20p books and the Decorated World

Anmesty bookshopThe Bristol Amnesty International Group has a bookshop on Gloucester Road. I walk past it and can’t help but beachcomb through the 20p shelf they have in the street, despite the dangerous state of my overloaded bookshelves.

From yesterday’s semi-random purchase, Ernest Bevin – Unskilled Labourer and World Statesman, by Mark Stephens:

There were a number of Socialists who hoped that any serious threat of war would inspire an international general strike. At least they had high hopes that the working people of Britain and Germany would join hands in fraternal unity and refuse to take up arms.

Amongst those who thought this way was Ernest Bevin. Over the weekend while the London Socialists were holding a massive anti-war rally in Trafalgar Square, Bevin was on a soapbox on the Bristol Downs roundly condemning militarism and urging all working people to refuse to do their government’s bidding in the event of war.

[Chapter 3 - First World War]

I didn’t know that. If I hadn’t randomly picked up this book, put 20p through the shop’s letterbox, and idly flipped to page 28, I still wouldn’t know it. We can do better than that.

bristol downs I’ve been to the Bristol Downs hundreds, maybe thousands of times since I moved to Bristol in 1991. There are Web pages about Bevin (Wikipedia), and about the Downs. There are computer markup languages for geography (GML), for data syndication (RSS/Atom), and experiments in combining those two worlds via the Semantic Web. The (very nice) Mobile Bristol Riot! “voice play” shows something of what can be achieved with geo-tagged multimedia content. The big challenge is to combine such approaches, so this world-decorating content can be made by the masses, for the masses, accessible through open standards and protocols. Once that’s done, then we’ll have the problem of figuring out whose decorations to believe. And that’s a healthy kind of a problem to have.

I’ve said before that we need technology to engineer more coincidences in the world:

FOAF was designed as technology to encourage coincidence. You’re walking past a pub… you go to a conference… you’re standing at the barracades… or sitting in an interview… and the last thing you’d expect… a friend of a friend. Everything’s connected. Who’d have thought it?

The idea that it might be within our power to make this world a more co-incidental place… sounds at first, like magic. But really it isn’t. It’s just engineering. In the world of everyday information, people and places are the hubs around which everything else spins. When we can describe locations and people to our poor, simpleminded computers, and tell them about the things people have made and done, then those same machines are surely capable of reminding us when the moment’s right.

Another great example of local data for local people, of the kind of data that we ought to be able to “put on the map” with just a little bit more markup technology, is the Relay project, an audio walking tour of Stokes Croft here in Bristol. I took the liberty of making a version of their page that uses a clientside HTML imagemap to associate their soundclips with areas on the map they provide. How many more tags would we need to add to go from that to geo-tagging the media files themselves? HTML imagemap technology is showing it’s age, but W3C’s more recent work on vector graphics for the Web, SVG has been designed with such issues in mind.

Here’s a concrete goal. Imagine you’re writing a page in Wikipedia in a few year’s time. You’re adding an entry describing Nye Bevin’s soapbox speech on the Bristol Downs prior to the first World War. Imagine you want your description to be accessible to mapping-based sites, digital city sites, location-based mobile phone services, and local historians. What should Wikipedia offer to make your life easier? Presumably some kind of scrolly-clicky map thingumie. And how should it share that data with other sites around the Web, so that the annotation can show up in a thousand relevant Web sites, 3D globe viewers, mobile phones and local guides… rather than be buried inside a 20p book at a charity store? That last little bit is the problem I’m obsessessing on lately. How hard can it be?

Return to LambdaMOO

                          ***************************
                          *  Welcome to LambdaMOO!  *
                          ***************************
PLEASE NOTE:
LambdaMOO is a new kind of society, where thousands of people 
voluntarily come together from all over the world.  What these 
people say or do may not always be to your liking; as when visiting
any international city, it is wise to be careful who you associate 
with and what you say. 

The operators of LambdaMOO have provided the materials for 
the buildings of this community, but are not responsible for 
what is said or done in them. 

It’s a long time since I went back to LambdaMOO. Experimenting with the visually lush Google Earth application this week reminded me of nothing more than my first explorations of LambdaMOO. Despite the visual differences and the passing years, both applications offer a virtual globe that can be collaboratively annotated and extended by users, both are a taste of things to come, and both leave a lot unsaid on the topic of Bristol. When Google engineers ponder where to go with KML (mappings to GML, inclusion of style and UI-related markup, etc), I’m sure they’ll be giving some thought to non-graphical interfaces to such data. LambdaMOO, to me, suggests that non-visual (including voice) interfaces could be every bit as compelling as a 3D flyover.

*** Connected ***

The Coat Closet
The closet is a dark, cramped space.  It appears  to be very crowded in here;
 you keep bumping into what feels like coats,  boots, and other people
 (apparently sleeping).  One useful thing that you've  discovered in your
 bumbling about is a metal doorknob set at waist level into  what might be a
 door.  Next to it is a spring lever labeled 'QUIET!'.
There is new news.  Type `news' to read all news or `news new' to read just
 new news.
Type `@tutorial' for an introduction to basic MOOing.  If you have not already
 done so, please type `help manners' and read the text carefully.  It outlines
 the community standard of conduct, which each player is expected to follow
 while in LambdaMOO.

open door

You open the closet door and leave the darkness for the living room, closing
 the door behind you so as not to wake the sleeping people inside.
The Living Room
It is very bright, open, and airy here, with large plate-glass windows looking
 southward over the pool to the gardens beyond.  On the north wall, there is a
 rough stonework fireplace.  The east and west walls are almost completely
 covered with large, well-stocked bookcases.  An exit in the northwest corner
 leads to the kitchen and, in a more northerly direction, to the entrance
 hall.  The door into the coat closet is at the north end of the east wall,
 and at the south end is a sliding glass door leading out onto a wooden deck.
 There are two sets of couches, one clustered around the fireplace and one
 with a view out the windows.
You see Welcome Poster, a fireplace, the living room couch, Helpful Person
 Finder, Cockatoo, The Birthday Machine, and lag meter here.
neural (dozing), lilakay (dozing), Evil (out on his feet), Fred_Smythe
 (dozing), and Ultraviolet_Guest are here.

north

The Entrance Hall
This small foyer is the hub of the currently-occupied portion of the house.
 To the north are the double doors forming the main entrance to the house.
 There is a mirror at about head height on the east wall, just to the right of
 a corridor leading off into the bedroom area.  The south wall is all rough
 stonework, the back of the living room fireplace; at the west end of the wall
 is the opening leading south into the living room and southwest into the
 kitchen.  Finally, to the west is an open archway leading into the dining
 room.
You see mirror at about head height, MOO population meter, Edgar the Footman,
 an antique suit of armour, and a globe here.

enter globe

You step into the globe...
Earth
A big blue-green planet.
This is Mapgrrl, Sparklebunny, Audrey, Boreal, Alista, tiny_ant, Zeddie,
 Pandemonium, mscope, Pasha, and entropygatherer's hometown.
Within Earth you see: Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, South
 America, and Antarctica.

enter europe

Europe, Earth
Small continent, many countries.
Within Europe you see: England, Italy, Scotland, France, Germany, Russia,
 belgium, Netherlands, Ireland, Norway, wales , Gibraltar, Sweden, Austria,
 Spain, Bulgaria, and Praha.

enter england

England, Europe
Heritage UK plc--purveyors of fine shortbread and Princess Di Memorial Plates
 to the rest of the Globe.
Within England you see: London, Kingston, Rainhill, bradford, Winchester,
 Derby, Knebworth, Stratford-upon-Avon, Oxford, Hereford, Newcastle,
 Southampton, Birmingham, Southend-on-Sea, Reading, Devon, Bristol, Watford,
 Rickmansworth, Croxley, and Warwickshire.

enter bristol

Bristol, England
This place isn't very interesting. Perhaps you should describe it, or go
 someplace more interesting.

leave

England, Europe
Heritage UK plc--purveyors of fine shortbread and Princess Di Memorial Plates
 to the rest of the Globe.
Within England you see: London, Kingston, Rainhill, bradford, Winchester,
 Derby, Knebworth, Stratford-upon-Avon, Oxford, Hereford, Newcastle,
 Southampton, Birmingham, Southend-on-Sea, Reading, Devon, Bristol, Watford,
 Rickmansworth, Croxley, and Warwickshire.

enter london

London, England
Earth has not anything to show more fair: dull would he be of soul who could
 pass by a sight so touching in its majesty...
Within London you see: Soho, Westminster Bridge, Camden, West Kensington,
 somerset house, Leytonstone, and Brixton.

enter Brixton

Brixton, London
Whatever you want, you find it here, mate...

World Peace – Dream or Possibility?

Many organisations, religious and secular, have long since found that if people of goodwill, representing various nations, meet together to discuss some matter of common interest, a spirit of friendship is developed. In such circumstances, individuals frequently discover to their suprise that foreigners are, at heart, very like themselves. Consequently, one of the best methods of advancing the idea of World-Peace is to organise such opportunities for international friendship.

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