Living Spaces – Urban Stewardship and Design Manual for Northern Ireland consultation

I’d like to echo NICVA in asking the general public and publicly disposed organisations to respond to this consultation on the Urban Stewardship and Design Manual for Northern Ireland.

  • To assist in strengthening city and town centres and to increase their vitality and viability making better places to live and work and more attractive to visitors and investors
  • to promote a positive sense of place encompassing local involvement, distinctiveness, visual quality and potential to encourage social and economic activity which are fundamental to a richer and more fulfilling environment.
  • well maintained, well managed and well connected streets and places;
  • reduced speeding and pedestrian safety;
  • how to ensure that buildings and environments are convenient and enjoyable to use for everyone.
  • engage with relevant stakeholders, to include: Roads Service, Planning NI, DSD (Regeneration), NICVA; Strategic Investment Board NI; and NITB etc;

It’s really an invitation for the civic minded to consider what 21st Century (and perhaps even 22nd Century) cities should look like.

Pi: it’s the software, stupid…

Yesterday, Donald Clark (who describes himself as a man with enough time) gave the Raspberry Pi a bit of a kicking behind the bike sheds. He detailed 7 reasons why it won’t work.

His main question, though not bolded was: How do you actually learn with this thing?

That’s the first problem. The Pi isn’t a learning device. It’s a cheap introduction to computers. I believe the purpose of the device is to see whether the spark that turned a generation of young geeks into modern day programmers could be replicated with a device in 2012 that was a fifth of the price of the ancestors from the early 80s.

His main beefs and my point of view.

1. Amateurishness.

It’s not for everyone. I wonder if it is even for me. My interest in the Pi is in a score of cheap devices in tiny custom cases that can provide little services around the house. An AirPlay device for all of the TVs in the house? Sure. But having to fight with Linux? *sigh*

2. Nostalgia.

The device is definitely aimed at 40 year old men who remember the Spectrum, the Commodore and the BBC from their youth. They’re buying them for their kids. I know a couple of dads with no programming knowledge who think the Pi is a cheap computer for kids. It’s obviously not that.

3. Lack of realism.

I don’t think the goals are unrealistic. I think that others have greater expectations than the developers might have given themselves. The thing is: when you’re shooting for the stars and you hit the moon, you have to still congratulate yourself. Just ask Elon Musk.

4. Hardware fixation.

I’m most encouraged that it’s a low power ARM design that will do stuff. You do have to wonder why Arduino wasn’t good enough. And we’re seeing a raft of Android circuit board clones appearing. The hardware is important but, as Donald days, it’s not as important as the software.

5. Learning ignored.

I know of two projects which are dedicated to building software stacks for the Pi for schools. There will be more. Others have already ported Scratch to the Pi. That’s a great start. Learning happens. The problem is there is little support for Teaching.

6. Wrong target audience.

I’m interested in what could be done to make this appeal to 11 year olds. Release the code to some basic games? Make sure there’s a GameMaker software stack available? The thing that is missing here is the raft of support materials we had in the 80s; the magazines.

7. Not cool.

It’s differently cool. It’s not “Not cool”, it’s just different.

So, will it fail?

I agree with Donald that “it’s the software, stupid” and giving people Python as a development environment is not the same as the plethora of magazines such as Crash, C&VG, Your Spectrum, Your Sinclair, Sinclair User, Sinclair Programs, ZX Computing, MicroHobby and more.

I’m not interested in sitting back and waiting for it fail. I’m keen on doing something to help.

if you won’t make the games we want to play, we’ll make them ourselves

This is about two things. Kickstarter and Day Z. But it’s not really about them, it’s about the emergent culture that has appeared and these two are the most obvious indications that the culture exists.

Kickstarter is a natural progression. Just like we saw with Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails, folk who have become immensely successful using the traditional markets are able to pivot this success into the new non traditional marketplace. With the musicians I mention, they were able to sell their music directly. With Kickstarter projects, it’s all about pre-orders. Essentially the same. People tired of formula productions and so we see non-formula productions. Albums a traditional record label may not have published. Games a large publisher would have modified. Because of the faith of a few, many will get to see what the artist wanted to create.

Day Z still fascinates me because it’s a situation rather than a story. Ordinarily this should have writers of game backgrounds shaking in their boots – but this game is describing something new. A game which is borne of games. It’s not a toy or a puzzle. It’s not a grinding engine or a jury-rigged television or movie plot. It’s a sandbox: it has limits but within those limits you can do anything you want. It bears more homage to childhood games of Cops’n’Robbers than to the hyper-violent activities in Modern Warfare. I’ve not logged in for days and when I do I know I’ll be starving. And death just that one step closer. And death, as we know, is permanent.

It’s fair to say that my own thoughts for Conquest Dynamics are changing. And why not. I doubt I’ll ever go the Kickstarter route (I just don’t have the résumé – despite publishing The 23rd Letter, SpaceNinjaCyberCrisis XDO and Zombi a decade ago.). But I feel like any game designer can learn from what is happening now. Change is happening right now and it’s both exciting and unsettling.

Civic Conversations

I recently attended a “Civic Conversation” workshop where a group of committed, thoughtful people discussed their views on civic innovation. This is the process of finding ways to change society for the collective betterment of all. These changes don’t have to be “groundbreaking” but they have to represent some sort of change. My own submission was in Free Public Transport, something I feel ever stronger about.

The Conversation was the brainchild of Denis Stewart FRSA (@denisstewart). We were ably assisted by Graham Leicester and Andrew Lyon from the International Futures Forum.

A project mentioned by Andrew Lyon was Galgael (“friend of the Gael”) in Govan, Scotland. This project, based in inner-city Glasgow, seeks to provide a different set of values to those assumed by their location.

I’ve spoken to a few people about something similar in Northern Ireland. I’ve spent altogether too much time looking at boats and boatyards. Found unfortunate locations throughout Northern Ireland which hark back to our island past.

I’ve never built a boat before. I’d love to.

SyncNI: Edu Minister O’Dowd: Digital Technologies can enhance Pupils’ Learning

Nice scoop here from SyncNI:

The Minister spoke following a visit to St Oliver Plunkett Primary School in Belfast, which was the first primary in the north to invest in Apple iPads for pupils.

The Minister said: “Technology is progressing at an ever-increasing rate and young people are always among the first to embrace and enjoy new devices. This applies to the world of education and learning as much as to recreation and it is clear that digital technologies can enhance the learning experience and help improve educational outcomes for children.

During his visit the Minister viewed year one and year seven pupils using iPads in their classrooms and also saw children from all year groups using a range of digital technologies simultaneously in the assembly hall.

The Minister concluded: “I recently announced an investment of almost £170 million over the next five years in the next generation of education technology infrastructure here. This enhanced capability will enable schools to securely and effectively take better advantage of the benefits devices such as iPads have to offer, with the end result that pupils and teachers can access ‘the digital classroom’ easily and in partnership.

Support the Race for Life #cancerResearch

My ten year old daughter has been entering the race for life in support of Cancer Research UK in commemoration of her granny who succumbed a few years ago. She takes it very seriously and would love some additional sponsorship from people who know me. It doesn’t have to be a lot; jthe gesture counts and any amount is very much appreciated.

Cancer is one of the reasons I studied a degree in Genetics. The concept that a fault in the code of our own cells can cause such pain and death indicates how much we are just biological machines fulfilling our programming logic, for good or ill. We all carry the possibility for cancer within our cells, it just requires a combination of the right trigger, the wrong time and a heap of bad luck. The best we can hope for is rapid detection, rapid treatment and better luck.

At the time of writing, Meggan has raised £260 of her £1000 target.

Please support her.