Sunday, May 17, 2009

From Virtual Information Hoover to Revelling Reader (and back again)

A personal counter-cultural trend has accelerated this week catalysed by a week of working from home. Whilst I sucked up and spat out a barrage of information snippets, data points and piano-playing cats via email, friendfeed, text and tweet, I also found myself on a complementary novel-reading jag in my non-working hours.

At the end of days spent staring at screens, tapping into keyboards and instantly responding to vibrating devices, I finally finished John FowlesThe Magus then polished off the week with a quick sojourn to Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac. I revelled in the blissful escape via stories that twisted and turned in less frenzied alternative worlds, tempted in by the slow strip tease as characters and details were revealed to me with no more effort than eyes tracing along lines and the turn of a page.

So I was struck by this sentence towards the end of an article in yesterday’s Guardian about the decreasing popularity of non-fiction books,
“many publishers think the noise and immediacy of the web will make slow, quiet immersion in a book seem more, not less, appealing.”
Because this week it's certainly felt that way for me, although I confess I’ve always been a reader, from the most embarrassing of my letters to Father Christmas, containing the should-be-lisped phrase “books, books and more books!” to my current membership of readers' social network Goodreads*.

But I genuinely hope that as gigs and festivals have risen in popularity and importance alongside the file-swapped and mashed-up world of music, and the slow food movement emerged amidst our pre-packaged, fast-food nations, so there will be a trend (who knows? maybe Kindle-driven), in support of the mental nourishment and resuscitation a good book can offer.

With this in mind, please find the following recommendations meant for particular types of my virtual and media-saturated friends. As a break from our networked worlds full of fast, shallow, aggregated knowledge I believe we could all benefit from the occasional slow, deep wallow in words.
  1. ARG and Lost fansThe Magus
    Bear with it, you’ll gasp more than you did when The Others popped up.
  2. Peep Show and In-betweeners self lovers/loathers Portnoy’s Complaint
    A culturally specific and self-revelatory journey with some great masturbatory anecdotes.
  3. Twitter addicts Consider the Lobster and Other Essays
    In your quest for information and your constant need for innovation, the pace, wit, style and sheer ingenuity should suit.
  4. Virtual World Inhabitants and Hardcore gamers - A Clockwork Orange
    Learn about societal trends and tribes via this imagined violent world, with real pleasure to be gained from cracking the language.
  5. Guilty Grazia readers - Hotel du Lac
    Learn about love through an array of fabulously dressed female characters more interesting than Madonna.
Disagree? Too obvious? Add your own recommendations as you see fit.

*Apologies for the distraction, but there’s a great article I received via @zeroinfluencer’s friendfeed about the benefits of asymmetric friending on Twitter vs. Goodreads (I know, I can’t help myself.)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Reminder: Britain's Forgotten Children

Apologies for another work promo from me, but Channel 4's season on adoption and the care system this week, "Britain's Forgotten Children" is without doubt one to watch and interact with. The season explores the issue of the "hard to place" children that can get stuck in the care system or shuttled between different foster families that could be helped by more people considering adoption and especially adopting older children, siblings or kids with disabilities.

Find Me a Family, a three-part documentary following three potential families and their path to adoption, really started off the thinking behind the season and has been a long time in the making (the challenges of which are described in an interesting post by Commissioning Editor Dominique Walker). It does a great job of dispelling myths around who can adopt (yes, single women and gay couples can!) and expanding thinking about the kids that are available for adoption as well as demonstrating the processes involved.

Alongside the tv programmes, we have also developed a website, Adoption Experience (commissioned by Adam, built by Mint), to complement the programmes by enabling deeper exploration of the issues around, and experiences of, adoption. So if you have any experience of adoption please help answer the questions that are on the website (or pose your own) and consider sharing your own experience alongside those we've filmed and highlighted.

There are some criticisms of a much beleaguered care system within some of the programmes, but I hope if you watch last night's Dispatches programme, Lost in Care, you'll see there are also pointers to where the care system can and has had a positive role to play (there are some really interesting comments on the programme page, some not agreeing with my conclusion).

I haven't seen Sunday's Samantha Morton-directed drama, The Unloved, yet but have been promised it's powerful, absorbing and thought provoking; based on her personal experience of being in care and her directorial debut, it's hard to imagine it could be anything else. There are some fascinating insights into how the project really started in this interview with her where Morton explains her motivations and experience of making the film.

As you can see, we have involved lots of different people with many different perspectives in both the development of the programmes and the website and associated content, but the issue can only be better highlighted and our content improved upon by more interaction and feedback, which I hope we've allowed ample opportunity for, through the comments, blog posts and websites we've built.

And, finally, if you are interested in adopting, then please read about the children that need homes who have been featured in the programmes and promotions and consider expressing your interest. If we were to help find a family for just one of them it would have made a worthwhile season invaluable.

Later note 17/05: Feeling terribly remiss for not including the extraordinary Cutting Edge film The Homecoming (27 days left to watch it on 4oD catch-up), an extremely moving and interesting film about two girls revisiting fellow care home members that featured in an old photo years after they themselves were successfully adopted. Plus Adam's written an interesting blog post about the thinking behind the Adoption Experience website.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sexperience: educating the parts that broadcast can't always reach

Last night saw the first of four more Sex Education programmes on Channel 4, this time addressing the specific issue that the ready availability of pornography online has skewed people's understanding and expectations of sex and all the bits involved (see embedded video below for one of the main bits involved).

The website (commissioned by Adam Gee) once again goes that extra step to dispel myths around body parts and experiences by allowing anyone to pose awkward questions like how do you manually stimulate a woman? (Ok, the questioner didn't quite put it like that), answer questions like what's the best position? and share stories like the always interesting tales of people's first times.

I am so passionate about the fact that the website extends the programme into areas broadcast could not reach and enables real and positive impact on individuals' lives I felt compelled to share one of the videos and encourage you to participate in the site.

Personally, I found it really rewarding to answer a few questions posed by some young women, hoping that it will help them make better, more informed decisions around sex and feel more confident about themselves. (I didn't find it quite so rewarding to have my boss walk past my desk just as I was embedding a cock in my blog, but then he didn't bat an eyelid, which some may say just goes to show why Channel 4 really is the home for such tough subjects.)

Please download the latest Flash player

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ada Lovelace Day: Shobha Dharmarajan

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, created by Suw Charman-Anderson as, in her words, "an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology".

I loved the idea, and immediately pledged to post. Then wondered who to write about out of the women involved with technology who've personally inspired me. Esther Dyson? Judy Gibbons? Martha Lane-Fox? Does Arianna Huffington count now?

After some wondering and worrying, I decided to move away from one of the new media superstars who should be experts at self publicity anyway, to someone much closer to home.

Instead I have chosen to highlight an extremely unassuming but incredibly reliable, personable and interesting colleague, Shobha Dharmarajan (that's her on the right), who I've worked with on the technical development and implementation of some of our web components, and, most recently, some improvements to the Channel 4 News website. I asked her a few basic questions listed below and hope you find this brief profile interesting.

What's your job and what does it involve?
I’m a technical project manager for Channel 4 Future Media and Technology. My job is delivery focused, and largely involves translating business requirements into a product, making sure it does what it says on the tin. Most of my work involves risk and issue management, facilitation and coordinating with people with very different backgrounds and needs.

What was your first job in technology and what was it like?
After I finished my education, I joined the R & D Division of Apple in India. It was quite challenging, one of the most cutting edge companies who at the time were releasing the first iMac, and had just integrated the first version of Java for Mac OS. It was also the really early days of the Internet, with the very first versions of Netscape and IE. I was involved in some internal projects, merging all these technologies together, so there was a real challenge as everything was either an initial release or even beta. So nothing quite worked how it was supposed to – it was fun!

What’s the best thing about working in technology?
It’s never stagnant, there’s always something new to learn, always a challenge to keep your mind young, fresh, agile and alert.

What’s the worst thing about working in technology?
It’s the same point really. You have to keep learning otherwise your knowledge becomes obsolete. It doesn’t feel like other jobs where you can become an expert; things constantly change, whether it’s technologies or processes. Even before you can say you’re an expert along comes some new development or application and you’re onto the next. But like I say, that’s also what’s great about it.

If there was one thing you could tell yourself aged 16 about your future career, what would it be?
It’ll be good fun, loads of fun, but you have to be prepared to work hard. You could just stick to one thing but if you want to move with the times you want to work in this area and work hard. For me, it’s been a very rich experience, through my career I’ve met very different people from different cultures, the exposure you get from working with all these different people and cultures is definitely the best thing about working in IT.

I'll finish up by agreeing wholeheartedly with Shobha's last point.

Friday, February 06, 2009

It's been over a month since my last confession

I blame Twitter.

As my thoughts dribble out through the hours and days in 140-character pellets, I feel less inclined to commit a longer version to just a bunch more pixels in another type of post. It's like mental methadone. I might get a bumper sticker for my profile that reads "I'd rather be blogging".

What with a mild tweeting addiction and starting a new job in January , I've a head stuffed with thoughts but not quite the space to filter and file.

I have squeezed some cultural stuff in, however, including the following five-star outings: August: Osage County (brilliant) at the National Theatre and Grace Jones (extraordinary) live at the Roundhouse.

There's been some good stuff going on at work as well including's new homepage, Jon Snow's new blog - Snowblog, and another inspired heap of work from Company Pictures as well as our and marketing teams cross-platforming the bejesus out of Skins.

Oh yeah, and there's been a lot of chat about the future of Channel 4, Digital Britain and sadly, just in this past week, a Kangaroo was killed.

But you knew all that from Twitter, right? Sigh.

I'm jonesing to write some proper paragraphs though, I just need a few days to gather my resources. In the meantime user-generate your own post while I cook up a fresh one.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Tagged Too: The One Blog ...

Thanks Lloyd and Richard for something to do at work today alongside checking the number of web complaints over Christmas (not many actually considering the alternative Christmas message), the number of videos uploaded to the Youtube Big Brother auditions channel (quite a few considering no tv promotion yet) and tidying my inbox (both real and virtual).

So after a quick review of my feeds, I think the one blog I read that you've never heard of is probably Media Funhouse which sounds a lot less esoteric than it is. In its own words it's "The blog for the cult Manhattan cable-access TV show that offers viewers the best in "everything from high art to low trash... and back again!" Find links to rare footage, original reviews, and reflections on pop culture and arthouse cinema."

I have Ed Grant to thank for introducing me to the likes of this homoerotic punk ditty as well what Ken Russell's currently up to on Broadway but the post I most frequently find myself coming back to is his pointer to the scariest Jerry Lewis tribute ever - an outstanding find for a great archivist.

Um ... Adam? Got any special blog treats to share with us?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Big Brother Applications Open on Youtube

Check out the latest from our female applicants. Tempted to apply yourself? I seriously think we need a geek in the house... Sadly, Channel 4 employees can't apply.