November 14, 2010

Thoughts on Conferences

I'm back from an excellent day yesterday at Interesting North yet I'm feeling strangely disappointed.

Interesting North

It's not a reflection on the event itself - that's what's so strange about it. IntNorth was one of the most enjoyable conferences I've attended:

A gorgeous setting. The bar set high with the polish and smooth-running that Tim and his team achieved. The typically "Interesting" variety of topics, all lovingly presented by people obviously passionate about their subject. A lovely lunch - popping over to the cathedral for soup and bread in support of a local charity was a great idea and meant we could meet more people rather than scatter across the city. I haven't seen that done at a tech/geek conference before and frankly it's something that should be done more frequently.

Conference Format

So. If it was such a fabulous conference, which it was, why was I left wanting more?

I think the problem is with the conference format. My discontent has been building over the past few events that I've attended. The whole broadcast dynamic of one person imparting knowledge or ideas to the audience feels at odds with the more egalitarian, discursive world of blogs and twitter.

Barcamps are a step in the right direction, but they just open up the speaker slots - they don't change the basic structure.

In theory there's nothing to stop me proposing a discussion or a debate or something similar for a barcamp session, but the trouble with that is that I (and I suspect many others) need to let ideas and arguments gestate for a while before I'm comfortable sharing them.

I had a flavour of this at the Arduino DevCamp earlier in the year. Rather than present, I held a session discussing favourite libraries. Some useful info came out of it, but I think a lack of preparation all round (me in thinking about how to kick the session off, and other participants because the idea was new to them) made it a bit of damp squib.


Another problem with the conference format is the lack of time available to talk to other attendees. Not networking in the "how to get ahead sense", hence the quotation-marks round it in the heading, but meeting new people, chatting to old friends, talking about what you're all experiencing... that sort of thing.

There were a raft of people at IntNorth with whom I wanted to catch up, but just got to say a passing "hello" to. I don't, personally, want longer breaks - I'd prefer more of them. I find it really hard to end a conversation - as often because they're so interesting as because they're boring - so externally enforced breaks in the breaks would be good too.

There's also the inverse problem of starting conversations if I don't know anybody. Short breaks would help there too as there's less time to stand on your own like a lemon. Maybe there are more ways - which aren't the enforced fun of networking games - to help break the ice?


Lots of questions. Any answers?

Not yet. Not really. In the best blogging tradition, this is me writing stuff down to help my brain process it, and to see if it resonates with anyone else. However, I wonder if blogging itself could be part of the solution.

So, to recap: broadcast dynamic... bad; meeting lots of people... good; new ideas... good; no time to prepare... bad; mixing people up... good.

The Long Conference

Blogging, in one of its forms, can be a debate held across space and time. I write something on my blog; you link to it from yours and either expand upon it or argue against it; I can respond, others can join in.

What if we did some of that and then met up in person to continue the discussions? That would provide for the engagement and preparation of everyone beforehand, and because the discussions are stretched either side of the meeting event it would be a bit of a long conference.

In addition to getting your ticket, you'd have to have published a blog post on one of the conference themes beforehand. There'd be no judging of the quality of your writing or of your ideas - it's just to prove that you've spent some time thinking about it. No blog post, no admittance to the conference.

Some of the conference topics would be announced at the same time as the conference dates, and people would be able to suggest additional topics and themes. A conference committee would decide which additional ideas were accepted and add them to the proceedings.

The blog posts around the conference would be aggregated onto the conference website, so people could engage with the topics beforehand, and the committee would select a list of speakers from all of the blog posts. At the conference itself, there'd be short talks from the chosen speakers to act as starting points for an ensuing discussion. After each talk/discussion session there'd be a break to either let people continue debating, or drift off to other things.

There'd only be room for two or three sessions in each track in a day, but there'd be space for people to commandeer a room for a longer session if need be. The idea is to focus on connections between people and quality rather than quantity.

Right. There are holes in this that I could drive a bus through, but it's getting long enough already, and more importantly, I've finished my pot of tea. So I'll leave it there for now.

What do you think? Is there a germ of something interesting here? Would you want to come along if I organised it? Please leave comments, blog about it, or tweet your thoughts. I'll be watching the Internet for items tagged with #longconf.


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November 10, 2010

links for 2010-11-10

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November 09, 2010

Social Media Cafe Liverpool

The Wednesday before last was the third Social Media Cafe Liverpool event. The cafes are an evening event for anyone interested in using these new tools like blogging and Twitter, and feature a couple of talks followed by a chance to discuss the talks or just have a chat over a drink or two.

The most recent was billed as "The Art One", because the Biennial season is upon us, and the event was held in the Biennial visitor centre on Renshaw Street (the old Rapid DIY store). There were talks from Anthony Pickthall (head of marketing and comms for Biennial), Peter Goodbody of the FAB Collective and finally Adeyinka Olushonde demonstrated the Liverpool arts and cultural organisations map before we repaired to the lovely Dispensary across the road for beers and conversation.

It's really nice to see SMC Liv finding its groove and growing with each event. This event was standing room only and it's attracting a whole new group of people from the local community - there's a reasonable crossover with the Ignite Liverpool crowd, but it's tapped into some new groups too. I must admit I didn't really see the point in having a Social Media Cafe event, as I figured it would just be another talking shop for the usual suspects. Thankfully Neil, Ella and Stu thought differently and I'm delighted to be proved wrong.

There are more in-depth reviews over on the Liverpool Daily Post Creative site, Feeling Listless and The Outsider.


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links for 2010-11-09

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November 08, 2010

Creative Regeneration Handbook for Politicians

Alex has written a superlative blog post about the recent Tech City announcements. Go and read it.

She sums up most of the problems with government interventions in regenerating or encouraging creative digital technologies. In the Tech City case it's the national government latching onto something that has been growing for a few years (Silicon Roundabout), but there are similarities with what the NWDA and local councils have been doing in here in the north-west.

It's why I think the Innovation Park and Media City UK are unlikely to amount to anything much, but also why I'm on the fence about the Baltic Triangle redevelopment and quietly optimistic about Liverpool itself.

Our office space is a smidge over £100/month and could be less if we had another person sharing the office, for which there's plenty of room. We're in the heart of the Ropewalks, which is where the creatives really are, regardless of where the council would like to corral us. Out of the office window I can see the Kazimier and Wolstenholme Projects. The Biennial is all around us, particularly the Independents strand; on my ten minute by foot commute, I can pass over half-a-dozen Biennial venues.

For sustenance there are a plethora of independent options: Bold St. Coffee, Leaf Tea Shop and Brew Tea Bar providing caffeine; the Egg, the Italian Club, Mello Mello, the Shipping Forecast for something more substantial or a beer.

There's still lots to do, but it's an interesting place to be. I'm looking forward to helping it develop over the coming years.


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November 07, 2010

Mo' Facial Hair

Despite sideburns being a pretty permanent fixture of my appearance for my entire adult life, I've never sported any facial hair beyond a few days-worth of stubble. I've never been all that bothered one way or the other about growing a beard or a moustache. I've gone without shaving for a few days from time to time out of curiosity, but never been curious enough to persist through the unkempt look and itchy annoyance.

Towards the end of Movember last year, I pondered the idea again, but it seemed a waste not to take part and have my curiosity at least be of some benefit.

Movember? It's an annual charity drive to raise awareness and funds for research into prostate cancer. As the Movember about page states:

"Movember challenges men to change their appearance and the face of men’s health by growing a moustache. The rules are simple, start Movember 1st clean shaven and then grow a moustache for the entire month. The moustache becomes the ribbon for men’s health, the means by which awareness and funds are raised for cancers that affect men. Much like the commitment to run or walk for charity, the men of Movember commit to growing a moustache for 30 days."

So, although I'm a bit late in writing about it here, I wasn't late with joining the fun. I spent last week looking increasingly stubbly, and yesterday there was enough growth that I could have a shave and fashion it into what turned out to be a slightly lop-sided, rather threadbare moustache.

The next question is what kind of moustache to grow? If you look at the gallery over in the Movember Lodge (click on the picture frame on the desk on the left to bring it up) there are a fair few possibilities. At present, mine is somewhere between "the rockstar" and "the trucker", but "the business man" is also a possibility.

If you want to influence the 'tache that I finish the month with, you'll have to make a donation. You can donate over on my MoSpace page, and include your suggestion in the comments.


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November 06, 2010

links for 2010-11-06

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November 04, 2010

links for 2010-11-04

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November 02, 2010

Save the Banksy Rat

My morning commute takes me past the old Whitehouse pub on the corner of Berry Street and Duke Street. I suspect most people wouldn't recognise it by name, but if I say that it's the Banksy pub in Liverpool then I think many more people would know what I was talking about. Here's a picture of it...

Banksy's house rat

It's a rather run-down building, but the Banksy rat livens up what would otherwise be a fairly bland and ordinary block.

The pub came up for auction a few months back, which made the BBC news website - which claimed it was up for £495,000 but could go higher. It actually sold for £114,000, from a guide price of £70-80,000 and just afterwards this article in the Liverpool Echo said:

"[The new owners] said they were keen to keep the Banksy rat, renovation work permitting.The 200-year-old pub is one of the city’s best known landmarks and is Grade II listed."

Since then nothing much seems to have happened. Scaffolding went up and lots of refurbishment work took place on the adjacent building on Berry Street, but I don't know if that's related or not. Then today I spotted some planning application notices fastened to the lampposts outside the pub. There seem to be two (rather similar) planning applications in 10F/1494 and 10L/1722.

The Related Documents section seems the most interesting, with diagrams of the changes being proposed and the work to be done. The headline for the application is that it's a change of use from a pub to a shop with two flats above. I'm not convinced that "there is great demand for convenience stores with alcohol sales and for living accommodation in the City Centre", but that's nothing of any real import.

The big question-mark is over what happens to the exterior. It seems very strange (to me at least) that there's no mention of the Banksy in any of the documents that I've looked through. There is mention of all the windows being replaced (which would remove most of the bottom half of the rat) and existing "render" to be removed from front and side elevations and rerendered with painted finish (their "s on "render") which would remove the rat's head and shoulders.

I also spotted a Venmore's auction board up on the door, and it's listed in their November catalogue with a guide price of £175,000 and "Famous Banksy Graffiti Art on Building" written below the photo in the "Look out for..." section. It's even referred to as "Banksy Building".

It seems strange to me that something which features so prominently in the auction listing gets no mention in the planning application. If I was being cynical I'd think they were trying to sneak through a planning application to allow the artwork to be removed (as it no doubt makes it trickier to refurbish the building) to make the site more attractive in the new auction.

The closing date for comments on the planning application is the 15th November 2010, and you can submit you comments here and also over here.

Update: Hakim phoned the planning office this morning to clarify a couple of things. I wasn't sure if comments from people who live a way from the site would be considered, but it turns out they will be, so everyone and anyone can add comments. More importantly, the reason there are two seemingly identical applications is that one is for "consent" (presumably because it's a listed building?) and comments should be left on both applications. If you've already left a comment on one, please post one to the other application (and if you followed the link from here then this will be the one you haven't done yet.


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