The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the SelfThe Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self by Thomas Metzinger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Attention is a finite commodity, and it is absolutely essential to living a good life. [ … ] Our brains can generate only a limited amount of this precious resource every day.”

So I will be brief. As a relative newcomer to consciousness studies and neuroscience, this book was a little bit like taking the Red Pill in the Matrix. I would frequently find myself reading a passage, trying to digest it’s meaning and then looking up from the page with changed perception of the world around me. In this book there are convincing observations about how our brains work that are genuinely mind altering in a really fascinating way.

It won’t be for everyone. If you’ve got certain firmly held religious beliefs or if you just find the idea that there probably is no such thing as a “self” a bit scary, you might want to stick to the blue pill. But as science unravels more and more of the secrets of the brain, and offers humankind the possibility to develop ever more sophisticated ways to alter how we experience our existence, there’s a lot to be said for using some of our precious resources of attention trying to come to terms with what’s at stake. Thomas Metzinger’s book is a very good place to start.

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  1. In a conference room in Brussels a group of data fanatics have spent two days discussing how governments could be encouraged to make more data available to their citizens, what technologies might be appropriate for the purpose and what uses the data might serve to those citizens when they get it.

    These are important questions to answer because it is widely accepted that making good quality public data available can reduce corruption, and contribute to a greater level of accountability and transparency in policy making.

    Amongst the sixty or so attendees at the event organised by Phil Archer (from the W3C) were Franco Accordino, (Head of the European Commission’s Task Force Digital Futures), Andrew Stott, (Public Sector Transparency Board, former UK Government Director of Transparency & Digital Engagement) and numerous academics and experts in the field.

    The vision, which largely united rather than divided those at the event is one of a world where people have better, quicker, more efficient access to government information, which allows them to hold their representatives to account and generally improve the way they connect with and consume public services.

    This might mean better ways to track a policy decision that effects your child’s school or data that enables you to find out which of allotments in your area have the shortest waiting lists. The availability of data is also seen to be a major potential contributor to new ways of designing policy, which is something that very much fits with the EU’s Digital Futures project

    It’s worth mentioning that there was an  almost unanimous recognition that the best way to make data really valuable was to used the linked data model. There was a particularly good session from Tim Davies on open data and engagement which described the five stars of working with linked data.

    While there was widespread agreement on the technologies and the general idea that great things could come from making data available, a number of people agreed with Vagner Diniz, who expressed concern that governments with scarce resources were incurring expense to release data without knowing whether it would ever be of use to their citizens.

    In fact, the imbalance between the huge amount of data available and the relatively low level of perceived demand for the services powered by it was something of a recurring theme. That said, there were some interesting success stories, including an excellent example of how the availability of market prices data via mobile phone was improving the lives of rural African farmers.

    The predominant business case from a financial point of view, both for the public bodies investing in the infrastructures needed to make the data available and for non-governmental operators looking for commercial opportunities, is that considerable efficiencies can be found when people, both within organisations and outside them, no longer struggle to get the information they need.

    That might not have the brave new world ring of transparent policy-making for nations of “smart” cities and towns whose citizens’ lives will be made easier by good quality, timely data at their fingertips, but it might be enough to get the ball rolling.

    Anti-corruption and transparency campaigners are putting governments’ willingness to release data high on their check-list when judging a country’s openness. Many government institutions see enough benefits in terms of efficiency to invest in this area and there are a growing number of web developers having fun with the data available producing apps at Hackathons. For take up of the services for the population at large to become widespread however, there is a need for more products that are more directly focussed on solving real world problems and meeting user needs.

    Overall the two day event was an excellent opportunity to discuss the current state of play regarding open government data. This is an area that is getting a lot of attention and I’d recommend that anyone who’s interested looks through the agenda and reads some of the papers (all of which are around 2 pages long).

    The hashtag for the event was #pmod

    Here’s a small selection of tweets:

  2. Leimdorfer
    #pmod kicks off with an intro to http://www.crossover-project.eu/ and strict warnings about sticking to allotted time.
    Tue, Jun 19 2012 03:29:09
  3. Miel_vds
    @alberto_cottica check out http://freeyourmetadata.org for a great hands-on tutorial on Google Refine RDF extension #pmod
    Tue, Jun 19 2012 04:18:23
  4. osimod
    @yannisc : we’re under a data deluge we dont need to reproduce it further , be selective #pmod
    Tue, Jun 19 2012 04:38:23
  5. timdavies
    .@alberto_cottica introducing next #pmod session. Are we facing an #opendata bubble?
    Tue, Jun 19 2012 05:06:08
  6. alberto_cottica
    @timdavies is dead right: #opendata reuse demands an ecosystem to be in place, but most everybody just pushes data out. #pmod
    Tue, Jun 19 2012 05:15:12
  7. Flygirltwo
    Shout out for the Data Journalism Handbook at #pmod. I wrote a section. 🙂 Free to download here: http://datajournalismhandbook.org/ (cc: @ddjournalism)
    Tue, Jun 19 2012 08:57:37
  8. deirdrelee
    Presentation on Linked Open Data app for Galway Volvo Ocean Race available here http://slidesha.re/MKoC5N #pmod #opendata
    Tue, Jun 19 2012 10:12:50
  9. luigireggi
    No correlation btw Government Data Openness index in Latin America and UN #egov index. #OpenGov is not so IT driven as egov was. #pmod
    Wed, Jun 20 2012 03:30:30
  10. alberto_cottica
    @luigireggi hit the nail on the head: #opengov is not about IT, it is about values/practices given a minimal IT layer. Makes sense? #pmod
    Wed, Jun 20 2012 03:35:16
  11. luigireggi
    .@ssdawes “Data quality depends on user’s point of view”. Very faceted issue > “Data Quality Assessment” http://dwquality.com/DQAssessment.pdf [pdf] #pmod
    Wed, Jun 20 2012 03:56:19
  12. Leimdorfer
    #pmod “The amount of metadata and quality and attention on it should be commensurate with the value we think the data has” @ssdawes
    Wed, Jun 20 2012 03:58:09
  13. MicheleOsella
    About data relevance: wrap-up “big picture” w/ @ssdawes. #PMOD 🙂 http://pic.twitter.com/LfM9FnbN
    Wed, Jun 20 2012 04:02:18
  14. Leimdorfer
    You have the right to ask European Union bodies for information, they are legally obliged to respond http://www.asktheeu.org/ #pmod @AskTheEU
    Wed, Jun 20 2012 04:13:13
  15. Flygirltwo
    The World Bank Puppet Masters report @CountCulture just mentioned can be downloaded here: http://www1.worldbank.org/finance/star_site/documents/Puppet Masters Report.pdf #pmod
    Wed, Jun 20 2012 08:42:08
  16. Leimdorfer
    http://opencorporates.com/ has information on 43,605,794 companies. #pmod #opendata @opencorporates
    Wed, Jun 20 2012 08:51:03
  17. And to round off, here’s a picture of the wonderful Atomium, which is an appropriate shape building to appear on a post about linked data. I vote that the next meet up on the subject takes place in one of the balls!
  1. Day 1 (08/03/2012): LHR > AUS

    Not often do you get a really interesting conversation for the first half of a long-haul flight, but meeting the fascinating Ray Mia @twtmia on the flight over was a real bonus. Ray is CEO at Streamworks International, previously of Sky and the UN, and we nattered on about video and journalism on the web until we were half way across the Atlantic.

  2. Day 2 (09/03/2012)
    : Overwhelmed by the scale of SXSW

    I’m not going to brag about my “panelist” status getting me straight to the front of the 2 hour queue to register. I needed the extra time just to begin to work out where things were and start to get my head around the scale of this event: Huge and overwhelming for the newbie.

    Still, I did rather well with the first talk I attended. This was excellent:

    David Eagleman: Secret Lives of the Brain

    “If the conscious mind–the part you consider you–is just the tip of the
    iceberg in the brain, what is all the rest doing? Neuroscientist David
    Eagleman, author of the New York Times bestseller Incognito: The Secret
    Lives of the Brain, shows that most of what you do, think and believe
    is generated by parts of your brain to which you have no access. Here’s
    the exposé about the non-conscious brain and all the machinery under
    the hood that keeps the show going.”

    This was a great talk. David Eagleman delivers insight into recent findings in the field of neuroscience with passion and humour. It’s the ideal combination of entertainment and education. Eagleman is a real scientist, so the, while we’re only given a plebs overview, the underlying research behind the presentation is valid. The presentation is really polished with great moments of audience interaction to illustrate his points and really great soundbites scattered throughout.

    Anyone with an imagination could start constructing all manner of sci-fi distopias out of this current area of research. No doubt they already have. It also opens up all sorts of potentially very controversial issues around how we construct our laws. Here are some tweets with links to a few of the things he mentioned

  3. Share
    #sxbrainlives conscious mind is “broom closet of brain” – stowaway taking credit for the entire journey
  4. Share
    #SXBrainLives #SXSWi “In each of us there is another whom we do not know” Carl Jung. “There’s someone in my head, but it’s not me” P.Floyd
  5. Share
    Panel elicits quote from Richard III: “My conscience hath a thousand several tongues, & every tongue brings in a several tale” #sxbrainlives
  6. Share
  7. Share
    Another of Eagleman’s fascinating projects.: Neulaw neulaw.org/ #sxbrainlives #sxsw
  8. Share
    #sxbrainlives @davideagleman loved the talk. Didnt get to ask if we share any of our unconscious. Are we really “contained” in our brains?
  9. Here’s a link to the SXSW page, where there is an audio file of the talk:
  10. David Eagleman’s book, which I fully intend to read.
  11. Next talk i attended on the first day was a panel with the MIT Media Lab:

    MIT Media Lab Making Connections
    “Our kickoff panel is centered on what is fresh and exciting at the
    MediaLab and how the Lab and its projects connect to the world. We’ll
    tell you what cool stuff is happening under our new director Joi Ito”

    I really enjoyed some of this, particularly Joi Ito’s paean to the “anit-disciplinary” nature of how they work. It sounds like a kind of Anarchist utopia there, although, without wanting to sound too cynical, I do understand how this could have an element of marketing to it. That said, if it’s half as fun as @Joi made it sound, I bet it’s a great place for creative technologists. Really great.

  12. Share
  13. Share
    #SXmedialab head of MIT – throw away your map – just tune your compass. If you can get away without a plan, do.
  14. Here’s the SXSW page with the audio:
  15. Share
    #SXmedialab head of MIT – throw away your map – just tune your compass. If you can get away without a plan, do.
  16. Day 3 (10/03/2012)

  17. Slowly getting the hang of the event. Swinging in and out of some less interesting sessions. Made an effort to get to a session on “Storytelling” with a group called “And I Am Not Lying”:

    “Storytelling is both the second-oldest art form and a hot “new” form of
    entertainment — thanks to This American Life, The Moth’s podcast and
    live shows, and tons of shows cropping up around the country,
    storytelling’s making a big comeback.”

    This was a nice panel that kicked off with one of the members telling a story and then some general discussion about what storytelling might mean in the wider context of business and marketing.

    One of the things I think is very interesting is that the term “storytelling” has been diluted quite heavily by over-use. In our newsroom we will happily refer to “telling a story” when what we really mean is “recount events”. Some of the techniques of recounting do overlap with storytelling, but to blithely assume that we are doing “storytelling” because we engage people in finding out about events, is lazy. Hence my tweet and Thaler’s response.

  18. Share
    Enjoyed this #notlyingSXSW session on “storytelling”. A mis/over-used term in the newsroom. Time to use it more selectively imo.
  19. Share
    @Leimdorfer So glad you joined us @ I Am Not Lying, Andrew! Yup, something “about” a story ain’t a story.
  20. Another session I enjoyed was this one from Dave Olson one of the founders of Hootsuite on
    “Crowd Sourcing Community Projects Like Tom Sawyer”.

    He had a couple of great examples of crowsourcing projects he’d been involved in, not least the way in which Hootsuite itself has been translated by a team of volunteers.

  21. Spent the evening at a couple of parties. The Journalism do, which was
    greatly improved by spending a chunk of the evening with Chris Wu
    @macdiva who knows everyone and is great at making introductions. Got to
    know some really interesting folk. After that I wondered over to the
    Mozilla bash and finally the official launch do with a colleague from
    the BBC, click radio presenter Gareth Mitchell

    @GarethM. Free beer and Boxing Robots.
  22. Share
  23. Day 4 (11/03/2012)
    :

    This was the day of our panel and we spent an hour or so preparing in the morning after lunch. It actually turned out to be pretty enjoyable. Dan @sinker kept the whole thing moving and I don’t think I said anything terribly stupid. The feedback was really positive. Also great to see @mohamed from again and meet @emilybell. 

  24. Share
    Unique story example from BBC via @leimdorfer – through this powerful app on world population. bbc.in/uvNabZ #sxswi #journopen
  25. Share
    .@leimdorfer – on apps ‘How you tell a story not necessarily a linear narrative. Get people to ID in more personal way.’ #journopen
  26. Share
    Are newsrooms reorganizing for the web? @leimdorfer says journalism & dev desks are still divided, but best ideas come out of collaboration.
  27. Share
    @Leimdorfer @scottros You’ve been quoted in my @Storify story: “Open Web, Open News: Reporters & Developers Remix” ow.ly/9Av3a
  28. Met up with Ramaa @ramaamultimedia, James @joffley and Miriam at Google village for a drink, followed by an abortive attempt to get into the Mashable party and some pool on 6th Street.
  29. Share
  30. Day 5 (12/03/2012)
    :

  31. Thanks to the very shoddy sxsw shuttle service I missed the start of the Maps of Time panel, which is a shame because what I saw was good stuff:

    The audio file is on the sxsw page:

  32. Share
    @AlexGraul @DataminerUK @jennthom @BurtHerman @drewwww Nice panel guys.
  33. After that I headed over to catch The Editor of the New York Times @JillAbramson talking about the future of the organisation: Expansion internationally was mentioned a few times, which could be interesting.
  34. Share
    Also India Ink new NYT blogging project RT “@ajbreuer: #sxswi #FutureNYT ‘ main focus on expanding globally, ESP india’”
  35. Create More Value Than You Capture.

    I stayed in the same theatre for Tim O’Reilly talking about values. This turned out to be one of the highlights. Lots of interestng food for thought and some very quotable remarks:

  36. Share
    “When you go on a road trip, you don’t go non a tour of gas stations.” @timoreilly on funding-centric business. #sxvalues
  37. Share
    Policy makers should focus on protecting the future from the past, not the past from the future -@timoreilly #sxvalues #sxswi
  38. Share
    Investors have never created a single job. Customers create jobs. -@timoreilly #sxvalues #sxswi
  39. Share
    .@amcafee @timoreilly at #sxvalues #sxsw generosity, opensource and how to measure value in economy. recommend book bit.ly/wVuoqK
  40. Share
  41. Went to Al Gore’s talk in the afternoon with Juliane from nzzonline. We didn’t think he was saying much to be honest.
  42. Met up with a nice bunch of people including my old boss Ade @5forty and spent the evening at the British Music Embassy:
  43. Share
  44. Share
    Enjoyed the @wondervillains at SXSW this evening. Entertaining pop band from Northern Ireland. bit.ly/A7Z9aQ
  45. Day 6 (13/03/2012)
    :

  46. Despite being slightly worse for wear, due the the accumulative effects of SXSW nightlife, I really enjoyed the final morning’s talk with @benmcallister.

    It was a really great counter to the neuroscience that started the week. Not because Ben was saying that that there’s no place for science, rather that, in design, what he calls “scientism” is like “truthiness”: An attempt by non-scientists to add a veneer of certainty to what they do.

    This felt uncomfortably familiar, which is great, because we really need to make sure that whatever data we do use to back up our decisions isn’t just there as a prop to stop a creative dialogue.

    Like David Eagleman, Ben’s presentation was really polished and littered with great quotes and examples. Many of the best quotes were from Richard Feynman. I particularly liked that his definition of scientific integrity included “bending
    over backwards to show how you are maybe wrong”.

    The message was not, don’t research, but don’t take the research at face value and don’t let it undermine the decisions of experienced people who know their craft. The science of design is dangerous when we allow naive empiricism – a cheap imitation of science – to govern what we do.

  47. Share
    If you have perfect information, there is no strategy: Strategy = Ambiguity Leadership. but no excuse for ignorance! @benmcallister #sxsw
  48. Share
    Don’t use “I know it works, I’ve seen the research” as a way of ending conversation. naive empiricism @benmcallister
  49. Share
    @benmcallister referred to Feynman’s ‘Cargo Cult Science’ Caltech commencement address cloud.greg.io/191R1m0d472p… #SxSW #SXDangerous
  50. I decided a film would be a good way to spend the afternoon. I also wanted to to make at least one use of my sxsw film pass. Turned out to be a good choice too. This was a engrossing documentary:
  51. Share
    TheImposter: imdb.to/xCDteP Frenchman convinces grieving Texas family hes their 16yr-old son who went missing for 3yrs. extraordinary
  52. Last up…
    The Ultimate Bruce Sterling Talk

    The passionate closing remarks of this visionary thinker are a long-time
    tradition for SXSW Interactive attendees…. What Bruce Sterling
    likes (and doesn’t like) about the tech industry and the world at large
    in 2012.

    Bruce’s memorable prediction for the future… “Old people, living in dirty cities, afraid of the sky”.

  53. Followed by, believe it or not, another night on the town with @5forty. This band were excellent:
  54. Share
  55. Day 7 (14/03/2012)
    : AUS > LHR

  56. This was a great event to attend. There’s far to much to do to even think about “getting the most out of it”. You just have to earmark the things you think you’re going to enjoy and not constantly fret over not being where you’re not. There are some really good sessions, but the informal meetings are just as interesting and the general atmosphere of dropping your reserve and striking up conversations really adds to the overall experience.

    The fact that what looks like half the online media world’s marketing budget is being burnt wining and dining attendees is, of course, not an unpleasant thing to be on the receiving end of, but after five days of free beer, meals, parties and mountains of branded plastic nic-nacs, I had another interesting conversation on the plane back to London. Sitting next to me was an epidermiologist on her way home from a conference at the disease control center in Atlanta. The people at that conference were discussing how we might survive (or not, as it turns out) the next large-scale epidemic. Freebies on offer at that event: Apparently they got an ice cream from Haagen Daz. Does kind of make you wonder if we’ve got our priorities right.

La Fiesta Del ChivoLa Fiesta Del Chivo by Mario Vargas Llosa
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and now this, I feel I know more than I ever really wanted to about the horrors of the Trujillo years in the Dominican Republic.

Both books are excellent. This is a more traditional telling of the story, but Vargas Llosa’s ability to get underneath the surface of his characters and drag you through their versions of the events around the life and death of one of Latin America’s most despicable twentieth century dictators is extraordinary. He allows for humanity in every character he creates, without ever diminishing or undermining the inhumanity of their actions.

Although reasonably complex, the structure of the novel keeps the story flowing, and while there are places where the pace drops, it never drags.

It goes without saying that this is writing by someone who has mastered their craft. In this novel Vargas Llosa chose to give voices to people involved in one of Latin America’s grimmest regimes and those who brought it to an end. I found it quite compelling.

View all my reviews

My Dad, Tom Leimdorfer, who came to England as a refugee in 1956, gave a speech at the 5th Anniversary celebrations of North Somerset BME Forum. It’s a touching account of his youth, coupled with some amusing reflections of life as an immigrant in the UK. Here it is in full:

Carmela, madam Chairperson, thank you for inviting me to be your speaker.
Congratulations on the 5th Anniversary of North Somerset BME Forum

How nice it is to be in a room full of fellow aliens. I believe, without undue modesty, that I am qualified to speak about being ‘an alien’. I have been an alien in England for almost 55 years. Of course, I was an alien even for the first 14 years of my life, only I was not aware of it. Like most of you, I was born in a country inhabited by aliens, but I had to come to England before appreciating this fundamental fact. The humorist George Mikes (born in Hungary like myself) wrote a helpful guide entitled: ‘How to be an alien’. It was written in 1946, but much of it still rings true:

‘It is a shame and bad taste to be an alien, and it is no use pretending otherwise. There is no way out of it. A criminal may improve and become a decent member of society, but once a foreigner, always a foreigner. There is no way out. You may become British, you can never become English. So better reconcile yourself to the sorrowful reality. There are noble English people who will forgive you. They realise that it is not your fault, only your misfortune. They will treat you with condescension, understanding and sympathy. They may invite you into their homes. Just as they keep lap-dogs and other pets, they are quite prepared to keep a few foreigners’.

Not too many, of course! Mikes gives a set of rules about ‘How to an alien’ in England and so to become acceptable in English society. But he gives this warning:
‘If you study these rules, you can imitate the English. If you don’t succeed in imitating them, you become ridiculous, if you do, you become even more ridiculous’.

I hope this is a pessimistic view, so I will try to give another side to this picture. I did not have the easiest of starts in life, being born into a Hungarian Jewish family during the war. Before I was two years old, my father had died on the Russian front, in the Jewish forced labour unit of the Hungarian army and two my grandparents perished in the gas chambers in Auschwitz. On my second birthday, the Hungarian Nazi ‘Arrow Cross’ government came to power and started exterminating the Jews of Budapest.

Tom in Hungary

Tom in Hungary

Altogether 16 members of my wider family were killed; but my mother and I, an uncle and aunt and my paternal grandparents survived in hiding. My childhood years were a mixture hardship, fun, sadness and enjoyment. School days during the most repressive years of the communist dictatorship were difficult and drab, but not without their lighter side. However, it was a state founded on fear and lies. I was there outside the Parliament on the 23rd October 1956 in the crowd when the Hungarian revolution started.

After the revolution was brutally crushed my mother and I escaped to Austria in December 1956, crawling under the old ‘iron curtain’ at the border in the dead of night, having been arrested earlier. We left all our possessions behind and came with just a rucksack each.

Times were different and refugees were welcomed. We were given extra clothes when we arrived in London. My mother’s brother already lived in London and he gave us shelter and help. The kindly headmaster of the local grammar school accepted me as pupil. Sadly, my mother died of cancer four months after we arrived in England.

So here I was, a young teenage orphan refugee in a strange land. However, I was fortunate to have around me my uncle and aunt cousins, the support of a loving family. My school mates definitely regarded me as ‘an alien’, but were generally friendly and helpful while I tried to master their language. They were patient with me about getting things wrong in English they found it much harder to forgive that I got things right in Maths and physics.

Actually, I soon found out that it is very bad form for aliens to get anything right. By the way, as Mikes reminds us;

‘In England it is bad manners to be clever, to assert something confidently. It may be your own personal view that two and two make four, but you must not state it in a self assured way, because this is a democratic country and others may be of different opinion’.

Even today, I often find that my fellow councillors get quite upset if I confuse them with the facts.

My classmates expected me to be brilliant at football. After all Hungary beat England 6:3 at Wembley a couple of years earlier. I was quite average at football, just about making the school’s second team. I was good at table tennis and chess, but that did not really impress. After all, even English kids who are good at chess are regarded as ‘aliens’.

In the early 60s I passed several milestones: I had an English girlfriend in the sixth form at school and then a girlfriend at university who became my wife for 26 year and the mother of my three children. She died 20 years ago of a brain tumour.

When I was 21, I became a ‘naturalised’ British Subject. By then, I was good at exams but I did not have to take any exams to become a British Subject. That was rather disappointing really. When I got my degree, I had a handshake from the Queen Mother, but I became ‘naturalised just by receiving a rather dull piece of paper through the post.

Now if you want to become a naturalised British Subject you will have the pleasure of demonstrating that you can answer questions like:

  • Where have migrants come from in the past and why? What sort of work have they done?
  • Do women have equal rights in voting, education and work, has this always been the case?
  • How many people belong to an ethnic minority and which are the largest minority groups? Where are there large ethnic communities?
  • What is the Opposition and what is the role of the Leader of the Opposition?

I am still trying to discover the answer to that last Question as far as North Somerset Council is concerned!

You notice that to become British you are ‘naturalised’. One definition of the word ‘natural’ is ‘of or according to nature, physically existing, innate, instinctive, normal’. So note that until you obtain British citizenship, the English doubt whether you are ‘normal’ or indeed provided by nature.

Now I will read you a whole chapter from the book by Mikes. Luckily it is the shortest chapter, the chapter on ‘Sex’: ‘Continental people have sex life, the English have hot-water bottles’ Actually, that is way out of date. We changed all that in the 60s – and it was probably all the fault of us foreigners!

Today we have here a wonderful rich tapestry of traditions from all over the world. You have brought with you your individual stories, your joys and sorrows, your language, your culture, your history. Never let go of all that in trying to become assimilated. Look for all that is of value here in England, here in North Somerset and add it to what you have brought with you. The longer you live here, the more will surprise you.

I had a history teacher at school who attempted to make me less of a barbarian by trying to convert me to rugby and by introducing me to the Lake District. He failed in the first task, so he kindly took me with an older group of students to the Lakes. On the first day, we climbed four mountains. As we struggled up a narrow rocky path by a sheer drop in the mist, I vowed that if I survived, I will never go back there again. By the end of the week, I decided that it was the most wonderful, mysterious, awesome place on earth and I have been back about 16 times. So if the going is hard – stick with it and you may discover something really worthwhile.

Perhaps I have fallen into the trap George Mikes warned about. By assimilating and succeeding in imitating the English, perhaps I have become more ridiculous than if I hadn’t tried. (I am fond of wearing tweed jackets long after most English people have given them up). But the longer I live here, the more wonderful things I discover about this country and its people. Oh, it’s not easy to ignore the xenophobia, the racism and the tabloids blaming foreigners (or immigrants or asylum seekers) for unemployment, crime and the loss of the ‘British way of life’.

The lovely photo I have here of my grandson’s class in north London with children from 17 different ethnic backgrounds would scare many of the residents of North Somerset. The simple fact (and it is a fact) that immigrants have paid more tax than taken in benefit, added more to the economy than taken from it as well as adding to the culture, the quality of food and entertainment. When I came to England, London Transport relied on immigrants to run the buses, since then the NHS became entirely reliant on immigrants.

So aliens or not, let us hold our head up high! At the same time, let us always be sensitive to the strange tribe who consider themselves English (although when you scratch the surface, they all come from a right old mixture). The one thing we here all have in common is that at present North Somerset is our home. Perhaps there is an advantage in being ‘aliens’. Many of us now also feel ‘aliens’ in the country of our origin. Perhaps that makes us real citizens of this planet. We have chosen this part of it to be home, but we are aware that it is a tiny part of our one precious, threatened common home. This Earth. Earth citizens are those who are truly ‘naturalised’.

I hope you feel you can contribute to life in North Somerset with all its challenges. I hope your feel it is your North Somerset. It has been my privilege to represent my village as a councillor for the past 8 and a half years. This country welcomed me as a teenage refugee, as an alien – and I wanted to put something back to the community I now call my home. I hope you also feel increasingly welcomed here. Aliens we may remain but that should not stop us from making this truly our home and putting something back into our community. I am sure many of you do that already and I wish you well on the rest of your life’s journey… starting with today’s celebrations.

NOTE:

There is a more detailed account of Tom’s recollections of the 1956 uprisings in Hungary on the BBC News Website.

I contributed to a piece for the BBC Editor’s blog. Here it is in full:

Steve Herrmann | 11:48 UK time, Friday, 4 November 2011

The web has created many challenges for news organisations but also lots of opportunities for telling stories in new and innovative ways. In particular it allows us to bring together multimedia combinations of text, graphics, video and audio, and gives us new ways to visualise information and create interactive graphics.

At the BBC News website, most of this work is handled by a combined team of journalists, developers and designers (we call them the ‘Specials’ team) and they produce content such as the recent and popular World at seven billion and 9/11 memories from the wreckage..

Now, as a result of a fellowship scheme we are taking part in called the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership, we’re looking forward to welcoming a new member to the team. If you are interested to know more, Senior Product Manager Andrew Leimdorfer explains:

The project, set up by the web browser provider Mozilla and the not-for-profit Knight Foundation, has created a series of fellowships for aspiring tech-savvy journalists or news-savvy technologists (depending on your preference). The Partnership ran a series of “challenges” to select five fellows, who will each spend a year working in “one of the world’s most exciting newsrooms”.

Working as a partner in this project fits perfectly with the remit of our team. The project’s goals are “to advance the best values of both journalism and the open web by continuous innovation. Working together, technologists and journalists can accomplish great things”. The BBC News Specials team has a particular focus on this kind of collaborative approach to the production of digital news content for the BBC. In our corner of the newsroom, journalists, designers and developers work side by side on finding new and interesting ways to enhance our storytelling.

Choosing the five successful fellows (who will also be based at The Guardian, Al Jazeera, Boston.com and Zeit Online) has been an extremely creative three-stage process, which started with a call for entries on the following themes:

Unlocking video: How can new web video tools transform news storytelling?

Beyond Comment Threads: How can we reinvent online news discussions?

People-Powered News: What’s the next killer app for news?

Hundreds of ideas were submitted and assessed. The best sixty proposals then took part in a Learning Lab in July where participants refined, combined, and developed their ideas from the challenge.

In October this year the twenty “finalists” attended a really inspiring four-day “Hackfest” in Berlin. This was where the partner news organisations got to meet the prospective fellows and see this group of outstanding journalism innovators in action. It was also a great opportunity for the partner news organisations to get to know each other and begin to open channels of communication about the work we do and how shared approaches to technology might be mutually beneficial.

Deciding alongside the partners which of these candidates should be placed in each news organisation was huge challenge due to the calibre of entries, but also extremely enjoyable task. Everyone taking part in Berlin displayed levels of enthusiasm, creativity and skill that would benefit a newsroom.

The final five names are being announced 4 November at this year’s Mozilla Festival, which has a theme of “Media freedom and the Web” and takes place at Ravensbourne College in London.

We’ll be there with our new fellow to talk about how this year’s MoJo program has gone so far and how we think the project will develop. We certainly have high hopes for the collaboration as we begin the next phase, working with our fellow to continue inventing the future of news.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

via BBC – The Editors.

The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western WorldThe Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World by Iain McGilchrist
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very remarkable book. It significantly altered my perception of the world around me and I would often put the book down with my head buzzing with the insight it offers.

McGilchrist is a former consultant psychiatrist, a researcher in neuroimaging, as well as lecturer in English at Oxford University! He took 20 years to write the book, which sets out to “attempt to understand the structure of the world that the brain has in part created.” (p.1)

It’s a lofty aim and he’s a credible writer who gets us well down the road to that understanding. My one criticism is the pitch and depth of the book seems caught between two stalls. On the one hand McGilchrist is a credible academic who appears to be aiming his writing, if not at his peers, then at least to his post-grad students. On the other hand there are universal messages here that could be communicated without the in depth analysis of nineteenth century poetry or the finer details of neurology. I’m not saying it should have been in the “For Dummies” format but there seemed occasionally to be two books here; one an academic treatise, the other something much more accessible.

I started out aiming to log my favourite quotes, which I began with the ones below. I regret not keeping that up because there are many wonderful little snippets. Of course the soundbites wouldn’t do the book justice, but they would have been a nice reminder of the pithier moments, of which there are many.

Some Quotes from the Intro

In refuting the popular version of beliefs about the hemispheres of the brain:

“[they] could be characterised as versions of the idea that the left hemisphere is gritty, rational, realistic but dull, and the right hemisphere is airy-fairy, impressionistic, but creative and exciting; a formulation reminiscent of Seller and Yeatman’s immortal distinction between the Roundheads – ‘right and repulsive’ – and the Cavaliers – ‘Wrong and Wromantic’.” (p.2)

In refuting the opposing beliefs that either “everything exists out there” – naive materialism or “everything is a subjective creation of our own minds” – naive idealism:

Things change according to the stance we adopt towards them, the type of attention we pay to them, the disposition we hold in relation to them. This is important because the most important distinction between the hemispheres is the type of attention they give to the world. (p.4)

The conclusions about left hemisphere domination:

An increasingly mechanistic, fragmented, decontextualised world marked by unwarranted optimism mixed with paranoia and a feeling of emptiness ha come about reflecting, I believe, the unopposed action of a dysfunctional left hemiphere.(p.6)

How our evolution is encoded into us:

When we look at our embodied selves, we are looking into the past. But that past is no more dead than we are. The past is somethin we perform every living day, here and now. (p.8)

How the brain is organised casts light on the structure and experience of our mental world:

The brain is – in fact it has to be – a metaphor for the world. (p.9)

Not a Cartesian dualist:

It has been said that the world is divided into two sets of people, those who divide the world into two sets of people and those who don’t. I am with the second group. (p.11)

Great metaphor for what might happen when there are structural abnormalities in the brain:

… does placing a maths professor in a circus troupe result in a flying mathematician, or a bunch of trapeze artists who can no longer perform until they’ve calculated the precise trajectory of their leap? (p.12)

It’s not just our brains that are asymmetrical, the universe is:

… asymmetry must have been a condition of the origin of the universe. It was a discrepency between the amounts of matter and antimatter that enabled the material universe to come into existance at all, for there to be something rather than nothing. (p.13)

… following the physiological principal of opponent processors, duality refines control.

Problem with explaining consciousness:

the fundamental problem with explaining the experience of consciousness is that there is nothing else remotely like it to compare it with.

Mind is more a process than a thing:

Every individual mind is a process of interaction with whatever it is that exists apart from ourselves according to its own private history. (p.20)

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