“Up a bit, then left!”: Day 0 and 1 at FutureEverything 2012

I moved to Manchester around the same time FutureEverything was on 4 years ago, when it was still called FutureSonic – and I never managed to figure out what exactly the festival was about (let alone pay for a ticket…), until last year where one of the academics at our department was invited to a panel discussion and I realised that it was probably something I’d be interested in. Luckily, this year they’ve had a few places for poor but proactive people like me, and I was fortunate (or poor and proactive enough) to get one of those places.

The festival officially launched on Wednesday evening, with a few drinks and some short welcome talks from FutureEverything organisers, our city council leader Sir Richard Leese (who, according to my neighbour, gave exactly the same talk as last year), the head of the Arts Council, and Birgitta Jonsdottir, an Icelandic politician, activist and geek, who will also be giving a keynote talk on day 2 of the conference.

I had to miss the morning talks on day 1 and arrived just in time for a presentation by the BBC on their digital coverage of the London 2012 Olympics. While I had not been particularly interested in the Olympics (except for the opening ceremonies – I just love the excessiveness of Olympic opening ceremonies!), knowing that there was some technology and possibly even data (loads of semantic web technology, metadata and even tagged videos) to play around with, especially during the Young Rewired State week which happens to be around the same time as the Olympics, sounded very tempting. The only downer came after the talk when I was told that the data were indeed accessible and could be used, hacked, and mashed by anyone, however, publishing the results of such a hack  might not be possible due to copyrights held on the data. I’m hoping to get some more information about the situation from the beebs.

The post-lunch sessions I attended where themed around personal data, identity, and security, which was both interesting and worrying. I am fully aware that my data is constantly being used, tracked, and analysed (after years of refusal I caved and got a Nectar card, which allows me to access my stats online and see when I shopped for how much at which Sainsbury’s… so if they haven’t yet found out that I’m a 20-something female with erratic eating habits who bakes a lot, they will know now), and avoid using social media in a personal capacity. You won’t find drunky pictures of me on Facebook, I’m afraid. Imagining, however, how insurance companies use personal data on, for example, shopping habits to estimate your life expectancy (Wall Street Journal article here) makes me feel a little uncomfortable. Next on for a short talk was Jeremy Newman, who introduced a strategy for preventing identity fraud: By building up a network of trust, where the identity of a person is confirmed by the people who know them and “vouch” for them by identifying their picture. Well. Nice idea, but it seems to have way too many holes (what stops me from using someone else’s name and picture to assume their identity? How can blind people vouch for others if they can’t see the pictures? Do I really want to go through the process of having other people verify my identify whenever I change my appearance?) that might need addressing first.

The last session I attended was part of the ongoing “Reuse and Replicate” talks and workshops, with some great insight into the MDDA’s wireless sensor network project that will monitor environmental factors along the Oxford Road Corridor. Back home, I tuned into I’d Hide You, a live online / real life game in which people with cameras mounted on helmets run around the Northern Quarter trying to “snap” each other with cameras, while the spectators can give them directions via a live-chat. I was pretty impressed by the quality of the game (real-time live video streaming of people moving, reading out the messages we sent them), and the players were all fun (“I might just go for a little drink here…”), but it felt like there was something missing – an actual goal. I’d love to see the concept used for a treasure hunt or a capture the flag type game, but simply running around the block and artificially creating clashes seemed a little pointless after a bit. Oh, and they should totally add point & click features – like “Player 1, read… poster! Take… book. Use… book…with…sausage.”, that kind of stuff. Having said that, they will be playing all weekend, so I’m quite looking forward to a live video-stream of the Northern Quarter on Friday and Saturday night.

I’ll report back with more FutureEverything funsies soon.

Futures: Teaching Kids How to Code @ Hack To The Future

When I’m not busy eating, ranting, or aimlessly writing Python scripts, I spend quite a lot of time trying to promote science and technology to the general public with Manchester Girl Geeks. I was invited to give a talk at Hack To The Future in February, a hack day aimed at teens, with the goal of getting them more interested in technology and programming. The BBC Learning team was there and filmed a short interview with me, of which a snippet even made it into this clip. I’m still waiting for the one moment where I give an interview and don’t look like I just rolled out of bed after a particularly heavy night out. On that note:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/emp/external/player.swf