). Tramps in the traditional sense were homeless men also known in America as hobos or bums. There, calling a female a tramp meant something else entirely - a Mickey Spillane style derogatory term for a type of woman, as in the song The Lady Is A Tramp. Disney adapted this title for their 1955 animated feature, where Tramp is the streetwise male mongrel. This US provenance may be the source of the nightclub name - there is a Tramp's in NYC as well as London.
The same thing has happened to the idea of Bohemianism. It’s now a fashion accessory expressing a bit of token non-conformism, like wearing T-shirts with slogans. Bohemian originally referred to the ‘ethnic’ quarter of a European city, then to the middle-class people who took up residence there to live as what in the Sixties were called ‘drop-outs’. ‘Bohemian’ has since become a fashion-oriented consumerist label. These days, councils vie to be more 'bohemian' than their rivals. Brighton claims to be more bohemian than Bournemouth (or 'BoMo' as local promoters would have it). And they're not boasting they have more down-and-outs, but more upmarket 'alternative lifestyle' cafes and clubs. In fact, when a place becomes officially bohemian, house prices rise and anyone not upmarket enough is sooner or later forced out. This is the eventual fate, I have no doubt, of Boscombe. People like Gordon will then be classed as undesirable, i.e as depressing property prices in “BoMo” Bournemouth, and moved on by the Council to ‘more suitable’ accommodation i.e. farther away from the town centre.
The source material is already buried beneath the media blitz of this nine-day wonder. There are no valid public links to to the Facebook page, for it's a members-only club. (Until recently, it was restricted to those with a college or university email address, leading to protests when the site was opened up to anyone.) A few videos of Gordon telling time sans watch have been posted on the public web, on YouTube, here.
On the videos, when asked the time, Gordon looks at his wrist – as if consulting an invisible Rolex - and gives the time exactly. It's hard to tell if Gordon's self-described 'fan club' are genuinely amazed at his ability to tell time, or are just patronising him regardless as a sort of local mascot. (Rather like the ragged old busker, now dead, who would stand by the Square and endlessly twang a guitar he couldn’t play – though he would hit people who made fun of him.) They may be genuinely unaware most people throughout history have had to be able to tell time, to be able to tell time to pace their activities through the day. Gordon is 78, so was born in 1929. In the 1930s, only the affluent wore wristwatches. (One of the main duties of the police in this era was telling people the time.) If you're without access to clocks for long, you acquire this sense (as I discovered when I went off to live in a cabin in the North American wilderness for two years).
The story's already been around for over a week, the web equivalent of Andy Warhol's legendary 15 minutes of fame or celebrity, which he argued is all most people can expect. The la dolce vita uni set will soon become bored and move on to another fad, though perhaps other trendy student sites will adopt other “tramps” as mascots. It's later than you think, Gordon.


UK "eGov" Turns Ten
This month is reportedly the 10th anniversary of "the birth of e-government." Whatever that actually means, it's worth reflecting on what things were like in 1996, when Whitehall first began to grapple with this new-fangled internet thingy everyone was talking about.
Back in 1996, there was a snobbish disdain in the media for the new medium. As Brain Of Britain chairman Robert Robinson told his listeners, "You can find out that sort of information on the internet, but first you'll have to buy an anorak." At the BBC, the first programme to have an online tie-in was the children's show Blue Peter, which got in the news by starting to include an email address in its contact information. The BBC began getting letters "sent by email" to the contact email address they published for its complaints process. This nonplussed some presenters at first, since they couldn't follow the usual convention of pigeonholing the sender by geographic location (humorous if distant from London - "from a Mrs Trellis of North Wales"), but encouraged the cartoon image of WhitehallBBC to print their own programme email addresses in Radio Times. The BBC would become Britain's biggest online content provider.
In 1996, the Conservatives were still in power after many years, headed by a fomer bank manager who had failed to learn to drive a car or type (his wife Norma later had to type out his memoirs). New Labour were working up their programme that would sweep them to power, with Tony Blair already making his speech saying their priorities in office would be "education, education, education". Soon, he would be getting himself photographed sitting in school classrooms apparently learning to use a computer to promote the latest buzz-word, 'e-learning.' (I've since read he's actually still learning how to use a PC.) America was re-electing the first President who would use the internet. The White House had its own website, where you could not only see pictures of Socks the White House Cat, but could actually hear him meow. (I did this in 1996, from Bournemouth University, part of a test demonstration of the new medium.) Though he only ever sent a couple of emails while in office, Clinton did pass the first internet-oriented public-interest legislation, The Electronic Freedom of Information Act. In Britain, Whitehall did began to put copies of government reports online.
Internet technology was generally in its infancy. The first interactive, cross-platform technology, Sun's Java, was just making its debut. Windows 95 had just appeared, with Windows NT ("New Technology") as its corporate cousin, designed for networked office machines. At the same time, Microsoft embarked on its notorious 'browser war', where it attempted to destroy Netscape Navigator's market dominance by pre-installing its own browser, Internet Explorer, on all new PCs as part of the operating system. Few people had home internet connections, and despite the existence of fibre optic cable, these were all slow 56Kb, 28.8Kb or even 14.4Kb dialup connections provided in Britain by BT, then a disinterested monopoly. For the public, there were no 'free' ISPs (FreeServe was first, in '98), as these would have to make their money via a revenue-sharing arrangement with BT.
There weren't that many websites out there either, though the first search engines had just appeared (not Google), being cited as "technology of the year." There was one major web directory, produced by a company with the strange name of Yahoo. The first type of non-military agency to use the web as major content providers were universities (who had worked with the US military to develop the internet as a 'fail-safe' distributed emergency communications system).
Google's servers setup, circa 1999.Email had been around for twenty years (the Queen had sent the first email in Britain in 1976, from a defence research facility). But it was limited to corporate setups which used the electronic mailbox system, akin to a company's telephone switchboard, known as POP (Post Office Protocol) to redirect emails to the relevant employee based on his company login username. Company firewalls stopped employees receiving emails from 'unauthorised' addresses, or sending them from work. There were no web-based email services, free or paid, available to the public - though prototype Hotmail had just launched in the USA, Microsoft didn't buy and market it for over a year. (Designed in response to company-firewall restrictions, it was called "HoTMaiL," to emphasize the letters HTML as webmail could be read in any web browser, without the special software like Eudora or Pegasus you needed to use POP-mail.)
There were no web-based message boards either, though the non-Web Usenet had existed for over a decade for the benefit of savvy users who had corporate accounts - usually via universities or IT companies. (Anyone wanting an insight into the reality of life online back then should read astronomer Dr Clifford Stoll's The Cuckoo's Egg, his account of his year-long quest to track and catch a German hacker gang using his California university servers to break into US military establishments.)
Nevertheless, within a year or so, now-familiar aspects of web life would start to appear - the first free ISPs with free email accounts, including the web-based Yahoo! Mail, and a proliferation of government as well as commercial websites. The Prime Minister's office however would soon remove its own "Number Ten" website's public-participation "comments" function, citing as the reason too many negative comments which failed to recognise how New Labour was transforming Britain. (I mean, really, guys.) Rapid Web growth would soon mean search-engine indexing coverage would fall by '99 to below 16% of the Web. Enter Google, with the google.com domain (it was actually a misspelling of 'googol' = a large number) registered in '97. It would quickly rise to global dominance in the all-important web search market, using powerful secret algorithms and a network of ordinary PCs distributed around the country to act as servers. (The image above is of their rather basic setup back in '99). The rest, as they say, is internet history.
 

"Fortunately, We Have Blogs" - continued
 

... The BBC and the Guardian quoted his comments out of context to create a scare story about the father of the web saying his child has become a monster that needed draconian controls. He reflected on this on his own MIT in-house blog [Nov 3]:

In a recent interview with the Guardian, alas, my attempt to explain this was turned upside down into a "blogging is one of the biggest perils" message. Sigh. I think they took their lead from an unfortunate BBC article, which for some reason stressed concerns about the web rather than excitement, failure modes rather than opportunities. (This happens, because when you launch a Web Science Research Initiative, people ask what the opportunities are and what the dangers are for the future. And some editors are tempted to just edit out the opportunities and headline the fears to get the eyeballs, which is old and boring newspaper practice. We expect better from the Guardian and BBC, generally very reputable sources). In fact, it is a really positive time for the web. Startups are launching, and being sold [Disclaimer: people I know] again, academics are excited about new systems and ideas, conferences and camps and wikis and chat channels and are hopping with energy, and every morning demands an excruciating choice of which exciting link to follow first. And, fortunately, we have blogs. We can publish what we actually think, even when misreported.

He also reiterated the idea that the answer to 'junk on the web' was link-based ranking - as ultimately a sort of social-Darwinist process, and he cited the blogosphere as an instance of this effect working well. (Earlier this summer, he had in fact issued a more serious warning, on the dangers of the US abandoning network neutrality [ Web Inventor Warns Of 'Dark' Net], but this seems to have passed over the head of most journalists.)
However a subsequent article by Sarah Dempster in The Times [Nov 6], "Hands Off The Web, Sir Tim" the press showed their contempt for new media. The article ridiculed him, quoting him saying "Certain undemocratic things could emerge and misinformation will start spreading over the web." She added:

"he explained, possibly before running out of the studio, arms flapping wildly about his learned head while screaming something about being "attacked by spy flies" ... such bold assertions cannot pass without comment. Of course the web is swarming with gits. 'Twas always thus. Believing, or even hoping, that a medium available to anyone with knuckles and access to a computer will be used solely by nice boys and girls who love their mummy is, frankly, barking.. his calls for the vigilant monitoring of the internet, assuming such an operation could ever work, would succeed only in sucking the fun out of the whole shebang. Besides, given that the lunatics are already running the asylum, wouldn't it be kinder to just let them get on with it?"  

The last time Sir Tim did a BBC interview, he was asked if he didn't feel any guilt or blame for having invented the Web, because it helped people to commit crimes. The BBC didn't apologise for ambushing him like this, though he has said since he received hundreds of emails apologising for the interviewer's smug and boorish attitude. This time Sir Tim complained, first by phone, about the way the Guardian was following the BBC's distorted line. The Guardian's Technology writer-editor noted in their own blog section that he responded that TBL should complain (by email) to their press ombudsman, on the way his comments had been stripped of their context: " some of his quotes did unfortunately lose their context - particularly the ones about blogging. In the process of reaching the dead-tree version of the Guardian, they lost their grounding and certain aspects were then amplified down the chain." 
Well, that’s the press for you. All in all, the online journalism proved more responsible and accurate than the traditional press. (The latter actually missed a trick here, for at the same time, the first British university degree on how to become a hacker  - a white hat one - was announced … for TBL, while a student himself, was banned from using university PCs for hacking.)
However, for the sake of balance here, we can add a coda, that of course the blogosphere also has its share of idiotic opinions and remarks. You only have to look at the Comments section on many a blog page. At the end of the TechDirt blog item, there were at time of writing this [Nov 9] a dozen comments, almost entirely devoted to the commenters insulting one another and/or responding to illusory debating challenges (that’s putting it politely):
People who say "FIRST COMMENT" are retarded
Much like you?
Second post!
Aww damn it.
Fifth Post!
Do you people live here, or what?
PEOPLE! I hate you all! except for common sense and b. YOU ARE ALL FREAKING RETARDS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Keep on topic. As for the topic, I don't have much to say. I hate the way people and the media always try to twist around what you say to turn it against you. And it is always taken out of context. Just once, ONCE, I want one of these dumbasses to give the WHOLE story so that WE don't have to search for it. ok, enough of the rant.
I thought this place was for people with intelligence!! Retards!
You twats!
Since this thread is hijacked...... ninth!
You are the only one hijacking anything here you retard, do you have anything constructive to say!!!

I should add that if you go the Comments section now, it’s been cleaned up a bit, and more relevant comments put in place... Well, that’s the web for you.

Links:
'Berners-Lee Launches Web Science Initiative'
BBC story: 'Web Inventor Fears For The Future'
Guardian story: 'Creator Of Web Warns Of Fraudsters And Cheats'
Guardian followup blog item: 'Tim Berners-Lee: Setting The Record Straight'
TBL's MIT Blog: "Blogging Is Great"
TechDirt blog item: "When You Quote The Inventor Of The Web Out Of Context, He Fights Back On The Web "
Focusmag: 'Degree To Be Offered In Computer Hacking '
BBC 2005 Mark Lawson interview with TBL

Britain’s Mass-Blogging Experiment
In Britain, the last two weeks of October commemorate "History Matters Day" whereby, before the end of the month, as many people as possible contribute a blog entry about what they did on October 17th. (Echo story here.) Running two weeks, this is supposed to be the biggest mass blog event in history.
One day on, the press seem to have marked yesterday’s “Make Your Mark On History” Day a success in terms of national participation.

But it has been criticised for failure to emphasise its original rationale of writing history as it happens, or at least blogging about matters with a sense of historical perspective. The event had heritage-minded sponsors in the National Trust, one of whose staff proposed it, and was backed by other heritage organisations (English Heritage, the Historic Houses Association, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Civic Trust). It was promoted Bill Bryson at Bournemouth U.by media figures like TV historian Dr David Starkey, Stephen Fry (whose earlier speech in defence of history was published by the Observer, and American travel-writer (and former Bournemouth Echo reporter) turned English Heritage ambassador Bill Bryson. The public data input was via a page on the History Matters website, which promotes the “History Matters - Pass It On” campaign, “a campaign to raise public awareness of the huge contribution that history, heritage and the built environment make to our quality of life.”
The public input is to be archived 'in perpetuity' at the British Library, “as a historical record of our national life.” (The October 17th date, incidentally, was chosen as it was not an otherwise significant date historically, so that it would not be eclipsed by coverage of some anniversary.)
But in terms of what it recorded, newspaper coverage seems to indicate it was basically a collective blog of workaday routine by the participants, recording their day – children going to school, office workers suffering boredom, with little sense of living a moment of history. This focus on the everyday was compared to the Mass Observation movement of the 1930s when volunteer observers went out to public venues and recorded behaviour and comments to get a sense of 'ordinary', typical everyday life. This seems a rationalisation as the people being observed then were unaware of being recorded (and generally were not as self-aware as they are today, in our media-conscious age). The observers back then sought to remain anonymous, to avoid interfering with the experiment. The 'Past Thinking' website has argued the public brief should have been more clearly about "how the past has affected you on that day", and the word ‘blog’ should not have been used. A typical publicity article was headed “Make history with us on 17 October by taking part in the biggest blog in history." The instructions were “Write your diary here reflecting on how history itself impacted on your day” - which seems too abstract for most people caught up in a daily routine. It did add the examples “whether it just commuting through an historic environment, discussing family history or watching repeats on TV,” or “how history itself impacted on them—whether it be simply commuting through an historic environment, or how business history influenced their decision-making, or merely that they looked up some old sports statistics or listened to some pop music from the 1960s.”
Stephen FryFamily history, popularised by shows like Who Do You Think You Are, is at least one growing interest area which gives people a sense of the past (and from there, an understanding of the pressent). Stephen Fry, who wrote the ‘History Matters’ themed essay [link above], says his appearance exploring his own tragic (Jewish) family history on this BBC-TV series got him more letters than anything else he has ever done. Interested participants have till the end of the month to email in or upload a contribution, from 100 to 1,000 words long, to the History Matters website. The event may also of course encourage people to start their own blogs.
 

Is There A Local 'Blog Jam'? - continued
... A test would be to see if we can find fifty local blogs. First, if we check a couple of British blog-hosting sites, we can locate a sampling of local blogs.
Blog.Co.Uk
, which has over 5000 registered bloggers, lists 32 blog registrants for Bournemouth ... but it turns out in most cases there's no actual blog, or else nothing on it except a test or initial posting. There are a few exceptions: IronicFilmReference, with film comments by Marcus Hutton (who also runs a non-local blog on running); Andy Vining's blog on online marketing ; Steve Gee's CrazyVimto blog alias TheHollowChocolateEasterBunniesOfSatanTormentMe ('to talk shit when I'm bored or drunk or both'); Karen Brooks's curiosityness; Travelogue by Artful Lodger, and Mutter grumble whinge moan rant rave gripe sigh ('life as we all know it').
Britblogs UK:
The Britblogs free blog-hosting site lists around a dozen blogs for Bournemouth. There are a couple by a local BNP supporter calling himself The Bournemouth Nationalist ('The Nationalist News in Good old Commie Britain'), another (The Bournemouth Mob Blog ) consisting of blank spaces and software ads. And then there's ClickRich ("The random thoughts of a 30ish guy who works with technology ... and ... seems able to surround himself with people one sandwich short of a picnic. .... Come with me on a ride into mid-life crisis!")
There's also: All About Me! (obviously a personal blog); aLUKEonLIFE (a personal-thoughts blog, by ... Luke, a 29-year-old club DJ etc); An Eye on AFCB (A fan's-eye view on the local football club); coops (last comment was in April saying 'I'm not dead' ... the rest is silence.); Daily Mail Letters (comments on the Letters Page, by 'Cultureslut' aka Chris Hancock); David Keffen Photography (a professional photographer's site); Easy ways to save the world (blog on the green lifestyle, by Matthew, a Bournemouth web developer who also runs a nonlocal blog; Gadget Monkey ('A fun, independent site' on electronic gizmos and gadgets); I Am With You Always ('Written here on deposit for my very soul'... but not updated since late 05); It's the Final Word (blogger left UK 2002 - now blogs about Asia); Mr Null - One mad man in a world gone sane (the title says it all); NekoFever (by a 21 year old, on video games etc); One Step Removed (by a recent uni graduate who has now departed his home town of ''Ringworm' i.e. Ringwood for London); Perfectly Dysfunctional (by a uni student /mortgages-clerk friend of Mr Null, above); So-Net Journal, by Vincent, a partner in SoNet alias Southbourne Internet Ltd ; The Rise of Kev (by a 23 year old in communications media); the Ulterior (now not local - blogger moved to Swansea); webcammeanderings (just closed by owner due to lack of viewer interest).
Bournemouth University's Media School: The Media School is a nexus of blogs by staff and students, mainly hosted on Google's Blogger setup. The Bournemouth Media School Blog itself is done by Liisa Rohumaa, ex Financial Times journalist and FT.com website deputy editor, and now 'journo-in-residence'. The school blog has a 'blog-roll' links list of other BMS blogs, and the site offers these comments re other BMS bloggers: " 'Serial blogger Chindu Sreedharan has started his teaching blog. .... Roman Gerodimos' Me Against the Keyboard. Roman (a lecturer in communication and journalism theory at Bournemouth) also has a website, Roman Reloaded. Steve Cross sets himself a tall order at Life, the media, everything.; James Rivington on the Oscars and nasal probes. Lucy Meakin who asks: "Do I have to have an opinion about EVERYTHING?" On BMS lecturer and journalist Chindu's blog The Accidental Academic, Chindu has his own 'BMS Bloggers' list: there's also How Soon Is Now? by Timmo, BA Communication student. 'Chindu' adds two new student blogs: Emma's Little Miss Sunshine and Kate's Place. (Bournemouth Media School is responsible for the management of Wessex Media Group, so there may be blogs springing from its members too.)
A blogger at work.Google Etc Search Results: A search on Google etc turns up, first, Exploring the Bournemouth Coast Path by Leigh Hatts (with updates to his useful guide-book of the same name); the Bournemouth Rugby Club Captain's Blog ; Bournemouth Elite - Your Bournemouth Guide by a Bournemouth blogger describing herself as Female /99 years old, a guide to weekend drinking, surfing, music events etc. (The blog title is evidently not an ironic reference to Isak Dinesen's' 'The Elite Of Bournemouth', but refers to "the finest Bournemouth companies.') There's one by local karate enthusiast Gordon Fong, on his travels and social life. A search for 'Dorset+blog' yields swanage view, Irritable Tri Syndrome (the author is an athlete), and Too Young to be Grumpy. It also yields the only 'adult' blog so far, Lady Linda's Intimate Black Book and Dorset Social Diary ... or how many wrongs help to make it right (a wealthy wronged wife takes her revenge, becoming the 'scarlet lady of the Dorset social scene' amidst a trail of expensive lingerie).
There are other local blogs I just happen to know about personally. Michael Hawkyard, co-founder of 4T2 Multimedia, does a blog on viral marketing as a corporate tie-in (a growing trend). There's one on the Mudeford beach-hut scene (with a bit of philosophy thrown in - staying in a beach-hut does that for you), by a long-standing local resident who has been publishing a newsmagazine down there every summer, and, again, is by someone who has (since 2001) his own tie-in website to which the blog is linked. And if you look hard, you might even find one I wrote in 2000-2001, before I'd heard the word blog: Bournemouth In The Media. (It's archived here.)
Including my other current local blog (South Central MediaScene) and the one you're reading, that's about fifty blogs altogether anyway, and I'm sure, given time, we could come up with fifty more.

Know-It-All … Know IT At All? - continued
... For the past nine years, the Labour government has been appointing managers to run public services on a business basis (the achievement targets being set by Labour), even when they know nothing about the sector in question - on the grounds managers don’t need subject-related competence, because they know the secret of successful business. Recently this has been increasingly applied to the FE sector, with colleges being told to improve their success or else face takeover. This particular story of interest here as it represents not simply the rise of the unqualified know-it-all manager but the ‘doesn’t-know-IT-at-all‘ figure as ignorant of modern technology as our recent prime ministers and royal family. It has its own built-in irony as a cautionary tale, for on the one hand Sugar’s fortune was made from computers, and on the other he is now facing losing his own post because has not kept up with an IT sector changing ever more rapidly. (Tim Berners-Lee in his interview says a new ‘Web Year’ now begins every 2.6 months.) Sugar's own product line, Amstrad computers, is increasingly out of date, a relic of 1970s and 80s thinking, and his own board is now trying to limit his power due to his expensive fixation on obsolete technology, in particular a device he has been promoting as an 'all-in-one communications centre' which will revolutionise the way modern households communicate with each other’.
Amstrad PC Sugar launched Amstrad in the 1970s with the Amstrad PCW, his attempt to take on the first US companies producing IBM-clone desktop computers, producing a cheaper version for the consumer (versus B2B) market. Lack of competition gave him early success, but the PCW format proved incompatible. (It even used differently-shaped - oblong - diskettes). Sugar next developed the compatible Amstrad PC, which accepted standard diskettes, but it was too little, too late.
In 2000, Sugar then tried to present himself again as the man with the answer to what consumers really want in home technology, with his next idea, which he claimed was the "product of the century" - the Amstrad e-m@iler. This was a £80 desktop phone / answerphone/ fax unit incorporating a simple emailing facility. The setup was locked into Amstrad's ad hoc pay-as-you-go ISP, Amserve, which was going to “cream off the call charge profits.” It came with a small monitor showed profit-making ads. (Why anyone would want to watch these is a mystery.)
Since rival ISPs provided free email, and mobiles were able to send similar messages for years before this, using SMS text technology (and were available on pay-as-you-go vouchers), neither the technology nor the price had any inherent appeal. If you contemplate for a moment that it was intended for people who don’t have or know how to use a computer, that it doesn’t do word processing or allow you to go on the Web, and adds an estimated £150 per quarter to your phone bill, you’ll understand what Sugar never will. Though he claimed it is "futureproof", it is a relic of 1970s-80s hybrid home-business ‘telecoms’ technology. (In May, BBC's Dead Ringers series did a spoof sketch on how Amstrad sells "the best technology 1974 has to offer.") Sugar’s Wikipedia entry says Amstrad's failure derived from sticking with cheaper but uncompetitive 8-bit computing technology in the mid-80s, when rival systems went for 16- or 32-bit processing power (with 64-bit now ‘cutting-edge’ standard).
In 2001, his CEO of 25 years resigned in protest. Despite continuing losses of several million per annum, Sugar stubbornly persisted with his ‘vision’ (‘The e-m@iler brings e-mail to the mass market’). Finally, under pressure, he announced in February the company would cease production of emailers. It should have been clear years ago there was never any future in it, and now it seems there may be no future for him as boss of his own company. As profits continue to slide, the board has begun demanding he relinquish his stranglehold over the corporation, and give up all but one of his posts.
If he does lose his Amstrad posts, it’s possible Sugar might accept the local challenge and come down to run B&P College. It’s an idea now backed by the government which made him a knight - as per their latest FE policy announcement that ‘Industry and public sector high-fliers will be encouraged to work in FE.'
If he does accept, the head of Amstrad will quickly discover the local college threw their PCWs in the skip in the early 1990s, with their Amstrad PCs following a few years later. And while his eyes might glitter at the prospect of unloading those unsold e-m@iler units by giving them away to enrolees instead of iPods, he would discover that even in underfunded colleges, the technology has moved on. (As an Independent profile notes, "Few of Sugar's wannabe apprentices could name any Amstrad products".) If Sir Alan does descend on B&P College accompanied by a TV crew, the result may be entertaining yobbo television for BBC license payers (as he sacks one manager after another for not meeting their impossible Labour-set targets), but scarcely a step forward for the college system to have 1980s techno-thinking applied to it. For the past 7 years, education has been increasingly based on electronic resources replacing both support staff and lecturers, and Sugar would soon discover he knows a lot less than the average computing student at college, ending up in a real-life apprentice role himself.

Exit Highbury, Exit Paragon, Exit Future, Enter Imagine -continued
... For Highbury, the crisis came when a planned sale of their 38 magazine titles to Future Publishing fell through. Future Publishing, based in Bath, began in 1985 in an old barn in Somerton. (The company’s rise to success is archived online here.) Commodore Magazine Future’s magazine-publishing empire launched with Amstrad Action. The Amstrad PCW gave way to the IBM-clone PC, but Future covered other early home-PC formats (Amiga Format and Commodore Format, Your Sinclair/ Your Spectrum) and then the two now-dominant operating systems with MacPublishing (supplanted by MacFormat in ‘93) and for Windows users, PC Answers, PC Format, PC Gamer etc. They then diversified into lifestyle magazines like Classic CD and Mountain Biking UK, and added a book-publishing arm. In the dot-com crash, is shares fell, but its classier magazines such as Computer Arts and .net were able to carry on. Now, if you google 'Highbury Publishing' the first result up is www.highburyleisure.co.uk - actually now the website of a division of Future Publishing.
.net magazine coverFuture was founded by Chris Anderson, one of those New-Age entrepreneurs who combines capitalist ventures with a high-tech vision of humanitarian progress. (The son of a missionary eye surgeon, he was raised in the Himalayas.) He sold Future to Pearson New Entertainment Europe for $80m, and in 1994 moved from Somerset to the US to co-found Imagine Media - which then re-acquired Future as a merged PLC in 1999, just in time to get caught in the dot-com bust. Anderson then switched his focus to a personal project, The Sapling Foundation, which owns the still-thriving TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) corporation, whose first event publicly unveiled the Macintosh and Sony CD. The ‘Imagine’ banner however would return to our local story in another guise. (Bear with me here.)
PC Answers coverFuture wanted to take over Bournemouth-based Highbury’s 38 titles, but the sale was blocked in mid-2005 by the Office of Fair Trading as potentially anti-competitive. A final attempted rescue package brokered by ex-Sun editor Kelvin McKenzie – then chairman of Highbury - also fell through. Highbury thus went into receivership around New Year’s, owing its banks £30 million, many its 160 staff discovering this when they found the doors at its St. Peter's Road HQ locked.
The building had been named Paragon House after Paragon Publishing Ltd, whose HQ it previously was. Paragon (not to be confused with the local IT training company) disappeared in a related earlier corporate sale, first to 3i (who brokered the next sale), then to Highbury Entertainment's parent (whose website has also now vanished), Highbury House Communications PLC. (With me so far?) Paragon, whose empire had expanded to over 30 magazines, closed down when sold to Highbury for €45m in 2003. Three former Paragon executives then set up Imagine Publishing in mid-2005, as “a creative free-thinking ideas-driven publishing environment … We are the future of magazines."
Most of Highbury’s titles will now carry on as most of the range has now been bought back Future's 1990s magazine empirefrom the receivers by ... Imagine Publishing. This Imagine seems to be completely separate from Chris Anderson’s. As it was set up by Paragon executives, this handover of Highbury magazine titles is, in the words of one trade-press report, merely “returning many of them to the original management team that sold them to Highbury in 2003.” Imagine also has its own similar in-house magazine portfolio.
The good news locally is of course that this Imagine Publishing is Bournemouth-based, on Richmond Hill. Some titles may no longer be viable, and a few like DVD World have already been sold off. And as usual when a publisher closes down, frontline staff and freelancers are left out in the cold as creditors. Ex-Highbury freelance writer Rob Buckley noted in his The Word Is Not Enough blog (12-3-06) a letter from their solicitors giving details of which creditors can expect to get their money in the immediate future ... the answer being of course the banks.
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