Archive for April, 2010

The All-Seeing Lipid Rides Again


"Scallop Fisheye #2" by slimmer_jimmer on flickr
"Scallop Fisheye #2" by slimmer_jimmer on flickr

Last year was the first year I joined in The Omniscient Mussel‘s #operaplot competition, and I wrote up my entries as a blog post. This week it’s on again for a wonderful third year.

Here are my attempts so far; the second two and a few of the last ones are reposts from last year – that’s allowed 🙂 and my first was the first entry (though I had to delete it and repost as it made no sense with the commas stripped out to fit in a tweet)

Dr Atomic, by John Adams
Batter my heart, three-person’d God, I, except you enthrall me, never shall be free, nor ever chaste, except you ravish me *BOOM*

Peter Grimes, by Benjamin Britten
Sailor abuse; sea; sailor abuse; sea; teacher abuse; sea; child abuse; sea; death; sea

Acis and Galatea, by George Frideric Handel
♀ ♥ shepherd. Shepherd ♥ ♀. Giant ♥ cherry lipped ♀. Giant kills shepherd. ♀ now = divinity who turns dead shepherd into fountain

Káťa Kabanová, by Leoš Janáček
My husband is cold and away. My mother-in-law is a dragon. Would it be vulgar to snog a friend? It was so I’ll drown in the Volga

Noye’s Fludde, by Benjamin Britten
A very cute storm in a teacup, with audience participation

Dido and Aeneas, by Henry Purcell
@belinda Remember me but oh do not archive my tweets.

Bluebeard’s Castle, by Béla Bartók
Do not open

Tosca, by Giacomo Puccini
3 acts. Key character from Act 1 not seen again. In Act 2 main baddie dies. PLOT FAIL. Quick recover: fake fake death then death

Così fan Tutte, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Women eh! You recon? You’re on. ‘Told ya.

Rusalka, by Antonín Dvořák
Fishy tale of bored teen seeking love. Čury mury fuk. Teen silenced, but her chatty lover lacks constancy. Watery graves for all.

La Traviata, by Giuseppe Verdi
I cannot help falling for an arrogant youngster. Boy does his dad hate me. OK I’ll leave. Wait till I’m dying to love me. Operas!

Pelléas et Mélisande, by Claude Debussy
Rescued you from fountain sorrow why torment me with lust for brother? I’ve killed him. Whose baby is this? What illness is that?

You can follow people’s plotting live on twitter at and you can find out more about the amazing judge she’s got this year (Jonas Kaufmann), the truly amazing prizes, and how to take part on The Omniscient Mussel’s blog, but be quick, it ends on Friday the 30th of April 2010:

========== edit ==========

And here are the list of entries:

Internet Ethics OII Seminar: Think Piece


I’m attending a seminar on Internet Ethics on Friday 30/04/10. Before the seminar all the attendees are sharing position papers. This is mine.

American Cemetery TtV Triptych by dumbledad on flickr
American Cemetery TtV Triptych” by dumbledad on flickr

“History is written by the victors” (attributed to Winston Churchill)


The history of the Spanish Civil War shows us that Churchill’s quote above was wrong, that in fact history is written by the best writers. The internet changes the way we are brought together to reflect on who we are and what we are doing; and thus our perception of ethics and our ethical actions themselves. I would like to take one specific ethical concern, and use that to explore my research position on ethics and the internet.

I am a computer scientist (or perhaps more honestly a software engineer) and much of my research life has been focussed on social software, that is on technologies that help bring people together. I have worked on online virtual worlds, co-located groupware, mobile media sharing, and home communication applications, amongst other topics. The social software movement has been hugely successful, setting the agenda for Web 2.0 and the wealth of social networking and social, community, or communications services online.

Case Study: work with the Internet Watch Foundation

Alongside the benefits brought by these applications – allowing friendships to be maintained made, or cemented online, social software also allows baddies to contact goodies, or baddies to form self-normalising cliques where their behaviour may feel OK. I have used the tongue-in-cheek term baddies but to be more concrete, example concerns have been raised about such echo chambers where anorexics gather to swap tips, or where paedophiles gather to swap images.

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) was formed to tackle this latter issue, more specifically they have a remit to provide the UK internet Hotline for the public to report criminal online content in a secure and confidential way.

Ring by Pete Ashton on flickr
Ring” by Pete Ashton on flickr

The goal of the IWF is summed up neatly in their vision: to combat child sexual abuse images online. At the heart of their process is the reporting system and the hotline staff. Anyone who stumbles upon online content they are worried may be illegal can report it to the IWF through their website, and then the IWF hotline team check the severity of the content, and if it is illegal report it to the relevant law enforcement agency, here or abroad. For UK hosted content they also alert the ISP, who remove the content. More recently the IWF’s list of illegal content has been used by UK ISPs to filter their customers’ page requests.

Once we have made applications that bring people together, for good, we also have a moral obligation to explore techniques to curb those same applications use for evil. For me that is exactly what the IWF work represents: an honest attempt to make it harder for paedophiles to share content online.

My involvement in the work of the IWF has been only small, but represents how I think we should engage these ethical debates: by building things. I have helped the IWF with one of the tools their hotline team use, a bulk image viewer for quickly scanning, selecting, and reporting images form highlighted nntp groups. I have also given technical advice on the implementation and audit of their blocking service.

This is just one ethical concern, and does not really address Yorick Wilk’s call in the seminar proposal “to consider the moral dynamics and implications of the Internet upon the whole human being”. But I believe that while commenting, philosophising, and influencing government and society are useful aspects of the process Yorick appeals for, it is only really by getting our hands dirty, by joining in and by building that we gain fully rounded insights.


Wittgenstein’s Grave by billt on flickr
Wittgenstein’s Grave” by billt on flickr

As Yorick’s proposal for this workshop suggests, we are at an exciting moment in the study of ethics and the internet, and I wanted to reflect briefly on the role different disciplines play in that study.

One problem I perceive is that social scientists and philosophers are rightly weary of technological determinism. They should also be weary of social determinism. I want to urge people in those disciplines not to shy away from working directly with technologists to experiment and to effect change. Such collaborations provide needed apparatus to support pragmatic philosophical investigation.

There are also issues around the language and style of different disciplines that I hope we get a chance to explore in the seminar. For example I worry that in an effort to provide concrete evidence the balance between qualitative and quantitative methods in the social sciences can favour the quantitative too much.


In conclusion, I would like to see the study of ethics and the internet not as descriptive (studying the interplay between people’s ethical behaviour, their ethical stance, and their internet use) but also experimental. Experimental in the sense that researchers test their ideas by building new stuff (or by changing the way old stuff works).

The internet, as a medium, is malleable.

Phidgets board and breadboard by tristanf on flickr
Phidgets board and breadboard” by tristanf on flickr

References and Links

Yorrick’s description of this Internet Ethics Seminar is at and another attendee, Aleks Krotoski, has posted her position paper on her blog.

The Internet Watch Foundation’s website and Wikipedia article are at



I mentioned my work about online virtual worlds, co-located groupware, mobile media sharing, and home communication applications. Example papers on these are:

· “Experiments in inhabited TV”, Benford, Greenhalgh, Brown, Walker, Regan, Morphett, Wyver, & Rea. CHI 98

· “Media center buddies: instant messaging around a media center”, Regan & Todd NordiCHI04

· “Trafficking: design for the viral exchange of TV content on mobile phones”, Harper, Regan, Izadi, Al Mosawi, Rouncefield, & Rubens. MobileHCI07

· “HomeNote: supporting situated messaging in the home”, Sellen, Harper, Eardley, Izadi, Regan, Taylor, & Wood CSCW06

The pictures used to illustrate this piece are all from flickr, where they have a creative commons licence:

· “American Cemetery TtV Triptych” by dumbledad

· “Ring” by Pete Ashton

· “Wittgenstein’s Grave” by billt

· “Phidgets board and breadboard” by tristanf

Eighteenth Century Mashups


"Capriccio: St Paul's and a Venetian Canal" by William Marlow
"Capriccio: St Paul’s and a Venetian Canal" by William Marlow

A while ago Kate and I were watching a TV programme on history (or was it art) looking at Londoners’ fascination with Venice. They referenced the picture above ("Capriccio: St Paul’s and a Venetian Canal" by William Marlow). It’s a mock up of what Venice might look like if St Paul’s Cathedral had been built there (or what St Paul’s Cathedral would look like if it had been built in Venice). It’s stayed with me. It’s a striking image, a well loved and well known building so successfully moved out of it’s usual context that the artist helps us to see the building afresh. I wonder two things. Firstly is this an early example of mash-ups – two unrelated media pieces (albeit a city and a piece of architecture) juxtaposed creatively. Obviously neither media encourages such reuse, and mashing them together required considerable skill, but it has something of that feel. Secondly is this idea common? Are there lots of examples of transplanted buildings?