The Virtual Revolution

When the BBC announced Digital Revolution, a new project to create a programme about the rise of the Web, I had high hopes that it would be something genuinely different to the way documentaries about computing are normally made.

The whole production process was put out in the open with a blog, a Twitter account and regular releases of the “rushes” from interviews.  Guardian journalist Aleks Krotoski was to present and father of the Web Tim Berners-Lee was on board to drag in the crowds.

I’ve not kept up with the making of the series as closely as I’d have liked – I’ve watched the odd video and heard about some things on Twitter – but last night I saw the first episode in the four part series, now renamed The Virtual Revolution. Part One “The Great Levelling?” (repeated Monday and available on iPlayer now) tried to introduce the series and talked about the early beginnings of the Web – its academic origins, San Fran free living culture and the commercialisation of it.

The list of names they’ve interviewed for the series is impressive: Gates, Fry, Gore, Jobs, The Woz – people so famous they don’t need first names.  Connecting them is a narrative attempting to explain what’s gone on for the last 20 years but it’s this that for me doesn’t work.  While I get the basic concept – the web is a leveller – it fails to link together the examples in a way that tells the true history.  It jumps from a bloke who spends quite a lot of time on Wikipedia to an obscure American bulletin board system pre-dating the web all interspersed with arty shots of Aleks sat using a laptop, stood using her iPhone, walking using an iPhone, sat using a laptop and an iPhone… you get the idea.

While the flow of the programme could be better, many of the interviews are interesting.  Most have been distilled down into mere sound-bites, for example Stephen Fry on Wikipedia:

I challenge anybody to find a better, faster source of perfectly acceptable knowledge for almost all purposes you would require as a normal citizen.

Pretty much sums up my own views on the site.  These clips are too short though – it may be that the rest of what people said could be plain dull but it will be interesting to see the rest of them, and since the rushes have been made available, it should be possible.

This episode tries goes a limited way to put the web into context.  It explains that the web is not the same as the internet and Bill Gates can be relied on to bring it back to Microsoft:

The personal computer was the template on which the web had to be created.  You had to have millions of these common machines in order for it to make any sense.

Al Gore managed to resist the temptation to claim he invented the internet 🙂

Other interviewees aren’t so great.  For some reason TV programmes keep asking Cult of the Amateur author Andrew Keen on to spout his views (I’ve mentioned him before when he appeared on Newsnight).  Andrew Keen is like a Dementor of the internet – he sucks the very soul out of it while offering nothing of value in return.

I think it reflects the fundamental intellectual bankruptcy of the internet that someone like Arianna Huffington [co-founder of the Huffington Post] should have come to symbolise the supposed revolutionary qualities of it. I mean she’s an interesting woman, but she’s about as revolutionary as my dog.

On the internet, nobody knows you’re Andrew Keen’s dog 🙂

The Virtual Revolution is an interesting blend of new and old characters.  The old guard, represented by Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and other pioneers of the personal computer have, arguably, a far more interesting story to tell which can be found in another documentary from 1996.  Triumph of the Nerds, presented by Robert X. Cringely goes right back to the beginnings of the PC industry and goes into far more detail about how we went from typing pools to the point where everyone has a computer on their desk.  It’s worth getting hold of a copy.

Don’t get me wrong, the web has changed the world (and I really shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds me!) but The Virtual Revolution could do a much better job of saying how it came about, what it means to us and promoting the geek origins of the web.  I’d be interested to hear what other people think of the programme and I’ll certainly be watching the next three parts and trying to catch up with some of the interview rushes.

ERROR 2013 (HY000): Lost connection to MySQL server during query

If you’ve just set up a new mysqld service and your getting the above error when trying to connect over TCP (even when tunnelling in over SSH), don’t fret. The answer lies in /etc/hosts.allow. You need to add in a line similar to this:


This foxed me a while ago and I didn’t get round to fixing it as it wasn’t yet mission critical, however it also stopped us dead in our tracks yesterday. Thank fully to Neil in Core Services who had a moment of clarity we’re now back in business.


Now I know the problem, a little more simpler Google querying led me here a 2004 post on MySQL’s access denied troubleshooting page which mentions that the cause of this is mysqld being compiled with tcp-wrapper support.

WordPress MU 2.9.1

We’ve just upgraded to the latest version of WordPress MU – the system that powered You can see that latest features in this video:

That video was embedded using one of the coolest new features in WordPress 2.9.1 – oEmbed. oEmbed is a way of websites sharing information about how content should be included in a page. Instead of having to copy any paste complicated HTML such as this:

<object width="425" height="339">
<param name="movie" value=""></param>
<param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param>
<param name="flashvars" value=" psychology%2Fxml%2Fembed"></param>
<embed src="" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowfullscreen="true" width="425" height="339" flashvars=" psychology%2Fxml%2Fembed"></embed>

We can instead just paste the URL onto a blank line in the post. oEmbed is supported right now by many popular websites such as Flickr and YouTube. We’ve also added oEmbed support to our own video streaming platform. Since we’re not one of the popular video sharing sites embedding our videos doesn’t work out of the box with WordPress but we’ve enabled it for our site. Here’s what it will look like:

Implementing oEmbed was fairly easy so keep an eye out for it on other content we publish.

Higher Education homepages in the snow

Over the last couple of days there’s been a bit of snow around the country and I’ve been keeping our homepage up to date. Yesterday morning in between making changes I did a quick scan around some websites to take screenshots of their homepages. It’s interesting to see the different approaches which often didn’t correspond to the severity – some had big banners saying, effectively, “we’re open!” while others had a standard news announcing closure of campus well below the fold.

I’ve uploaded the screenshots to my Flickr stream and highlighted the relevant areas or watch the slideshow below:

Our approach was to insert an additional notification area above the main feature. I think it’s obvious enough to be seen and appreciated as a temporary announcement while not being confused with, or detracting from, the main feature area. We also had announcements on the GO news area and posted updates to the Edge Hill Twitter account and Facebook “Fan” page

Brian Kelly posted this morning about his use of Twitter yesterday to find out that the University of Bath was closed for the day and of course we already know they’ve had experience of doing this before. On the Edge Hill account, I tried to blend news announcements with interesting things like a link to Andy’s photos but it’s hard to say how well used it was – we certainly added a few (real) followers to the account over the last 48 hours.

Chill out at Edge Hill

Yesterday I drove to work. I made it in, just. This is the photo I took of St Helens road on the way in (I took it on the timer, honest).

St Helens Road
St Helens Road

It was a blizzard by the time I walked from the car park to the office.

EHU snow storm
EHU snow storm

The Office snow globe
The Office snow globe

Five minutes later we were told to go home. This morning a few Edge Hill tweeps (@reedyreedles, @mikenolan, @mister_roy and @edgehill) waited with baited breath on the campus status. It opened and the following two snaps from the car park to the office make prettier viewing.

EHU Snowy Sunrise
EHU Snowy Sunrise

Back to work then
Back to work then

The drive in wasn’t too bad, local roads are compacted and main roads have at least one lane open and traffic was moving freely.

Top 10 of 2009

It’s that time of year where you have to post an annual wrap-up of the previous year’s posts.

10. Google Apps Mail – POP/IMAP/iPhone

Just sneaking into the top ten is Steve’s introduction to some of the ways to access email for users of the new Google powered email.

9. New Departmental Sites

Sam introduces a summer’s worth of hard work (not so much from me – I was driving across America!)

8. Create a better search engine than Google

A post from late 2008 writing up a presentation I gave at BarCamp Liverpool and repeated at IWMW 2009.

7. Twouble with Twitters

An attempt to balance out #2 in the list by taking a sideswipe at those who are maybe a little too addicted 🙂

6. Argleton goes national!

A write up of some of the early coverage of the Argleton meme.

5. Rise of the Mega Menu

Coming soon to a website or portal near you – still a few things to iron out but we hope you’ll like what we do.

4. Roy Bayfield at the TV advert filming

Live on the set of the forthcoming TV advert and testing out the new Flip Camera we’ve got.

3. Browser stats

Everyone loves web stats, okay maybe it’s just me! Six months on and Internet Explorer has dropped to 76.9%, Firefox down a little to 13.5%, Opera has held steady while Webkit-based browsers, Safari and Chrome, have jumped to 5.6% and 3.6% respectively.  Breaking down IE shows IE6 use continues to fall (down to under 11%) while IE8 usage has trebled.  There’s hope for a standards-based-browser future yet!

2. What should @edgehill do on Twitter?

Little did I know when I wrote this post that it would unleash such a debate!  Ironically we’ve just had the 2’ of snow that benefitted Bath’s uptake so we’ll see whether usage grows!

1. Google Renames Village

And in at #1 is a little post I fired out about a typo on a map 🙂


As well as individual posts, a number of tag pages that rank pretty highly including “symfony”, “argleton”, “google maps”, “twiterdeck” and “facebook”.