Open Thinkering


Interesting North 2010


Because, obviously, I don’t go to enough conferences in my role at JISC infoNet, I found it imperative to go to Interesting North. On a Saturday. In Sheffield. I evidently had nothing better to do with my time than listen to people talk about their Lego obsession, obscure German boardgames and the short history of bizarre words such as ‘wikiality’.

Apart from the fact that it was magnificent.

Tim Duckett, who I had a conversation with at a social media event held in Doncaster earlier this year, must be one of the most understated and self-effacing men on the planet. Interesting North was a parade of one fascinating speaker after another, held together with thoughtful planning and resourcing. I can’t wait for the videos of the presentations to emerge from the editing suite!

Attempting to describe the whole day would be rather time-consuming and rather pointless. You weren’t there. I was. That’s all there is to it, really. šŸ˜‰

For the great unwashed who failed to get tickets, then, here’s my five highlights:

1. Meeting awesome people
John Cuthell was there. Josie Fraser was there (and presenting!) Steve Bunce was there. Greg Perry was there (with a business proposition for me!) In addition were fantastic people who not only given up the majority of their Saturday to be there, but were willing to engage in appropriately interesting conversations about a whole range of things. Hopefully I’ve found someone to illustrate my thesis. When it’s finished.

2. Tom Armitage’s presentation
Tom has a blog called infovore which is even better than mine. He talked about ‘Things Rules Do’. And. It. Was. Amazing. Referencing everything from previously-mentioned obscure German boardgames (involving turning the lights off and pretending to be an elf hiding behind a tree) to ‘rocket-jumping’ in the classic video game Quake, Tom had me hooked from the start. So much, in fact, that he was pretty much the only presenter I forgot to take a photo of. Gah.

I’m going to have to read up on the work of Eric Zimmerman, who Tom referenced heavily, and think more about Tom’s assertion that we learn rules by ‘ingesting’ them rather than just reading them. This, he says, makes bound and free at the same time – free to experiment and explore.

‘Quake Done Quick’ (or QDQ to aficionados) blew my mind. The analysis of Streetfighter as a game of controlling space opened my eyes. Talk of the ‘Backgammon doubling cube’ (what fresh hell is this?) made me curious. A game called ‘Graviton’ about, says the author, work/life balance made me sad.

3. Surprising John Cuthell
John asked where I was on Twitter. I turned around in my seat to the man with the spiky grey hair behind me and said “here!”

4. Worrying about the future of South Korea
Herb Kim gave a presentation based about his personal history; people who straddle continents as he does are fascinating. His parents are from South Korea, he grew up in Brooklyn and now he lives in Liverpool and works in Newcastle. It’s the throwaway comments and anecdotes that often make presentations so interesting. This one was no exception.

Not only did Herb reference a TED Talk about a neuroscientist who had a stroke, but got all political by comparing the neo-conservative influence on George Bush with a similar influence working upon David Cameron. It was his talk of no civilisation ever surviving a birth rate lower than 1.3 per couple that made me sit up. South Korea’s is 1.21, with that of Spain, Japan and (more understandably) China not much higher. šŸ˜®

I don’t know whether to reference Nick Foster’s reference funny window design BMW introduced in the 1970s, Stefanie Posavec’s dissection of baseball scorecards, Oli Shaw’s hilarious mock-PhD project taking photos of people asleep on the Tube, or Eliot Fineberg explaining wikiality, historiography and algorithmic authority to us, putting a Venn diagram on the screen, pointing to the middle and then asking WTF?

38 pages of handwritten notes. Wow.

Expect a few inspired blog posts at

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