I wasn’t expecting BCB6 to be like it was. What I understood was that anyone could talk, what I didn’t realise was that if I didn’t talk it would feel like a cop out.
There’s a board in the reception area with a grid of all the rooms and all the time slots. Anyone that wants to can stick up a card with a subject for a room, with each session lasting 30 minutes. It could be anything, one person had a card up saying “Come and hit me. This is not a metaphor, I have boxing gloves” . Another person did a test of a board game they were designing (“Peacehaven the board game” – Peacehaven is one the least nice parts of Brighton).
The first thing I went to was a workshop on looking after your mac. It’s only now that I write that down that I realise how twatty that could sound. It was very helpful though. I might upgrade to an SSD, in case you were wondering – it’s the best upgrade you can do. X Code loads in three seconds.
Standout talks came from James Hugman on revolutions and the web and Jim Purbrick on games.
I think everyone accepts that calling the various bouts of civil unrest that have occurred recently ‘Twitter’ or ‘Facebook’ revolutions was hyperbole. As James Hugman proved, that doesn’t mean there isn’t some interesting stuff to say about tech and politics. He started his talk by explaining an encryption service aimed at activists called Rubber Hose. It’s designed so that it can be decrypted in multiple different ways, preventing an unintended recipient from knowing if they have the original message. It’s called Rubber Hose because if an activist is tortured to reveal their password they can give the one that decrypts the data into an innocuous message. Here’s the thing that really surprised me – Rubber Hose was programmed by Julian Assange. He’s a nerd!
Other gems included an image of a manual called “How to protest intelligently”. On the front page the instructions read (in Arabic and English) “Do not spread through Facebook or Twitter”, because the publishers knew the government was monitoring social networks.
In economically crippled Spain, tenants who get eviction notices have taken to using the web to summon up flash mobs when the bailiffs arrive. Faced with the prospect of having to remove 100 people from a house they police usually advise the bailiffs to give up.
Finally, I was very interested to hear that the Police in the UK are struggling to get the data they want to arrest rioters. Although RIM (makers of Blackberry devices) have handed over the text of all the messages sent, they have not passed on all of the associated meta data, which seems to have a different legal status.
No where in the talk did James Hugman try to convince us that the Internet was about to unlock a Utopian Global Democracy, and the discussion covered topics such the use of tools intended for activists by criminals and the use of the web to track dissidents. Every time a quesiton was asked and the James Hugman said ‘I don’t know’ my admiration for him increased. He simply presented some interesting facts without trying to try to force a point of view on us.
If the topic of the web and democracy has been bedevilled by bullshit, then the topic of “gamification” has had it even worse. However, Jim Purbrick, who used to work on Second Life, clearly drew on a deep affection for games and long experience to support his views – quite the opposite of the band-wagon-jumping phonies who litter the Internet with blogs about Gamification. There’s a substantial literature around games which I’d love to check out, including the economist Edward Castranova and MMO pioneer Richard Bartle, who described online games as giving users a opportunity to learn more about themselves by going on a “hero’s quest”. This lead to my favourite quote of the conference, when Jim Purbrick, who speaks in a manner very similar to Mark Kermode, blithely remarked that “a hero’s quest is obviously the canonical meta-story”.
I was particularly interested in the Bernard Suits definition of a game as “voluntary effort to overcome unnecessary obstacles”. This puts an interesting perspective on the idea that we might use game mechanics in areas such as helping people reduce energy consumption or improving eduction – concepts which are often mooted. It seems to make sense to me that as soon as a game is about overcoming a necessary obstacle then it’s no longer a game.
At no point the the word game have the suffix ‘ification’ added to it. Enough said.
Then it was my turn to talk. I wasn’t expecting to, so I only had about an hour to put my talk on Philosophy and Technology together. Although my subject was something I’ve been thinking about for ages I found it very hard to communicate. However, it resulted in an interesting debate, loosely in the same vicinity as the point I was try to express. There are so many well known philosophical debates that it’s quite hard to steer around them, in my case we ended up talking about the ethics of genetic engineering, which wasn’t really what I was trying to get at.
Trying to articulate your thoughts out loud is a real insight. I discovered that having what you think is an interesting idea in your head and being able to transfer that idea to other people are two very different things.
Of the four geek events I’ve blogged about so far, Bar Camp Brighton has been the most fun. It runs over the whole weekend, I felt that just going on the Saturday was enough for me – although I imagine the Sunday has quite a different atmosphere.
When I first arrived and told someone that I wasn’t intending to speak they told me about their pancake philosophy. When you cook pancakes the first one is always rubbish, but the following ones get better and better – the same is true of speaking in public. So I’m pleased I’ve just tossed my first dud, and looking forward to having another go.Google+