D-Day and Edward Snowden – Democracy, Freedom and Banishment

Today this happened:

  • I watched Edward Snowden speak on stage at the Personal Democracy Forum 2014 conference (via Google+)
  • I saw the standing ovation he received (twice) but could not see – if you are my Facebook friend you will see the video I made of his last seven brilliant minutes
  • I heard him pause the applause time and time again to add *just one more thing*
  • I had to look up from my phone this evening (google maps helping me navigate new bits of NYC) to wait for a New York fire truck reverse back into the station, as it did (and the firemen got out and took their clothes off) I saw this

IMG_8794 IMG_8795

  • I read this http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-27700479 and remembered being on Omaha beach with my O/H last week, and seeing the beaches, wheat fields, cafes and farms involved in that heroic Allied determination to right injustice
  • I saw Parliamentary people photographed during the Queen’s speech with whom I had spoken at length about digital democracy
  • I also saw many people, working, living, sharing, eating, drinking, dating – first dating even! (I overheard a very awkward drawn out convo about where to have a drink before supper – but to be fair it is a challenge in New York to make such decisions)

But today was not an unusual day really. I go to conferences or speak at them fairly regularly, in cities across the world. My bag is democracy – so I get to hear a lot about it. But today I felt like New York had shown me something new.

Agreed it was just the host city for the Personal Democracy Forum conference, but that (amazing though the speakers were) was not it.

There is passion and healing, and a determination that is in so many ways similar to the French Resistance during the second world war. But not against the terrorism attacks it has faced and potentially still faces; to be honest they just say: “Life goes on” and flaunt their breathtaking buildings…

IMG_8797 IMG_8722No, this is a city hosting a conference that is about resisting surveillance, surveillance undertaken in the name of security and protection and only the most pretendy asleep person could ever really believe (I forgot to tell you the thing I learned today from John Perry Barlow, one time lyricist for the Grateful Dead, today interviewing Snowden)

There is passion about freedom of speech in America that is possibly unrivalled anywhere else in the world, granted; but with that passion there is responsibility, and what I heard today many times over, was that this is important, even if you think you do not have any worries yourself about someone reading your emails or metadata – you have a responsibility to everyone else you interact with. That is the deal-maker here.

Edward Snowden is banished from the Obama-dom of the US, and with typical aplomb, people are funding his gargantuan legal fees with their $10s and $20s, and auctioning his lanyard to raise funds for when he is attending in person on stage (God help the dude), standing to cheer him on …

Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 00.37.05{Douglas Rushkoff is also a flipping legend, by the way}

… this man who sat at his desk and just could not morally carry on knowing what he knew and facing his fellow citizens day after day. His response to the crowd-funding announced today? Not everyone can afford to give money, so please help each other, finish the conversation he started, take the time to look up the Reset the Net campaign – encrypt encrypt encrypt

It is not for us. It is for those we know and have yet to meet, the next generations and to take away the temptation from future governments.

This brings me back to the present day, with my own role as a Commissioner on the Speaker’s Commission for Digital Democracy.

The last meeting I had was with those people in Parliament paraded out for the Queen’s Speech. They too were passionate, and they too had concerns – albeit in a very British way, the common cry was something along the lines of: It cannot be a democracy if we give all of the data we could gather on every citizen to an MP. Because if we do so, when they are next campaigning, they will take that information and target *say* Cynthia at number 23 who likes cycling and sheep with a special leaflet, covered in sheep, about cycle lanes. That is not democracy, that way the same person or party gets elected time after time, and this is unfair and terrifying.

It may well be that our elected representatives need to know what we really give a toss about, and that we are able to engage in game-changing Parliamentary decisions about those things without having to flick out of Facebook; but if this is done by data, by digital information mining, it cannot be undone.

Democracy is hard. Democracy in a digital and socially digital world is harder.

I want a conference in the UK, like PDF – that relentlessly addresses these challenges. Not just highlighting them, not just giving them air and sunshine, how do we actually do this? It is going to change, what are we going to do? Every single year, putting our democratic toes to the flames. Our Democracy-Day…

Democracy is my passion. Banishment is archaic. Freedom has a price.

The Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy is important (UK people) and we have this year to set good things in motion, here is how to engage (please do join in, everyone around the world).

Social enterprise and the power of breaking stuff

I think we can pretty much accept that the traditional model of making the world work and surviving in it has broken, even for bankers. Whether this be the status quo for those on benefits, the funding mechanisms for start-ups, the charitable foundations, those looking to sponsor stuff and those seeking sponsorship right up to those who have done well for themselves – nothing is guaranteed and pretty much every system except celebrity is broken. So who can really blame the kids and adults for seeking a future through game and talent shows on TV – that’s basically the only model that has thrived and survived (dear Daily Mail commentors).

I think that I am a pretty odd person. I was odd at school: geek/nerd/books/computers/maths but I also survived. When I started relationships and breeding I guess I normalised – my weird edges were moulded into something vaguely resembling a mother and a worker – I never got the wife thing right and I am definitely appalling at school run outer-wear. But what I do have is a keen sense for survival – therefore I am what is socially classed as a serial entrepreneur. Yet I do not plan on retiring in five years having sold a business idea for millions – I plan on putting my talents to use doing things I can do and working with the very best of the best to making stuff I like doing happen. I think it is just happenstance that what I like doing is for the greater good – I wouldn’t champion me that much, there is an element of selfishness in there.

I also (as you might expect from the brief bio of my youth) am not excellent at networking and people. This makes my working life harder, but I can overcome that in a variety of brilliant ways – these do not include mass events with lots of people but definitely include my fabulous twitter family.

This is by the by…

OK so assuming we accept that traditional stuff is broken, but the broken society requires innovation and energy (as shown most successfully through TV talent and celebrity shows) – so how do we shred the tradition, without fear and look to what’s left.

I have been there and so I think I can help

I love Rewired State and Young Rewired State. Let’s be honest, Rewired State is probably about three years too early if it is to survive through hack days that pay developers for rapid R&D – we can survive, definitely – but we will have to do other stuff. Meanwhile we have a network of over 600 developers keen to help pretty much everybody – except recruitment agents and people needing code monkeys – the devs want to do strategy and innovation and in a digital world, you’d be bonkers not to let them; but in reality the world is not yet quite ready for that, it is broken and hack days are not traditional.

FACT: many want hack days because they have now become an OK way of dipping your toe in the water of  innovation, but they do not fit with traditional R&D and so there is no budget, therefore your hack days have to rely on the benefaction of developers willing to work on your problem/idea for free/FA so… you are pretty stuffed. Let me give you an extreme example. We are running a hack day, on a boat, in Cannes, at MIPCUBE, presenting to attendees of MIPCUBE and MIPTV and we are not awash with developers keen to do this. Why? Because of developer apathy, a whole other blog post. So if you want to actually engage devs in a hack day, for sod all and you can beat a boat in the South of France and one of the most high profile geekTV events in the world then you may have a chance of attracting a few – if you don’t, I would rethink it until the budget meets the ambition. Please do not believe the myth that devs will code in a garage for free on your stuff. They just won’t and why should they?

I digress…

Here is what I wanted to share with you

Knowing me as you do either in person or through blogs and twitter, I work relentlessly for the things I believe in. But paying for these things in traditional fashion means that I do not meet the demands of mortgage/tax/life for myself nor fair work for people I represent and the organisations I think can make a difference to, I refuse to accept this so I have had to be inventive. Here’s how to break the world and survive (I am only in stage 2, I have not yet officially survived but I think I can see the light, so come with me)

  • work with the knowledge you have to build a vision of what you want
  • social funding is there – benefactors have set up organisations to pay for stuff to happen if you can prove its worth – use them
  • talk to everyone and be honest – through doing this with Simon Peyton-Jones one day, he then introduced me to a retired man who was the ex CEO of Shell and BCS, who came to my house and learned about what I was trying to achieve and has since helped immensely from toilets at Bletchley Park to Scouts and tents to mentoring me and championing the work of YRS – you cannot buy that
  • I cannot tell you the people I have been exposed to though being honest and fighting for what I believe, I met Conrad Wolfram and had an hour on the phone with him after the fact chatting about how he could produce stuff to help YRSers get more maths out of coding
  • I had an email from Douglas Rushkoff – with advice…
  • through NESTA I discovered the peoplefund.it site and have begun crowdsourcing for Young Rewired State 2012
  • through tweeting pics of my dad’s BBC Micros and my old educational software I talked to Chris Monk from The National Museum of Computing who fixed the micros for free and then came to Learning Without Frontiers to showcase the old Micros and now they are hosting the show and tell for YRS2012
  • At my dining room table yesterday I had a volunteer and a YRSer working for on YRS2012 in return for a bottle of cold coke, tea, fruit and haribos
  • Rory Cellan Jones and Stephen Fry tweet about what we do – not because they happened upon it, but because we are relentless and we are good and we work hard – this is not an insurmountable problem for anyone, we can all be good at what we do and work hard

Make no bones about it, it is flipping hard.

It’s about 17 hours a day of hard graft and it depends on a massive slashing of social media and community (but not dependent on real life networking, thank goodness), creating fundable projects for charitable trusts to invest in and ultimately a massive dollop of finding people who have capacity and might welcome a chance to work on what you are doing.

This way we can break the world but make it sustainable. It takes guts and if the world was not so broken it would be much harder to fix, but quite frankly there are many of us in the same position – so carpe diem and do what you want and find a way to live through that thing – forget the traditional routes and benefits. It’s borked.

PS Do not be tempted to secure your foray into the future from the broken past by paying for advice from people who have no proven success in the future. There will be many who offer unique skills, telling you scary things like: “My skills are unique, I scale social businesses and there is no one like me” pay me xxx – these people will not really be worth much, Trusts will help you and guide you through their processes and needs – even if you start from a great idea with no idea. And finally, if anyone asks you for a % of your organisation PLUS a salary, walk away immediately – they do not believe in your success as an enterprise and are only in it for the cash. (Thank you @sleepydog for that gem!)

PPS I am funding Young Rewired State partly through crowdsourced money – yes because I have to but also because so many people get to be a part of YRS, which for me is the greatest thing on the planet. Pledge your hard-earned cash here, and if you can’t, tell your networks, someone will have a tenner

Learn to code at any age

This is a cross-post of something I wrote for The Guardian, but just thought would be handy to have on the blog over here. It is also a small update from an old post: How to teach kids, or anyone, how to code – that’s the history bit done! Now the science…

The beauty of programming is that it does not matter how old you are (within reason – under 7 is possibly a bit optimistic) you can learn using exactly the same, mostly free resources to be found on the Internet. You can learn basic programming easily within a year and then you can choose to hone and refine whichever aspects of coding most excite you. Done! It’s not hard.

For the purposes of this post I have referred to resources aimed primarily at younger people – but they are all useful for the beginner.

Two of the most common questions are:

1. What language (programming language) should I learn/teach?
2. What resources are there out there to learn how to code?

The answer to question 1 is easy: any/all. The younger programmers are typically polyglottal coders, applying different languages to different challenges, with fewer specialising in one language.

The answer to 2 is also easy: there are many and I will list some here. (Do keep an eye out, there are more resources put online every day and it is always worth watching out for more/better/easier ones.)

Please note, I am deliberately *not* going to recommend one language over another, nor opine the benefits/pitfalls of each – find out which one suits you and start there. Another tip is once you have found a language you are keen to learn, then do search YouTube for further free support and tutorials, there are far too many to name-check here, but it is brimming with people willing to share knowledge in an easy to digest fashion.

To really get you in the mood

Whenever I talk about teaching kids to code, or online resources, I always encourage people to watch Randy Pausch’s last lecture and read the introduction to Douglas Rushkoff’s Program or be Programmed. Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture can be watched here

(If you don’t have an hour or so free right now, then come back to it, but watch the ten ish minutes from this point in the video)

Free online resources

By far the most intuitive and simple website released lately is http://codecademy.com It teaches javascript through a series of very short and simple lessons. My 9 year old daughter started coding using this and it just got her into understanding how written code works.

Kids Ruby http://kidsruby.com is also simple, free and fun.

Scratch http://scratch.mit.edu/ is taught in an increasing number of schools now. Created by MIT it is a programming language that helps computational thinking as well as collaborative working as you build, create and share.

For those of you who love to really get into the meat of a subject, then http://learnpythonthehardway.org/ is a great book/free download. It would not be suitable for the very young coder, but do not be put off by the title – it is surprisingly compelling.

Code Project has a great page on Android programming (for mobiles) http://www.codeproject.com/KB/android/AndroidGuide.aspx there are many tutorials for Android but I found this to be the best place to start.

Blitz Academy has a whole list of resources for those thinking about getting a job as a games developer (in fact the reading and link list is interesting for anybody even vaguely interested in anything)

The Bytes Brothers books [http://www.gamebooks.org/show_series.php?id=1171] are a “…sort of a cross between Encyclopedia Brown and Micro Adventure, each volume in this series contains several short mysteries. The user must read carefully and run very simple BASIC computer programs in order to guess the solutions.”

I can’t really leave you without the links to Alice, having started with the Randy Pausch lecture; it is a programming environment not a language:

Alice

Alice is a 3d programming environment, designed to “create an animation for telling a story, playing an interactive game, or a video to share on the web. Alice is a teaching tool for introductory computing. It uses 3D graphics and a drag-and-drop interface to facilitate a more engaging, less frustrating first programming experience.”

So there is Alice 2.0 and Alice 2.2 as well as Story Telling Alice. The latter was the one mentioned by Randy as being developed by Caitlin Kelleher and is “… designed to motivate a broad spectrum of middle school students (particularly girls) to learn to program computers through creating short 3D animated movies.” You can download Story Telling Alice here, but it is not hugely tested, is only available for windows based machines, has no support – but I certainly play about with it with Amy (9).

‘Proper’ Alice has full support and documentation and teaching materials and so on.

And that’s it, but there is a constant stream of useful stuff being built and recorded every day, so this post will date quickly! But once you have learned how to code, join us over at Young Rewired State!

Teach our kids to code e-petition

So after declaring that this would not become a personal mission for me in my post: year 8 is too late it has become a personal mission.

The petition is appallingly written. In my defence it was a brutal, and random, word count; I had to keep removing chunks of copy and keep trying to submit it, until suddenly it worked (no the word count that it eventually allowed through bore no relation to the word count originally stated… bug?). Anyhow, this terrible prose means that many have tried to explain it through writing their own explanatory blog posts and I thought I had better have a bash at explaining the background better myself.

What do I mean by code?

The word coding is a slang term for computer programming, used because programming basically means writing source code. Source code can be written in any number of languages (such as Ruby, Python and a gazillion others) and is the method used to instruct a computer to execute a series of actions. These actions are understood by the computer in what is known as binary code, that lovely series of ones and zeros loved by Hollywood futuristic films

https://i0.wp.com/www.digitalproductionme.com/pictures/gallery/Stock%20images/Binary_code_on_blue%20for%20web.jpg

Lovely

When I wrote the post about teaching kids to code in Year 5, that this would address the nerdy image and encourage more female coders, I was focusing more on the immediate and tertiary “brand” issue that geekery has in this country. It is not yet awesomely cool to be able to build digital tools that shape the way the rest of us operate in our worlds, both social and work-based. Not in the UK anyway. And I could see this having a profound effect on our worldwide digital economy and reputation in the very near future – this drives me insane and I just could not understand why people were not a bit miffed by this.

Then I read a book called Program or be Programmed by Douglas Rushkoff please buy it and read it, even if you just read the Preface and Introduction, it is one of the most important books of our age. Here is a bit:

The real question is, do we direct technology, or do we let ourselves be directed by it and those who have mastered it? “Choose the former,” writes Rushkoff, “and you gain access to the control panel of civilization. Choose the latter, and it could be the last real choice you get to make.”

When I read this book – my slight irritation at the fact that programming was not taught as a part of the curriculum, nor indeed seen as important by parents – it became a far greater philosophical concern, and one that I thought I had to really throw myself into doing something about.

I want my children to have choice, to be able to operate the world they grow up into, not just be driven by it. It’s not just being able to code, in any case, it is understanding computational thinking, really being aware of the value of the frontal lobe over the relative intelligence of the computer programme – are we really going to allow our kids to blindly stumble into a future so utterly dependent on digital tools and products, without giving them the chance to be the demi-Gods who sit behind these things, telling them what to to, and thereby us what to think?

Ben Hammersley used to say to me, the Foreign Policy of this country is not what the Foreign Secretary says it is, it’s what Google says it is. You could argue this fact, but it is broadly true, and now you could perhaps replace ‘google’ with ‘twitter’. Ben has transcribed a speech he gave to the IAAC – please go and read it, it is similarly essential reading.

Rushkoff says in his book that the difference between being able to code and not being able to code, is like being the driver or the passenger (not, as some people think, the difference between the driver and the mechanic). Think about that for a minute, and take a look about you, it’s true.

https://i2.wp.com/rlv.zcache.com/pause_for_thought_black_text_card-p137452235662050689tdn0_152.jpg

Now I am very definitely not alone here. Many people are making lots of noise about this: writing stuff, lobbying Ministers, pestering the Department of Education, meeting, planning, tweeting – you name it, it’s done. The movement is definitely gathering energy and people are beginning to come together around this topic. All I have done, apart from Young Rewired State of course, is start the e-petition bit of this process; as it is the only way we have a real hope of this being debated in Parliament, even if it is in a year’s time and even if it is not guaranteed to be debated, even with 100,000 signatures.

But what it *does* do, is give everyone who is out there a public place to point, with a decent number of signatories: 1,180 it its first 7 days and growing. (We do need to up its rate of growth if we are to reach 100,000 in a year, but this is why understanding the need for it is so important.)

Please note:

I am NOT saying that teaching programming in schools should replace ICT. ICT teaches you how to operate the digital tools now so paramount to our lives, of course we still need what we can fondly now refer to as traditional ICT. However, it is only half the story – we need to start teaching the other half, and fast.

Please sign the e-petition, and share it, tweet it, blog it, send it to your mate who is in the media and get them to talk about it.

http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/15081

Tim Rogers, a Young Rewired Stater and one of the founders of the fabulous Silicon Britain blog, has written his own piece on this, and it is worth hearing the voice of a young digital star http://www.siliconbritain.com/2011/09/computer-science-in-the-uk-is-year-8-too-late/.