In memory of Damian Cox

Damian with a pie butty
Only in Manchester can you get a pie butty, held by the late Damian Cox.

Damian Cox was more than a character, he was an incredible outspoken figure and a joy to be around. It was a shock to hear the news that he had died suddenly.

The funeral is this week and unfortunately I’m in Maderia Portugal for ICIDS 2017 and can’t be there. Death is always shocking and scary but having been so close myself I tend to have a slightly different view on death and want to celebrate life more than ever.

Because of this I wanted to share a few of the reasons why Damian was just such an amazing person.

When I first moved up to BBC Manchester on Oxford Road I met quite a few people and I did some publicity work for the BBC as they wanted to recruit more locally. Now I don’t know for sure, but Damian claims he joined after seeing my mug shot somewhere. He use to call me the pin-up boy, which use to make me laugh, even many years later.

I clearly remember him showing me some of the northern delights like the pie butty which without realising made it to the top of the only in manchester list in buzz feed.

At BarCampMediaCity, I clearly remember Cristiano coming to me and someone else on the Saturday evening and saying, we need to talk to security because someone is clearly drunk; he was joking, laughing, touchy and being loud about everything.
I asked who (wondering) and Cristiano didn’t know his name but described him having a flat cap, northern accent and cheeky smile. Within a single heart beat, I remember saying with someone else; is it Damian Cox? Christiano looked puzzled.
Thats just Damian, he’s always like that… we laughed.

Damian was fun, full of spirit and a joy to be around. He told it exactly how it was, wouldn’t hold back and wouldn’t be without his flatcap. Even during the heat of of Hacked.io in the O2, he stood out due to that bloody flatcap!

Hacked 2013

He will be so missed by not just by his family, friends and colleagues; but BBC North and Manchester. He embodied the reason why the BBC moved to Manchester.

Rest in Peace Damian Cox

A very busy period coming up soon…

Reinventing podcasting

I am preparing myself for another really busy period of time. From Sunday 22nd right through to Sunday 19th November (yes almost a month).

This will mean the usual warning of being busy and not really replying in a timely fashion (what ever that really means).

Some will look at this list and say “ohhhh check you out… lucky devil!

My reply is yes I am grateful (my gratitude habit) that I can go to these amazing places, but even more that I will get the opportunity to talk to new people (audiences, future producers and maybe potentially co-creators). There are some amazing research projects in the pipeline, stuff that once again makes me very excited.

An amazing well loved colleague recently died. It was a shock but further reminds me and hopefully others our time is finite; We need to spend it doing what we love and making positive things happen. Inspire others to do the same and find their inner geekness.

Can’t say too much right now but in Cardiff & York recently, I share my a couple of ideas in the talks. There are slides which are good pointers to the ambition.

If you want to know more reach out (don’t be shy) or even join Storytellers United Slack.

25th Anniversary of Ghostwatch

I saw this in Kim by the Sea after volleyball today. As I tweeted it, I realized many people wouldn’t know what it was because they were too young, not born or wasn’t in the UK to see it unfold live.

From Wikipedia

Ghostwatch is a British realityhorror/mockumentarytelevision film, first broadcast on BBC1 on Halloween night, 1992. Written by Stephen Volk, and directed by Lesley Manning, the drama was produced for the BBCanthology seriesScreen One by Richard Broke, Ruth Baumgarten and Derek Nelson.

Despite having been recorded weeks in advance, the narrative was presented as live television. During and following its first and only UK television broadcast, the show attracted a considerable furore,[1] resulting in an estimated 30,000 calls to the BBC switchboard in a single hour.

Ghostwatch has never been repeated on UK television. It has been repeated internationally, on stations such as the Canadian digital channel Scream for Halloween 2004, and the Belgian channel Canvas in 2008. In 2017, Ghostwatch was added to the American streaming video service Shudder

It does seem crazy the BBC putting out a fake ghost programme on prime time national TV. It reminds me of war of the worlds radio play.

Quantifying your smartphone usage mentioned recently

There’s a recent BBC documentary titled Secrets Of Silicon Valley, its not a bad watch at all. In part 2, the presenter installs an app to see how much time he spends on his phone through out the day. Very similar to what happened at the Quantified Self 2017 conference, but even I almost coked on my tea when the final figure of over 5 hours was announced for the day.

My monthly smartphone usage

Looking at my own usage, over the last month I spent 19hrs 1minute over 384 pickups, looking at my mobile phone.

I admit this is so very low in comparison to others.

By the way I’m still looking for a decent way to do this without abundance of features, battery use and in a data ethical way.

Your telling me theres no need for feminism?

The fact most males are paid way beyond females is terrible, but hardly surprising.  The gap is pretty vast. This is part of the reason why I find it extremely hard when women, have said to me in past, theres no real need for feminism anymore. Very difficult indeed!

On hearing the story break, I wondered if Jodie Whittaker will earn the same kind of money as previous male doctor whos?

There was also another story which no one really picked up on, but it was noticed by a few and later acknowledge by the BBC.

Trade union Equity said in a statement: “The apparent pay gaps in gender and for those from a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background are troubling.”

There is also a gap between the pay for white stars and those from a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background.

George Alagiah, Jason Mohammad and Trevor Nelson are the highest paid BAME presenters, each receiving between £250,000 and £300,000.

The highest-paid female star with a BAME background is BBC news presenter Mishal Husain, who earned between £200,000 and £250,000.

Jodie Whittaker is the 13th Doctor Who

I want to tell the fans not to be scared by my gender
I want to tell the fans not to be scared by my gender. This is a really exciting time and Doctor Who represents everything thats exciting about change – Jodie Whittaker, 13th Doctor

Bold move by the BBC and its a long time coming

I say bold but it really shouldn’t be a “bold” move, not in this age. I mean Starwars, Ghostbusters, Torchwood, etc, etc… Its certainly a long time coming… Cut to the joy and outrage on social media.

BBC Newsnight on Cambridge Analytica

Was Britain’s EU referendum hijacked by the American alt-right using a technique known as psychographics? Gabriel Gatehouse from BBC Newsnight reports on the data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica.

I’ve said so much stuff about this already but frankly “Overzealous PR?” is total laughable crap! I actually laughed quite a lot when I heard this. Its very clear they were involved (to one degree or not) and like a kid with their finger in the cookie jar, they got caught.

Someday all content will be made this way…

Lego Bricks

This is adapted from the BBC R&D blog post, but I felt it was important enough to repost on my own blog.

Object-based media (OBM) is something that BBC R&D has been working on for quite some-time. OBM underpins many media experiences including the one I keep banging on about, perceptive media.

I’ve spoken to thousands of producers, creators and developers across Europe about object-based work and the experiences. Through those discussions it’s become clear that people have many questions, there has been confusion about what OBM is, and other people would like to know how to get involved themselves.

So because of this… BBC R&D started a community of practice because we really do believe “Someday all content will be made this way.”

A community of practice brings together people and companies who are already working in the adaptive narrative field. BBC R&D do believe that the object-based approach is the key to content creation of the future, one which uses the attributes of the internet to let us all make more personal, interactive, responsive content and by learning together we can turn it into something which powers media beyond the scope of the BBC.

There are three big aims for the community of practice…

  • Awareness: Seek out people and organisations already interested in or working on adaptive narratives through talks, workshops and conferences
  • Advocacy: demonstrating best practice in our work and methods as we explore object-based media and connecting people through networks like the Storytellers United slack channel and helping share perspectives and knowledge..
  • Access: Early access to emerging software tools, to trial and shape the new technology together.

These aims are hugely important for the success and progress of object-based media.

As a start, we’re running a few events around the UK, because conferences are great but sometimes you just want to ask questions to someone and get a better sense of what and why. Our current plan is linked on the BBC R&D post which is being update by myself everytime a new event is made live.

13 years at the BBC and many more to come…?

Stay wild stylised

Linkedin reminded me that its been 13 years since I joined the BBC.

Time has passed by pretty quickly.

I started in BBC WorldService New Media, as a XSL developer, then moved to BBC Backstage 2 and a bit years later. After 4 years, shut it down as it was adsorbed into BBC R&D.

Leaving card from WSNM

I have seen friends & colleagues come and go. Seen 4 director generals, about the same amount of heads of new media/digital/future media/design and engineering; people I once worked with rise through the ranks and people move forward on to do great things.

Ultimately after 13 years, you would have thought why do I stay?

small crop BBC Ariel article

Well its simple as this…

…the work I do is the kind of thing I would want to do and keep on doing. Retirement seems kinda weird to me right now. My life has always been a blur of leisure, pleasure, work and play. Its where I’m most comfortable and I know work life balance is something people talk about a lot but doesn’t bother me so much.

If that was to change, I would certainly consider elsewhere. Its also not one of those things where I’m super comfortable; far from that. I relish the fact my position requires new challenges, every-time. I still break the rules when its logical in my head much to the ignorance of others. But I also set new ground by doing the unthinkable

Podcast group

I still have a hard time explaining what I do in a few sentences and will keep the title senior firestarter, as long as possible. I won’t lie Brexit has made me really think about leaving the country but another public service broadcaster would be ideal.

Here’s to another 13 years? maybe?

Thanks to everyone who has helped me along the way and all the people I have helped in equal measure.

Seems even at 36000ft you can’t escape?

At 36,000 feet you can't escape me?

I always knew Horizon was syndicated widely but seeing it on a plane is kind of insane. a Thanks to Claire for the very freaky tweet.

I did say in reply, its a good thing it wasn’t undressed!

I’ll have to give something to the person who happens to watch season 1 episode 9 of undressed on a plane, using the in flight system and then grabs a snap… What exactly is uncertain but I’ll think of something.

Scary stuff eh!

M14 impresses all the dragons in their den

vlcsnap-2017-02-20-00h55m42s512

I have to give a massive congrats to John Kershaw from M14 industries, who took the previoulsy mentioned Bristlr app from niche dating to hosted matching platform (very much selling shovles during a goldrush). Yesterday he appeared on the BBC’s Dragons Den and struck a great deal with Peter and Nick for a reasonable percentage of the business.

Of course John had a viewing party with friends, investers and family. Its season 14 episode 15 if you are looking for it.

John’s written his thoughts up here.

Before Nick showed his hand, and it was looking like I might get investment from all five dragons simultaneously, I started to internally panic. This isn’t how this happens.

After all the Dragons had given their offers, I knew I’d have to go with Nick and Peter; they have the experience and if they’re not willing to share, I don’t have much choice.

And it’s at this point where an interesting thing happens: I forgot everyone’s names.

Certainly another great story for Manchester’s Startup community and the early investors who saw the potential of M14 industries early on. I personally was always impressed with John and although we sometimes disagreed about what should be next on the task list, its great to get the validation that it wasn’t just a silly app!

Scratching the disappointment of masculinity on radio

BBC Merseyside debate

Its been a long time since I was last on BBC Merseyside.  has flown by, but I’ve done a lot in that time. Ngunan has asked a few times if I would come back on the show, and with Valentines day coming up, I agreed.

Theres a lot of history between us, especially when it comes to who pays on the first date. All we needed was Jody to complete the trip down memory lane.

In the middle I did give my 4 things for Valentines day from a singleton to the other million singletons in the UK.

  1. Get busy and don’t dwell on previous relationships
  2. Reconnect with old friends
  3. Get out of you’re comfort zone
  4. Do something constructive

Things took a interesting turn as we started to unpick why… I won’t spoil it but I’ll be back to talk more about the disappointment of masculinity, something I picked up from Trainspotting T2 a few weeks earlier.

Trainspotting director Danny Boyle has revealed that its long-awaited sequel is going to be about “manhood and disappointed masculinity.”

I have clipped the audio without the music on archive.org but you can hear it in full on BBC iplayer.

Open collaborative recipes for everyone?

Cooking!
Imagine if you took GNOME Recipes, A open collaborative cookbook whose cuisine is curated by people; and made its core object based like in BBC R&D’s Cook along kitchen experience aka (CAKE)

You could write tools and editors to make the recipes have everything needed to fit with the cooks skill level, ingredients, time, allergies, preferences, party size, etc… I mean who wouldn’t want to describe every aspect of their special dish? (I’m avoiding the copyright/licensing questions for now)

Now that would be something, Clasen? And what better community to kick start such a thing? Dare I bring up the BBC recipe headlines only 6 months ago.

Seems like a no brainier to me?

Join us in exploring object-based media making tools


Like visual perceptive media? Like the concept of perceptive radio, like the javascript libraries we have put out in a open and public way? We want you to come on board and join us…!

We (BBC R&D) have been exploring the new reality of creating object based media through a range of prototypes. I have been exploring the implicit uses of data and sensors to change the objects; or as we started calling it a while ago Perceptive Media.

The big issue is to realisticily create and author these new types of stories, requires a lot of technical knowledge and doesn’t easily seat in the standard content creation workflow, or does it? We want to bring together people in a workshop format to explore the potential of creating accessible tools for authors and producers. Ultimately seeding a community of practice, through open experimentation learning from each other.

The core of the workshop will focus on the question…

Is it desirable and feasible for the community of technical developers and media explorers to build an open set of tools for use by storytellers and producers?

During the backdrop of the International Sheffield Documentary Festival the workshop on Monday 13th June will bring together, and are putting out a call for interested parties to work together with the aim of understanding how to develop tools which can benefit storytellers, designers, producers and developers.

We are calling for people, universities, startups, hackers and companies with a serious interest in opening up this area; to reach out and join us. Apply for a ticket and we will be in touch.

The BBC horizon dating experiment

Horizon dating 2015-09-12
My scientific perfect match

The Horizon episode: How to find love online just aired and here’s a blog I wrote straight after filming for the show. I have no idea what just happened or if I’ll even be involved, but judging by whats been seen so far, it looks like I might be. I trust BBC Horizon have done everybody proud but he’s my view on what happened that afternoon in central London.

I’m writing this the morning after the BBC Horizon dating experiment in central London (Sunday 13th September 2015).

We were asked and signed a contract saying we wouldn’t talk about the programme till the TX (TV transmission date). However the programme should have gone out by now.

It was an interesting time and the experiments were quite good too. From what I gather on the day, Hannah Fry wrote an algorithm to match people and Xander? I heard Xander is going on 3 dates today (day after the experiment). With the algorithm, she (Hannah) needed a large pool of people to match him with but also she wanted to see if it worked for other people. Hence the afternoon-evening of Horizon dating (I’m sure this will change).

Ok being brief (very hard for me). We were divided into 4 groups using colour wrist bands, then did some rough speed dating (I say rough because it there was no real flow, no direction and we were kind of left to get on with it, with the occasional call to change).

The four groups were…

  1. Told everybody in the group was matched and we actually were (this was my group – Yellow)
  2. Told everybody in the group was matched but that was actually was a lie
  3. Told no body in the group was matched but actually everybody was
  4. Told no body was matched and no body actually was (control group?)

You can see how this all works right?

The results were actually quite good and seemed to go with the algorithm and the priming of what were somewhat told. Hannah seemed confident it might actually work beyond this stage.

There was another test but to be honest, I got pulled away to do some stuff in a back room to the waiting camera about online dating. So much I wanted to say, but was told to keep it brief and look directly down the lens of the camera (hate that). Anyway I briefly touched on things related to my experiences and observations, should be interesting enough.

After some finger food and lots of chatting with various people, the results were announced to the room. They were cavatted with the notion, it was getting most matches in the room rather than most ideal matches.

Regardless, our usernames were read out and we stuck our hands up to show pairings.

My match was a woman who I had speed dated earlier but thought we didn’t really get on because of my lack of knowledge about the smiths. Can I remember her username? Nope, but we did take a couple selfie on both our phones.

After the matching, were had the opportunity to spend time together just chatting away and some quick interviews from Zander and Hannah.

Weirdly enough, my match lived in Bristol, had lived less than a mile away about the same time I lived in Croydon, London and shared similar views on certain things. Of course the location stuff  is a coincidence, as there was nothing in the questionnaire about previous locations, etc. But interesting one regardless.

We chatted away then we talked about circumstances currently. I wrongly guessed her age and it turned out we were quite distant on age and places in our lives. She had 3 kids, while I’m obviously child-free. It was clear the algorithm did work but only on the matching part, but did not factor in all the other things like looks, circumstance, desires, etc. The stuff which is unquantifiable?

End of the night, she left and we said goodbye while a bunch of us went to the Yorkshire Grey pub (George would be so proud) to discuss and carry on into the night. It was a warm night, so we sat outside on the benches, telling dating stories to each other. It was an nice end to the evening.

The last lot of the Horizon dating event

Everybody I spoke to had a good time they also had some good and bad stories about dating in recent times. The matches were somewhat hit and miss. Some numbers were exchanged but to be honest I think there will be maybe one or two who actually carry it further than a date or two (which still means Hannah’s algorithm would beat the year of making love!) . My match I’m unlikely to meet again, we didn’t swap anything and the pleasantries at the end of the night said it all. The initial excitement just seemed to break down once we discovered the difference in lifestyle, age and place in life.

Over drinks much later, a couple of us stayed out till about 1am. mr30notsoflirty, asked me if there were others I was interested in. I said yes and funny enough she was in my speed dating round, which meant she was likely matched quite highly with myself (remember I was in the one which was matched and were told so). I got a hint there might be some actually similarity in outlook earlier on but then got pulled away to do the pieces to the camera. There was another lady who stayed out later but had to get a train back to Kent, who was quite intriguing asking lots of questions about the scientific nature of everything, especially when I mentioned my geekness for dating. At the market place bar, we talked briefly and she said the comment of the night.

“You smell really good…!”

“well thank you” I said in return with a puzzled look on my face

Over all, it was intriguing and I’m happy to say Horizon did me and the BBC proud. It was pretty fluid, they seemed to get lots of footage (which I wish they would talk to BBC R&D about, as each couple have a interesting tale or two I’m sure). Met some lovely people and  my fears of the Year of making love were ironed out with the small contained venue, good people and a professional but friendly crew.

Just hope this is reflected in the show when it went live…

Update…

There’s a iWonder guide related to the programme (BBC iplayer).

On watching the programme, I was surprised how much of the vox pops from me made it into the programme. The show was mainly about Xander and the challenge of getting him a decent match. But it was clearly me on screen…

In the end, it was stalemate between the matching algorithm and random choice, which was a good conclusion I felt. Makes you think as you sink money and time into online dating, right? Also summing up why I find this area so interesting.

dating-against-humanity-46-638

A couple of things interested me, Helen Fisher and Lucy Brown‘s theory sounds interesting but once again where’s the paper or study? Prof Eli Finkel is absolutely right its somewhat rubbish and theres lots of papers proving it, even OKcupid’s OKtrends blog (and the deepend blog) doesn’t go into enough detail or give up the data for others to pull apart themselves. Xander was also wrong to say he was skeptical of algorthims, it was the premise which he wasn’t happy with. Even Hannah at one point said she wasn’t sure about the data which drives the algorthim she wrote.

I have already publiclly said it just doesn’t add up and the number element looms large. Hence why I chalked it up to the birthday paradox after much thought.

dating-against-humanity-48-638

While watching the show, my twitter and facebook was pretty busy, so busy I had to watch it again on iplayer. But some things came up which I wanted to reply to…

Xander and Hannah! Yeah they were very comfortable with each other, a few of us kept saying surely the two should get a room? But we all knew Hannah was happily married, but was so strange that Xander finally met a woman who from the back looked like a shorter version of Hannah. I actually thought it was her at first glance. Then I remember talking to some of the guys on the day, saying how she was very attractive.

During the show there was some comments about the lack of sexual diversity,  and I wanted to say, yes most were straight but there were a few gay couples too. The cameras missed a lot on that day but thats TV for you. There was also a diverse age range from quite young right up to much older than myself. Culturally it was quite diverse also, the BBC certainly did a good job and its important to once again say what you saw on screen wasn’t just it.

As a whole it was good and enjoyable, BBC Horizon did a good job touching on aspects of online dating problems and joys. Even down to Xander’s text exchange at the end of the programme. The whole worrying about what to say how long it takes for someone to come back to you is a real drama in modern dating. Although I do feel for the woman who went on the date with Xander because shes going to get a lot of angry women looking for her now…

Massive thanks to, Rachel Clarke I may have missed this great opportunity if she didn’t tweet me ages ago.