Posts Tagged ‘BBC’

A Review of “Inside the Anthill: Open Source Means Business”

Posted on June 3rd, 2009 by Karl Beecher

A recent radio broadcast on BBC Radio 4 (your grandmother’s favourite radio station) entitled “Inside the Anthill: Open Source Means Business” was advertised as “Gerry Northam goes behind the scenes to investigate ‘open source’ computer software“. (Spot the irony in going “behind the scenes” to investigate something that is done openly and transparently.) But let us immediately get one thing straight: the programme was mostly about the principles of openness and distributed collaborative projects in general, rather than exclusively about FLOSS. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, but I sympathize with the purist who finds it grating when the two are conflated. It also will not help the purist that the host does not get it quite right on occasion, such as by describing Linux as the first major open source project.

But still, this is radio for the generation of grandmother not Grand Theft Auto. Perhaps we should forgive some over-simplification? After all, the programme is clearly aimed at those who know little more than the phrase “open source” and who know it has something to do with computers. When the host is interviewing FLOSS developers (which is also when the programme is at its most interesting), he restricts his questions to the basics. The guys at Mozilla get the “why get involved?“, “how do you co-ordinate it all?“, and “who makes the decisions?” questions, while Linux, which seems to be held up as the exemplary FLOSS project, gets “why is it not more popular?“, “are people paid?“, and “where does the money come from?” The host promptly follows the money to IBM, and listens as members of the Linux Technology Centre give glimpses of their modus operandi.

After this, the show leaves the techies behind, and talks to people who apply the principle of open source outside of the computer world. We are treated to people from organizations like Wikipedia and Goldcorp, and from other observers, who give their predictions about open collaboration. Here is where my interest began to wane, because the talk starts to become a little woolly as the interviewees leave aside the specifics, and predict how businesses and governments will take the open principle and the new technology to become more democratic, cheaper, faster, better etc.

Finally, the show links back to its title by breaking down the analogy it set up in the first place (an open source project as a colony of ants), stating that a true anthill needs no hierarchy or centralized decision-making, things which are seen in the examples examined. (Think Linus and his lieutenants, or the guys who decide that Firefox needs to go to 3.5.)

In summary, being only half an hour in length, the programme could not have hoped to go into any real depth, but it may stoke the fires of general interest in the uninitiated listener.

Want to Know the Facts? Turn off the TV and Logon

Posted on May 5th, 2009 by Karl Beecher

I’m going off-topic slightly here, but, in a way, I still remain on it.

Swine flu is upon us. Members of the public who know nothing of epidemiology want to know the facts about the virus.  Meet Thunderf00t, a YouTube user and producer of some rather excellent videos, at their best when debunking the pseudo-scientific and countering with commentaries on the beauties of real science. Recently, he has been posting videos on swine flu, simply explaining the facts in front of a whiteboard like a lecturer.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/l8pSPfZFysg" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/br80HSGGPek" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Now, I do not know about the quality of the TV news you receive locally, but if I contrast the way Thunderf00t here disseminates swine flu information to what I have seen on television news in the UK, then I am afraid the spontaneous voluntary effort by Thunderf00t wins hands down in veracity, relevance and comprehensiveness. A 10 minute piece from him is full of the most relevant preventative information, motivations behind what the WHO advocate,  and definitions of all those terms you might have heard being passed around. Conversely, a 10 minute piece on the BBC News channel is cluttered with useless footage like reporters interviewing nearby neighbours of a young couple in England diagnosed with the illness, and asking them what they feel about it, as if anybody cares. I do not watch much television news these days; I have not seen how Sky News or ITV News have handled the outbreak, but given how the BBC is relatively sedate and calm in its delivery, I would not expect them being any better in this respect.

Thunderf00t even slips in a rejoinder to an American politician, whose peculiar ideology of “government = bad”, dismisses any notion that public agencies should get involved in preventative measures.

But returning to topic, this reflects a wider problem with the delivery of TV news, something already observed upon superbly by people like Charlie Brooker and Adam Curtis. To be fair it is probably not the institutions themselves that are the problem; after all, if you go to the BBC News website (and hunt around a little bit), you will find a decent page with information about swine flu, which they still cannot resist peppering with bits of irrelevance, admittedly.

If I want the facts given with an objective delivery, it seems television news is far from the first place to go.