Categoryhacks

Opening up expert knowledge for social change

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tl;dr

How can we make traditionally expensive expert knowledge available for free for social causes and communities in need?

Sharing professional advice freely & openly

I make my living as a consultant, and as an organizer of conferences. Therefore I’m well aware of the prices that both organizations and individuals pay for advice, learning, and access to knowledge.

Yet, not all communities/organizations/individuals can afford to hire experts if they need input of some sort or another. Or worse, they have to resort to fake experts who seem to work more cheaply, but also deliver worse or the wrong kind of advice.

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Kindle – before and after

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What happens if you use the wrong version of the jailbreak tool #n00b

Better.

Not really newsworthy, I know, but eventually I got around to jailbreaking my Kindle. Yes, it’s idiot proof, as I clearly proved by screwing it up the first time around with no damage at all. Like.

Now if only all gadget producers were cool with us users tinkering with their devices. Amazon at least doesn’t seem to mind that much.

A digital inventory

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image by johannes kleske

Every day, I post to a number of web services. Quite a few actually. So here’s a quick inventory of the services that are most important in my daily life – for easier navigation, and because – let’s face it! – we all use these things in very different ways. So we can all learn from each other’s tech setups.

thewavingcat.com

This blog you’re reading just now is run on WordPress, on a cluster of Mediatemple’s Grid Service. It’s a great, open source blogging platform on a solid hosting that’s easy to use and maintain. It’s where I post (too rarely) about the stuff I do, what I think about, event announcements and the like. It’s more a log than anything else, a place for me to put stuff that I need a URL for – so it’s easier to link and refer to from other places. It’s also my homebase online.

Twitter (@peterbihr)

My second home on the web is Twitter. This is where I’m certainly most active, where I share quick thoughts, comments and most importantly, questions. What my blog lacks in terms of posting frequency I certainly make more than up for on Twitter. If you want to know what I’m thinking about, and if you don’t mind mostly unstructured thoughts & info as well as eclectic links, follow me at @peterbihr.

Tumblr

I have quite a few tumblelogs, and enjoy starting them even just for a quick joke or so. The one I use most is thewavingcat.tumblr.com, where I (mostly re-)post things I find on the web. Photos, videos, the more fluffy kind of stuff.

Flickr

Most of my photos go on my Flickr page. It’s where I upload a lot of mobile photos as well as the occasional screenshot. I use this for all kinds of purposes: as documentation, to share photos or events, and as an image database for blog posts etc. I don’t use most of the social features on Flickr, except faveing photos to find them again later. Also, the Creative Commons photo search is great to find images for blog posts. It’s both a joy and a working tool, really.

Pinboard

When there were rumors of Yahoo shutting down their social bookmarking service Delicious, I quickly migrated my data to Pinboard, and couldn’t be happier. Via bookmarklet I save all relevant links with one click, and tag them for easier re-use. We also use Pinboard as a tool for our work at Third Wave – by collaboratively saving articles with one tag that we then use to generate our weekly reading lists and other posts.

Instapaper

Are you like me and tend to curiously open all kinds of articles “to read later” until your browser has so many tabs that it won’t display the little icons anymore? Then Instapaper is for you. Via a bookmarklet you mark articles to read later, and the service collects them for you, so you can read them on a different device when you like. I hear it’s super smooth with iPads. I use the Kindle, where it’s not quite as perfect, but still worth the transfer so I can read longer articles on my next train ride or in a café.

quote.fm

If I stumble over an interesting quote, I usually tweet it or throw it on my Tumblr. However, that is changing: Since quote.fm has launched (currently in semi-private beta, I think, so keep an eye out for invites), this has becoming more and more where I send my quotes, and where I go to get some fresh ideas during the day. The strength here is that they turn quotes into social objects that can be shared and commented on. Sounds somewhat boring? Yes it does, but give it a try. It’s really very, very good. Join the conversation!

So here you have it, that’s my digital setup. What’s yours?

Image by Johannes Kleske, some rights reserved.

In London for Mozfest and Internet Week Europe

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Mozilla Festival London

Mozilla’s big open/free culture festival, aptly called Mozilla Festival, is on this coming weekend. I’ll be headed over to London and stay for the full festival as well as the beginning of Internet Week Europe. (Sadly I won’t be able to stick around for the full thing.)

Can’t wait for the festival that I’ve seen come together up close, so I trust it’ll be fantastic. (It’s organized by the good folks of the Mozilla Foundation, notably by the lovely Michelle Thorne & Alexandra Deschamps-Sansino, so I’m clearly biased.) Last year’s Mozilla Festival in Barcelona – called Drumbeat at the time (my blogposts) – was basically a geeky love fest, which I say with respect and admiration. This time around it’ll be great, too, and it focuses on a topic that hits even closer to home for me – it’s all about the open web and media.

As someone who for a long time wanted to (and occasionally did) work as a journalist, seeing these two cultures of journalists and geeks (or hacks & hackers in Mozfest speak) merge is great. There’s so much both can learn from each other.

Beyond purely personal interest, I’m also interested in how these spheres can learn from another. After all, I’ve been advising media companies for years, first as a freelancer then through my company Third Wave. So I love geeking out about these things and learn from some of the smartest folks in the industry (and beyond).

Long story short: If you haven’t yet, join us at the festival > sign up here; and I’ll be in London for a few days, so ping me to meet up.

Disclosure: I was on the jury for the Lovie Awards, which are part of Internet Week.

Drumbeat: The Future of Education (and Video)

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Drumbeat “Future of Education” Demo from David Humphrey on Vimeo.

The Drumbeat Festival in Barcelona is over, but my head is still buzzing. It was fantastic to see what happens when you drop a whole bunch of enthusiastic educators and geeks in one location and let them go crazy.

While I’m still processing all the things I saw and heard (Graffiti Research! Hackbus! Massively Multiplayer Thumbwrestling! Robots! Hastac! Peer-to-peer learning! Badges!), Gabriel Shalom and Brett Gaylor interviewed me, along with some others, for WebMadeMovies. I was asked about the future of education. (Funny thing – I was supposed to answer in German, but my brain kind of refused to. I felt –and sound– like I was reading out a Google Translation of myself. Aaanyway.)

What you see above is of course just a video of the demo. It’s much, much cooler out in the wild, when the Open aspect kicks in and the video can interact with the HTML outside. (Like here.)

Mass customization vs DIY?

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image

Today I quickly stopped by Holy Shit Shopping, a medium-sized design and crafts fair that has been held in Berlin annually in the Christmas time for the last three or four years. The stuff I saw made me think a little, so here’s a few thoughts. (disclaimer: unfiltered and straight from the train.)

First of all, a few of the things I saw made me smile, in a way that reminded me of the first time I went to this market: A usb stick in concrete. a breakfast egg holder made from concrete but looking like a cushion. A kit to build lamps from used light bulbs. A lot of artsy and baby stuff that was pretty neat even though I’m not in the market for that.

But there was another feeling creeping up on me. Where I used to marvel at micro label apparel and wallets made from old bike tube rubber, I felt somewhat over-fed on most of this. Between dozens of silk screening tshirt labels and absolutely everything made from rubber (or its more recent offspring, firehose tube), the products lost their special appeal.

Now there’s two things to put this into perspective: where zu many small labels are clustered like this, perception changes, of course. In a different context their wares would still be more appealing. And also, I’ve been reading Cory Doctorow’s Makers, in which he also draws a picture of what mass customization and DIY might look like once the current (almost fetish-like) fascination wears off and we get more used to it all.

It feels like we’re in a transition period in which it’s being figured out what the rules and boundaries are in respect to maker culture, mass customization, home fabrication and (simple but creative) re-use of materials.

Or maybe I’m just making this up. You tell me.

Palomar5 (some impressions)

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Palomar5Even though a few friends of mine have been directly involved in the project, I had been watching Palomar5 from a distance. (Mostly because I was literally, physically far away.)

I spent most of the day there and came away with a lot of impressions, and also pretty impressed. Let me share a few things I noticed during the day.

But first, to get an idea what Palomar5 is, let me quote from their website:

Palomar5 is looking for creative young minds all over the world to propose new working environments fit for the skills and needs of a digital generation. Palomar5 and affiliate curators are currently giving 30 residents the possibility to stay for six weeks in an Innovation Camp in Berlin. This is a chance for collaboration as well as self-expression. This is an opportunity to network with leaders from economy, science, culture and politics and to meet experts at the forefront of their fields. The residents are passionate, eager and full of ideas, Palomar5 is a 2000sqm incubation-space that’ll make them blossom. They’ve got the ideas, and we have a place for them to make them real.

And furthermore:

Innovation has been increasingly popularized into becoming a trend and a commodity. There are numerous enterprises, think-tanks, and conferences solely devoted to the mass production of innovation. Unfortunately one can put wings on a shopping cart and sell it as Innovation at a high price. But when it comes to questioning and reforming prevailing paradigms there is too much talk and not enough action. Lot’s of coloured bubbles. Lot’s of profit. No real help. Palomar5 was established as a non-profit initiative seeking innovation outside of corporate structures. The founders of Palomar5 feel that “innovation” itself is in need of reformation.

The whole project is backed by Deutsche Telekom and a few smaller sponsors, and clearly those sponsors were serious about Palomar5. They rented an old industrial complex and refurbished the interior to house 30+ participants for six weeks, including some major workspace, today’s summit and to allow for the participants to prototype or build all kinds of stuff. It really all looked quite impressive and well done.

More than the location though I liked how clearly you could see the intense group dynamics going on between the Palomar5 folks. They had been locked up together for six weeks in this cool playground setting (that had the feel of some massive hacker space-meets-design school), and the effect was a group bonding that seemed to foster a lot of creativity, and it’s also clear that those 30 “youngsters” (as they are unfortunately called in the image trailer) will keep in touch with their fellow colleagues. No doubt, we’ll see some cool projects come out of these networks in the future.

To give you an idea of what kind of things the groups came up with (in completely random order): a massive hollow egg that serves as a room of peace and quite to retreat to in case of stress; an RFID-based set of screen and cards to transmit information in a haptic, physical way. And, what I personally found most intriguing, a network of 16 communications satellites that would provide broadband for rural areas all over the world – to be built under the premise that access to information is a human right.

The mindblowing part here: according to the team’s estimates this could be done with a mere 1.72 billion dollars. That’s quite a sum, but taking into account that the German cash-for-clunkers program (the so-called Abwrackprämie) is estimated to cost altogether $3.5b, while the US economic stimulus package was set at an even steeper $789b, it seems really doable. How awesome would that be?

There were, of course, a thing or two that weren’t perfect. For one, this project was clearly fueled by big money and a lot of adrenaline, both of which tend to burn quick and brief. How successful it really is will only become clear when we look back in six months or so and see how the projects and personal connections will have evolved.

And more concretely, almost every presentation given indicated that the young generation, the so-called digital natives, were smarter, better, and more in-the-know than the “old generation”. Everything was made to be the result of a generation gap, and that the “old corporations” would be losing this generation both as customers and employees. While the latter point certainly isn’t completely untrue, I don’t think at all that “getting” the web & digital culture with all their special characteristics like network effects, real-time communication and always-on culture is a matter of age or generation.

In fact, I believe that going down that path is a fairly dangerously wrong perception, it’s lying to yourself. I know many people (and I’m sure you do, too) who are way to old to fit the digital natives label, yet they really know their digital stuff. On the other hand, not everybody below 30 would fit that description either. So these labels are inaccurate and poorly stereotyped. What’s more, it’s arrogant, and that’s a danger in itself. (Not to mention that these 30 folks wouldn’t have gotten this opportunity without the older folks funding them because they do get it. By trying to erect that odd native/immigrant barrier no good is done to either side. (Which by the way goes for digital as well as other areas where this terminology is used.)

But be this as it may, while I don’t agree to this particular point in the arguments, what the organizers and the team of Palomar5 have put together here is a true feat, and something they can be proud of. It’s also a promising model for other corporations to get a bunch of good ideas while giving a hand full of young folks to gain experience. It’s a classical win/win. And I’m curious to hear more stories from inside the workshop over the next few weeks, once the participants are released back into the normal world…

ps. The Palomar5 Summit name badges are hands down the best I’ve ever seen at any conference. They are huge (roughly the size of my hands), well readable, and include all the information you’ll need at the conference: Participant’s name, company and URL and tags on the front. On the back you find program, floor map, hashtag, conference twitter account, wifi password, sponsor info and a reminder of the next day’s party. No more stupid flyers!

Palomar5 name badge

Palomar5 name badge