It was a pleasure to welcome Matt Green back to Goldsmiths; I had the pleasure of teaching him in his Foundation year way back in 2007, and also for Creative Computing 2 (as was). Matt went off to work in the digital agency world, first with Euan Millar at disturb media, and now at Smile Machine. In retrospect it was perhaps wrong to spend the 5 minutes or so of warm-up act ranting about mobile world congress and mobile phones in general, given how much of a digital agency's time is taken up by making sure that the latest and greatest brand campaign is directly beamed to everyone's brain; this in no way resembles satire from the 1950s, no, not at all.
Still, Matt managed to shrug off the awkwardness, and talked through some of his recent projects – the spirit level was cute – and perhaps more importantly some of the working issues. It was good to hear him talk about the hours: I paraphrase, but something like “sure, some people are there when I get in, and are still there when I leave... but I have a kid at home” is an important message. I think it's possible that since he is a recent(ish) graduate, the current students felt that they had enough of a shared background with Matt to ask him more detailed and personal questions than they have tended to in this series.
The second speaker for the session was Mark Longair of mySociety – in one of those “small world” or possibly “shared background” events, I wrote to mySociety's generic contact address asking whether anyone would be interested in talking to our undergraduates about development and technology work in the third sector, and Mark replied. I don't think we'd actually met before, but we certainly had mutual friends from our undergraduate days (not least Chris Lightfoot), and just as personally, my final undergraduate project was done under the supervision of Malcolm Longair. Small world – how many people with a surname of “Longair” have a CRSid for their Twitter handle?
I liked the slightly subversive slant Mark gave to mySociety's work – or at least the emphasis on speaking truth to power. The Freedom of Information platform WhatDoTheyKnow was perhaps the most obvious of those: by making it really easy to make FoI requests through a platform which stores the requests and responses, and makes them public, it provides an audit trail for later inspection. Also, deploying the WDTK platform in countries with no FoI legislation is a pretty cool hack.
And of course it's not just one site; FixMyStreet is a highly useful way of logging issues, and Mark described the fact that it's effectively a public bugtracker for local councils as having for a side effect increasing the visibility of mundane problems to those in power. I'm not sure that that is the best possible way of relating citizens to local authorities, but I suppose the status quo is already a long way away from the best of all possible worlds, and the FixMyStreet site at least doesn't go out of its way to give Outraged of Anywhere a direct way of venting noisily.
And then over lunch, my student Justin Gagen got to talk to Mark about repurposing sayIt for displaying the librettos for Wagner operas, to help visualise and link results from our research into leitmotif. In an ideal world, this blog entry would announce the successful import and display of the libretto as Akoma Ntoso, but sometimes the real world doesn't work out quite as neatly as it should. Another time.