Back from my Holiday in the midwest

Me and Birch geeking out

So I'm finally back from my holidays. You can tell your holiday is over when your back on the train going to work again. My Jetlag is pretty bad because I've been having really problems getting to sleep and staying a sleep. In my usual way, if I'm not able to sleep for a while, I will get up and do something. Do something last night was sorting out my Holiday photos on Flickr and locally on my network. Believe it or not I actually took over 800 photos and about 20 movies.

On the technology side, lots of the shots were done with my SPV M600 Cameraphone which actually kicks out some quite amazing quality pictures during the daytime. At night its not so good. My old Digital Camera the Nikon 3400 did a great job but I found it painful to pull it out of the case and select the right mode. My new purchase the Sanyo VPC-C6 starts up in a matter of seconds and delivered even better quality shots.

Yes I did finally buy the Sanyo VPC-C6 Camcorder/Camera. Its got a great 6meg pixel sensor but I've not quite worked out all the settings yet because i'm getting tons of blurry shots in low light. I also did buy the High Defination version of the camera but it doesn't quite work as expected. Its a long story…keeping it short. I bidded for the high def version on and thought I was getting a great deal when I won an auction by circuit city returns (trading circuit) but 12 hours later found out it didn't actually record anything through this forum which linked to the one I won. Yeah you can imagine, I couldn't sleep without thinking about the nightmare which I had bought. I'm currently going through the process of getting my money back in return for the camera minus a restocking fee. This is my only ebay bad story to date however.

Some more highlights of my holiday include going clubbing in Minneapolis again. That place gets more and more european everytime I see it. The Trams are now working and people walk a lot when out and about. The No guns past this point signs are now gone from all the doors which is a good thing, and its honestly very green and beautiful during the summer. I also saw a different side of Milwaukee that I've seen before but I still don't like it as much as Minneapolis. Madison was also cool but I'm still not a big fan althought the people are super friendly compared to elsewhere. Being in De Forrest just outside of Madison was suprisingly nice and relaxing but I missed the inner city living which I'm use to very quickly. Chicago was cool and we hooked up with Sarahs Friend like most of the cities and towns we went to around the midwest. But I'm still not feeling Chicago compared to other cities. At first I thought it was its size and urban spawl but actually its something else because London is bigger. I think this picture maybe sums it up nicely. Another highlight was having icecream freshly made from Cold stone icecream in north Chicago. It was, I kid you not the best icecream I've ever had!

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Geek and Geekhag podcast number ten – America

Here's a rough podcast me and Sarah did while driving to Minneapolis on the highway. I've cleaned it up as much as I can using Audacity but theres little we can do about the car noise and the laptop internal microphone. For now, its best not to link directly to the mpeg3 file because I will move it to when I get back online.

The subject for the podcast is that old chestnut, America or the states. We talk about oil prices, cars and the people. Enjoy…

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Which kind of Camcorder should I go for?

So I've now got the chance to get a camcorder of my own. The exchange rate for British pounds is great compared to the American dollar. So its natrual to go out get everything here, including some stuff which I wouldn't normally consider. Hence the Camcorder.

So it looks like I got 4 main choices. I've rulied out HDV cams because there still out of my price range and Hi8 is far too large and on its way out.

  1. DV Cam
  2. DVD Cam
  3. HDD Cam
  4. Mpeg4 Cam

I like DV Cam because I know the quality will always be there, plus they all have Firewire for quick capturing to the computer but I hate those tiny DV tapes. DVD cam looks great but I'm unsure its easy to get the footage off this disc for re-editing on a normal desktop computer. I'm also not sure about the price of these 8cm DVD discs and how much they store. I believe 1.3gig discs will hold about 30mins? HDD Cam looks great, no tapes, firewire support and no worries about storage. They seem to be between 20-30gig and that seems to store about 4-5 hours of standard DV 25 footage. There usually a little more expensive but maybe worth it in the end. Then last of the bunch is Mpeg4 camera which store there footage to SD or Memory Stick using Mpeg4 instead of Mpeg2. This means the quality won't quite be there but you can fit a couple of hours on a 1gig SD card (which costs 40 dollars here at the moment). The thing I'm unsure about is how easy it is to edit mpeg4? To be honest the lure of using SD/MMC is very strong because everything including my phone, laptop and ipaq supports SD and MMC.

So although I may seem to be ruling out the others, I'm not but I do like these Mpeg4 camcorders. I've had my eye on the Sanyo Xacti range for about a year and bit now. But the only one which seems to be available at Circuit City at the moment is the 6megapixal monster VPC-C6 which weights in at 549 dollars, its almost as expensive as the 20gig HDD Camcorders. If I could find the 5megapixal version I would be more happy. However whats even more tempting is the HDTV version, which I've not seen anywhere yet.

So if you were in my poistion what would you seek and buy?

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Holiday time in the midwest

Minneapolis Skyline

Yes its that time again, time for me and Sarah to visit the in-laws, see old friends, sample mexican food and stock up on gadgets. I'll be spinning around Chicago, Madison, Racine, Minneapolis/St Paul, etc for the next few weeks. So my blogging will be low due to the cost of roaming GPRS/EDGE in America. But fear not, there will be lots of pictures on my Flickr stream when I get a Wireless connection. One of the best things about going to the midwest is going clubbing in Minneapolis, seriously its like clubbing in a more european city. Can't wait to try it out during a less cold season.

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Diggnation in London?

Diggnation 45 at E3

So me and Sarah were watching Diggnation episode 44 and at the end there was a email from a guy called Martin in York (england) who asked if the guys were coming to England any time soon? At this point Alex and Kevin start talking about coming to London… Now its no real secret that me and Katy have been talking to the guys about coming to London for a geekdinner but this was a suprise for even me. I've got the whole 1min (3meg) clip on my server in Xvid and Divx formats.

So if you would like to show your support for the Diggnation guys to come to London, do email them on

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London geekdinner’s the most popular geekdinners?

London geekdinner top of flickr clusters

I spent a lot of time on Flickr this week, something to do with our BBC awayday presentation. Anyway I was amazed at the quality and quantity of photos. The longtail effect can easily be witnessed on Flickr. But something struck me while looking for pictures of geeks. First if you do search for the tag geek in the cluster format, you will notice Londongeekdinner is 3rd on the right and theres a selection of pictures from the last few dinners. But also if you search for geekdinner, London is 1st. So if you do the maths, according to Flickr's engine. London has the most popular geekdinners in the world?

Looking at Google, the same is also the case. Amsterdam gets a mention at 3rd spot and Denmark gets 5th place. Although Google still thinks I'm searching for gardiner. Google's blog search for geekdinner echo's pretty much what the regular search has. Theres actually quite a few pointers to this blog in the top 10 list. What I find funny at the moment is the lack of American geekdinners, so I thought I'd try searching in Technorati. And believe it or not, only a single geekdinner from north america came up in the top 20 results. The Sussex geekdinner came up first with talk about Amsterdam and other European countries not far behind that. Singapore was also mentioned a few times, which is great to see.

So it looks like London is the popular geekdinner destination right now. I'm expecting this will contuine with some of the great events being aranged in June by myself and July/August by Sarah Blow of Girlgeekdinners. Oh on a side point if you try searching for girl geekdinner in anything, you always find links back to the London Girl geekdinners. There doesn't seem to be any other part of the world doing girl geekdinners.

Talking about Geekdinners the interviews from the last geekdinner are now up on There all in Xvid format for now, but licenced under a share-a-like licence so your welcome to re-encode them.

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The scene finished for now

End of the scene

So the scene just ended on episode 20. Looking back its got slowly worst and worst. Don't get me wrong, its ok but the time between episodes and the general lack of speed though out the whole thing made it difficult to follow and enjoy. I stuck with it and felt very let down by the lack of direction once the main event (the group almost getting busted) happened. There were some slight cliff hangers afterwards but not enough to make you go back.

Anyhow there working on the scene 2.0 which should be out in 6 weeks now. Its the same format but different characters and plot. Hopefully they can think a little more about how the whole thing hangs together rather than throwing more complexty in. The scene should also really be shot in a higher resoultion video, so they can fit more on the screen. At the moment the chat windows use up a quarter of the screen and when talking to more than 2 people things get very clutered.

I'm being pretty harsh on this pretty niche tech soap, mainly because theres little to compare it to, except what you see on standard broadcast TV. I mean don't get me wrong, its actually not that bad otherwise I won't watch it at all. I quite like the real style of looking at mainly a computer screen, its a welcome change from the crazy graphics you get in movies and some dramas. End of the day, I'll check out the new series and if its not a big step forward from the old series, I'll spend my time doing something else. I've already dropped other internet soaps for there lack of direction and quality.

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Gimpshop beta, I love it

Gimpshop in action

For some reason I just can't get on with GIMP (the GPL Photoshop). Its weirdly layed out and if your use to Photoshop its simply a nightmare. Its funny because I've not used Photoshop seriously for maybe 4 years but these habits die hard. I've managed to get on with Illustrators GPL replace Inkscape no problem but GIMP? no even close.

So I remembered I had tagged this project called gimpshop and decided to go try it out. Although its still in Beta, I was highly impressed. I mean although its just (well its never that simple, when working with someone elses code) moving around some of the options and finally adding a backdrop. I've been able to work with it and design things much quicker than before.

I did look around for other opensource and gpl photoshop applications but besides a range of Japanese apps like Canvas 4, I was pretty much stuck with Gimp.

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We media wrap up and coverage

So We Media 2006 has finally closed its doors and a lot of tension has died down now. This gives me a chance to go over some of the low and highs of the conference

A couple of highs to get us started, Suw Charmans talk at the We Media Fringe event in which she explains why We Media 2006 sucked filmed by James Cox. Robin for setting up the Fringe event with help from a couple other people. Kevin Anderson for staying true to himself and pointing out this classic from Helen Boaden I want to know who checks the bloggers… There is something very tricky or even dangerious about writing about people who you work with or for but in my honest opinion Kevin did a great job on this.

Some lows now. Although the We media fringe event was in full swing by the time I got there (7:30pm) and had attracted quite a few people, it seemed to lack the tightness of a well planned event. I actually left half way through because I needed to get something to eat. But even then I would have left pretty soon anyway. Nico Macdonald does a good job explaining where things started to go wrong. But lets not get ahead of ourselves here. The biggest fundimental low was the lack of conversation in the we media conference its self. Not only did it lack conversation but it also stuck up an even larger wall between the mainstream and pro-amatures (bloggers, etc). I won't even go over this issue again, because honestly Suw has this so covered in her post Where's the we in WeMedia? I have to dig out a couple of quotes.

The lack of understanding of blogs, bloggers and participatory media shown was astonishing, and the false dichotomy of journalists vs. bloggers was emphasised by the speakers throughout the day. It was very disappointing indeed, because I had hoped that we had moved beyond these sorts of non-issues and into the real substance of when, why and how you begin participatory media projects.

Now although I'm on tricky ground here, I wanted to at least put up the point Suw makes about the digital assassins section of Wemedia.

And a new level of embarrassment. Halfway through the day, the BBC trotted out 25 'digital assassins', primarily young people (I think to show that they were hip wiv da yoof) who were brought in to talk to the attendees and give them the opportunity to interact with a real live blogger. Oh, please. Could that have been any more condescending.

It reminded me of a story a friend of mine told me about a comedy show that he went to once in Chicago, where one of the comedians asked the audience, 'Who's never met a gay man before?' and then went up and introduced himself to whomever raised their hand. It felt a bit like the BBC were saying 'Who's never met a blogger before?' and then helpfully provided some specimens for attendees to look at. Cringeworthy.

My experience of being a digital assassin was very bad due to there being no BBC facilitator on the table, a group of guys from Qualcomm who didn't seem that interested in anything I had to say and a generally very quiet bunch of suited men around the table. Others like Rachel Clarkes seems to be much better. But before I go on, I have to say thanks to the guys who arranged the section and did a good job of getting us all there on time. But back to the table with the Qualcomm guys. One of the things which strikes directly with my thinking is this from Suw

All in all, the day was very insular and introspective, with a lot of people appearing to think that they are doing very well, thankyouverymuch, without the input of anyone who knows what they're talking about.

The Qualcomm guys asked me if I knew who they were and at that point I should have realised what was coming really. So I said yes, and replied with you guys build that brew platform for mobile phones right? One of them pipe up and says, yes and said very happily So our job is done, because you've hear of us and brew. I was seriously dumb founded and proceded to say the only reason why I had heard of Brew, was because it failed where Java/MDIP succeded. And honestly they really did not care about that, they seemed to think just because I had heard of it for good or bad reasons was enough. While on the subject of questioning at Table 13, some more classics. I was asked about my blog and if I had advertising on it? My answer of no, came to shock them. Why would you spend some much time writing if your not going to get paid for it? I said about it being my authentic voice and talked about social capital but they were really struggling to understand any of it. I guess these things simply don't translate to the business world easily. You can imagine the questions I got when geekdinner was mentioned by myself. One of the questions was something like Why would anyone go to a social gathering of people in London? I think by then, I had all but given up. However their minds changed ever so quickly when Rachel Clarke stood up and started talking about Geekdinner on another table. Me and Sarah Blow owe her one for that.

So getting back to higher level idea of the conference. I totally missed thursday at Retuers for personal reasons but heard things didn't get much better with the change of venue. Sara at work told me that she had gone over there and was equally amazed as Lisa Goldman, that a session about the Middle east only included Arab men.

During the lunch break at today's We Media conference, I discovered that the first post-prandial panel was going to be about media in the Middle East. I happened to be talking to a Persian-British woman journalist, who is half Jewish and half Muslim, at the time; when we discovered that the panelists were all male Arab journalists in their fifties, we looked at each other and rolled our eyes.

And honestly you can't make this up…

The panelists included Rami Khoury, the editor of the Lebanese Daily Star; Jihad Ali Ballout, Director of Al Arabiya's corporate communications; Saleh Ngem of BBC's Arabic service; and from Iraq by satellite Zuhair Al-Jezairy of Aswat Al Iraq.

None of them had heard of blogs. None of them was interested in the fact that Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian, Egyptian, Lebanese and Saudi bloggers are writing and talking to and about each other and, linking to one another. None of them was interested to learn that quite a few of us are discovering that the Middle Eastern media is doing a pretty crappy job of getting beyond the cliches, the slogans and the dogma, and that we made that discovery through blogs.

On the plus side I heard very good things about Dave Sifrys session and Rachel from North London's session. From Rachels own blog, you can't help but get a little emotional about how she got into blogging.

This blog is dedicated to the victims of all bomb attacks. It's also dedicated to two men who changed my life when they told me I was a writer and must keep writing

This is the real side of We media, the people whos lives are changed forever. Sometimes Mainstream media and even some bloggers forget this. I'll put up my own hands and say I sometimes forget this even. There are real people behind the stories and they would like us all to know them a little better that we do right now. During the time I was listening and attending We media 2006, I didn't hear much in the way of an authentic conversation. Its such a shame because there is great opptunity on both sides if we stop pointing fingers and just start talking. Mainstream media needs us and in turn we do need them too. I guess that is actually what the word we in we media is all about.

Oh by the way, there's a Global party at 7pm this Sunday (7th May 2006).

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BA site compromised, again?

British Airways

From Slashdot yesterday, Identity Theft from Tossed Airline Boarding pass?

The Guardian newspaper has a great story about how the gathering of information for anti-terrorist passenger screening databases allowed a reporter and security guru Adam Laurie to lay the groundwork for stealing the identity of a business traveller by using his discarded boarding-pass stub. From the article: We logged on to the BA website, bought a ticket in Broers name and then, using the frequent flyer number on his boarding pass stub, without typing in a password, were given full access to all his personal details – including his passport number, the date it expired, his nationality (he is Dutch, living in the UK) and his date of birth. The system even allowed us to change the information.

So my take on it is, maybe this story is not quite what its cracked up to be. According to many Slashdotters there calling bullshit. But in the past I've also seen how easy it is to exploit BA's online system. I'm actually sure I've emailed BA over 2 years ago and maybe blogged it a while ago. See the problem I had was that my password timed out and I needed to get a eticket for the return journey. So I logged in as Sarah who had a different account then changed a few things in the URL and bingo I was able to see my account details including address, passport number, etc. Now from what I remember I couldn't get the password, but I could change it (which I did). I do remember the membership number, firstname, lastname and email address was all I needed to change the account.

I remember being so shocked at the lack of security and privicy that I tried to delete my account once I got back to the UK. I know for sure I told quite a few people about this flaw but can't quite remember exactly who. Honestly the problem seems to be when your already logged in accessing someone elses account other than your own. Anyway, I guess I should go and see if I can get my old details without a password… Hopefully some mainstream attention like this will force BA to recheck there site and maybe solve the flaw I identified all that time ago.

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Geek and Geekhag podcast number 9 – Hate crimes and We Media

Digital Assassins

Me and Sarah discuss a few things in this 1 hour podcast. I'm hoping to expand on these subjects in further entries but for now here's the basic outline.

So first up me and Sarah recieved some Racist and Homophobic propaganda/mail yesterday (3rd May), you can catch the complete image here and close up's here. Sarahs done a really good job of covering this one in the podcast and her blog entry so I'll simply point there instead.

Then we talk about the We Media and We Media Fringe events. I spend quite a lot of time on the digital assassins section of the event and I'll write up a full account of my experience soon. Oh by the way don't miss Suw's Why We Media sucked talk recored by James Cox. James also filmed a whole load of other really interesting stuff before the Digital Assassins session and afterwards at the Wemedia fringe event.

Then finally we finish with Sarah talking about her painful experience with Plaxo and we touch on Calendaring. I expect Calendaring will pop up again in the next podcast because theres tons to be said about this.

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Stephen Colbert, the court jester in the know

If looks could kill

If you've not seen Stephen Colbert at The White House Correspondents’ Association event, stop and go and check it out. Sarah downloaded it on Sunday and it came down really quickly over the torrent network. But you can also check it out on YouTube, part 1, 2 and 3. We watched the whole event from start to finish including the stuff missing from youtube (says it all really, not good enough to get onto youtube maybe?). So generally the whole thing about the old place where the press correspondents currently report from really sucked and went on too long, I wanted to say give it up the joke is so dead now. Then Bush did his thinking Bush and just Bush routine. It was ok, but to be honest it got long in the tooth again really quickly and was it only me or was Bush's timing really bad. Don't get me wrong I know he's not a comedian but the other guy is and should have added more pace to the whole routine. Funny enough the mainstream press loved the whole thing. Well enough said really?

Then Colbert took the stage and like that best man who says all the wrong things at a wedding who makes everyone cringe so much. Colbert plunges into grounds which no one thought even he would do in front of Bush.

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The lost experience slowly leaks out into the open

Hanso foundation

From the best to get your official lost news. Lost Casts

It's official, the LOST Experience has begun. Already, folks in the UK have reported seeing an advertisement for the Hanso foundation, with a UK phone number. So we should be getting some of the same here in the US when the new LOST episode airs tomorrow night.

And so it starts. Funny enough I was thinking about watching lost night just to see the tie in for the lost experience, which I heard would appear at the start of series 2 in the UK.

I'm wasn't sure how the Lost production would play the huge differences between where the UK, Australia, etc are in the plot line and North America. But it would seem the lost experience will focus in on the greater concept of Lost and leave the plot for series 2 alone. Anyway, I've looked at the hanso foundation website which like most Alternative reality game sites are Flash to make it difficult to deconpile or look behind the scenes. Funny enough i've not seen it appear on the unfiction front page yet, but its still early days I guess.

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