Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Tardis Lands in Soton

The train pulls into the station, I haven't been in this place since I was a child. I'd checked the maps, the streetview and the webs and had some hints at what lay ahead, but little did I know.

Heading away from the tracks I realise my feet aren't taking me the way the Gdirections suggest, a mix of old Victorian planning, Metropolis and Tuttleworld line the horizon. Glimpses of an opulent past are obvious as I head across formally laid out parks with palm trees and mysterious bushes wrapped in fleeces (to shade them from the chill wind I guess) which is whipping across from a vast empty marble clad square, reminding me of images of Moscow or China.

Corralled by barriers preventing foot traffic impeding the flow of those wheeled ones with warmed interiors, throwing myself against the railings to avoid the speeding side-walk cyclists and standing chilled at red man after red man, thinking these red men are not about easing or speeding the journey for me, or buses, but about something else.

Then onward, where ironically having been forced to stay on the side-walk until now, here I am pushed out onto the unprotected highway by warning bollards and a path obstructed by a mess of salt and ice, no thought for the casual pedestrian, just a solution seemingly laid to 'greet' visitors to the reception to one of Europe's biggest banks who are quartered here. This leads my thoughts down the path of 'Is this what British Banking has come to?'

Leaving the towers, the squares and the parks, I head toward onward bright coloured domes, car lots and clubs, it has a 'place of the night' feel about if even at this early hour of the day. As is the way of such streets in many an English town, it is lined with take-away food outlets that only awake well after the sun sets. Also in common with such streets, those on foot are able to amuse onlookers with a dancing stride inspired by a desire to avoid the 'Pavement Pizza'. The PP Hop perhaps, watch out it featuring in a 'Strictly Special '!

Why would anyone be heading this way at the unlikely time of the day? you may well ask.

A building familiar from the streetview research hove into view, similar but not the same, why, what was wrong?

Must be the right place, a Maplin store is just next door, but it says 'Shooting Star' on the signage not 'Kolebka' as the streetview showed. This must be THE place "Shooting Star Pub". My destination a 'Pub' at this hour of day, you think?

Are they showing the end of an Ashes match or a Rugby game from 'Down Under'?

A closer look reveals "BarCampSoton - please use other door" and "Welcome to BarCampSoton" on that other door itself!

As I push the door open and a powerful smell hits me. A faint smell of .... burning ... no, that's not it....toasting that's the word. Indeed a scene of breakfast hides behind the door, the warmth of the inside *is* toasting a crowd of people, but more so people are toasting bread, spreading jam, munching bacon butties, blowing on cups of too hot coffee, squeezing through with bicycles, computer hardware, boxes of cables and stuff, even a Dalek is trying to sneak through the throng, what a busy and buzzing atmosphere! The seemingly small pub seems vast inside, a real Tardis of a place, and even then the BarCamp will overflow to another pub down the road apparently.

It seems I wasn't the only one to arrive early to BarCamp Soton. I found a coffee, a butty and a pool table whose top was spread with randomly shaped pieces of card, a jigsaw? no, each labelled with a name and sometimes a twitter handle, this spread of name tags gave an insight into the numbers booked in for the day. No wonder @cminion and Chris Gutteridge were hopping around like the proverbial cats. Setting projection gear, stringing blackouts, arranging tables, writing up whiteboards for session planning and Wifi node and password details. This is all the stuff of un-conference organising, the Chris's have been here before, and their hopping is not as random as it appears, a tight plan is detectable in their moves.

The spread of white space on the 'schedule of the day' begins to disappear under post-it notes with intriguing notes of the gems to be revealed over the day. My own, an idea to have a discussion about my proposed 'HomeCamp Unleashed' is guided toward the comfy sofa space for the first session slot. This suits me well as a relaxed chat about how to free all my 'HomeCamp Spaces' from the confines of my podcast show and out into the streets is something that needs all the help it can get.

Called to attention, welcomed and briefed about the day, Chris is keen that everyone has a barcamp bingo card and a pen (what an inspired idea that is!) and then the sessions get under way.

Behind the curtain, a glow emanates, an ooo, an ahhh and an occasional ripple of laughter can be perceived. On the sofa I am joined by a group interested in what HomeCamp is about. I am hopeless at remembering names and I struggle to find the solution so many times, but technology helps me out, and pen and paper assist.

Some of those who have joined me, on the sofa's, are familiar with my podcast, most aren't, but the comments, suggestions and ideas voiced inspired me with a spring like burst of energy.

My concern that 'Hacking' is a word with more neg's than po's is confirmed, I am drawn to think that the key is the common thread of Creativity that links my HomecCamp Spaces. My thoughts are that in times of tight money, it is even more important for groups to cooperate where there is common ground and in an open source way. This is validated and inspired by discussion about Southampton and other Hackspaces. We discuss "the difficulties with informal research"and getting "peer review done", and I am surprised by suggestions that offering 'shwag' at an un-conference could be seen as a unnecessary bribe to draw ppl to the event, and may indeed give a negative msg.

The day was just developing, more name tags leaving the table for the neck-ties, more sessions, more volume from the excited chatting..... all too soon lunchtime arrived and I have to make a move toward the station to return home, I know I have two busy days a of chatting ahead, and I could easily go hoarse at this pace.

I left the others tucking into a hearty chilli (veggie or carnivore depending) and looking forward to the afternoon and onward into the evening of meeting 'ordinary folks'

I have to thank the Chris's for creating the event and all those 'too numerous to mention', that inspired me with bright, intelligent conversation even though this was no less than I expected from BarCamp Soton.

I promise to catch up with those I met, and will watch for new followers and alerts with the #bcsoton tag.

BarCamp's Rock!!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Formal vs Informal Hacking

I've been thinking about the perception of hacking in the wider non nerdy, non dorky or geeky community and thought I should write up my thoughts.

We use 'hacking' in many different ways with the spaces I mix in, and we understand the difference between, black and white hacking, creative and destructive etc, but I feel these subtleties are *not* recognised by many others and that the perception of hacking is always negative. Maybe I'm wrong, I have done no scientific analysis of the subject, but anyway 'hacking' is the word and I feel it could be useful to improve understanding of the phrase rather than avoiding it.

To help get the message across in the correct way I am thinking that we can divide "HomeCamp Hacking" into two types, formal and informal.

Formal in this terminology it is changes to the house, the home, the lifestyle enacted in the way a normal community person would want to undertake after having acquired a 'standard' property. The purchasing of items and services from shops (such as B&Q), suppliers and installers.

The items may be modified in small ways, e.g. material made into curtains, lampshades decorated with beads, spotlights creatively placed. I would include the use of standard item in a unintended way, such a intercepting a wireless signal with software patch. Even using a video-sender is modifying the function of the home in hacking sort of way.

Informal is the alternative approach using technology to that is not available "off the shelf", but can be created by modifying an existing product or building a new product from components. This area includes Arduino microcontrollers, sensor chip and components, making tables from tree trunks, solar walls, etc.

By connecting Formal and inFormal hacking groups there are opportunities start-up businesses to form, for commercial companies to *improve* their products and much more.

My Take on HomeCamp ( embodied in the regular podcast available via is strongly influenced by this thinking.

Let me know what you think!