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Every time you switch on the tv or radio, you are blasted with soundbites from MPs about the problem with housing, or the lack of housing, to be more precise. WikiHouse could be the award-winning solution for the housing crisis – offering an affordable alternative to designing and building houses.

So what is WikiHouse? Winners of the TED PRIZE 2012, WikiHouse calls itself an open source construction set. A non-profit project of development hardware and software that is free for all under the creative commons license. WikiHouse aim to allow anyone to design, download and 3D print CNC-milled houses and components, which can be assembled with minimal skills or formal training.

Richard Heath and Steve Fisher from Momentum Engineering spoke at Bath Digital Festival as part of the Digital for Good: Inspiration talks. Momentum Engineering have been a core part of this project, helping to make something as revolutionary as democratic construction a reality. Working alongside Architecture 00, who had been inspired by a TED talk on ‘Architecture for the people by the people’, the teams worked together to democratise design so that it benefits the people it will affect. Conventional housing design is monopolised by architects and only benefits a small percentage of the world’s population. The WikiHouse community allows for people all over the world to give opinions and suggestions on new structure plans.

This method of design has also allowed WikiHouse to collaborate all over the world. There are WikiHouse projects which are based in Rio and New Zealand, the latter became involved due to their huge commitment to the recovery of the Canterbury region after the 2010 earthquake caused devastating damage to the area. A whole community of WikiHouses has been created in the Netherlands, proving that printing your own home could be a viable option for the UK.

Although WikiHouse could offer sustainable, energy efficient homes across the UK, there are still problems facing the project. The sheer lack of availability and high costs of land to build houses is the biggest issue. Another key issue is the use of plywood in the structures. Despite being lightweight and easily accessible, it would be unsuitable to create a building more than two floors high. This could affect the attractiveness of this project in a high density area like London, where the most effective housing solutions need to make use of the heavily populated city’s airspace rather than the limited ground space. 

There are high demands in the UK housing industry to create ‘zero carbon homes’ by 2016, which could work in WikiHouse’s favour. The fact that the WikiHouse software is free to everyone means that self-builders and key figures in the industry can begin designing homes that have the potential to stop the housing crisis in a hugely innovative way.

By creating the first step in innovative and sustainable design, the WikiHouse project is set to have an exciting path ahead of it. Who knows what the future might build?

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Digital Skills Day

Bath Digital Festival hosted an incredible Digital Skills Day to help promote the variety of digital career choices on offer in Bath. Although not known for its techy achievements, Bath has a wide range of opportunities for students interested in a career in digital and those in work seeking to move forward in such a fast-paced and ever-expanding sector.

Without a doubt, the future will be a digital one – with the digital sector rapidly growing and digital communication skills becoming an essential tool in all industries. With youth unemployment figures showing scarily high numbers, it makes sense that digital is the way forward. The youth of today have grown up with technology – from tweaking their Myspace layouts, to engaging with developers for new game mods – and so many have digital skills without realising.

Of course, saying you have ‘digital communication skills’ might sound interesting on your CV, but what is it? Digital communication skills can range from front-end development to data analysing, search engine optimisation to marketing – the list is seemingly endless. You don’t need to be a coder to work with digital, you just need to know what your skills are, and how you can apply them in a work environment.

Bath is thriving with digital opportunities. It’s home to leading digital business The Agency, and has its own creative Co-working Hub in The Guild as well as tech recruiters Ad-Lib. If you’re worried about dipping your toes in the water, you can find a whole host of digital apprenticeships across the south west, as well as plenty of internships and work placements available. These can be really rewarding experiences, as you gain skills on the job and more often than not, you get paid! Internships and apprenticeships are a good way to have your foot in the door, and successful applicants often leave with a full-time job by the end of duration.

Naturally, the lunch break couldn’t be without its own digital flair, and a speed-dating style event was offered instead. Designers and developers from blubolt, The Agency and Storm were on hand to talk about the realities of their jobs. Roles included project managers, account executives, creative directors and a whole range of developers, all of which covered a wide range of the jobs available in the digital sector.

As well as informing on the scope of jobs available, the Digital Skills day also helped attendees perfect their portfolios and gave advice on how to stand out at interviews for all the right reasons. The tech team from ADLIB came and explained why working in a digital agency is great, and what the future might hold for various career paths. Industry leaders gave inspirational talks on how they ‘made it’ and how they ended up working and achieving in digital. Offering advice on how to enter the industry and areas they expect to explode with opportunity, the Career Path Panel were considered invaluable to many attending and made a fantastic addition to an already remarkable Digital Skills Day.

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Digital for Bad day

The 2014 Bath Digital Festival carried the theme of Good vs Evil. With ‘good’ days highlighting how to improve your digital skills, and celebrating the best in tech in the west with the SPARKies Awards, Halloween became host to the festival’s ‘bad’ day – a day informing and educating on how to keep your websites safe from brute-force attacks, as well as industry experts coming in to talk about cyber security. 

Oli Ward, from The Agency, started off the session by discussing security measures for WordPress – one of the most popular website platforms used today. With over eight years of experience working on website development, Ward was knowledgeable and had plenty of fun facts to lighten the somewhat serious talk. For example, he told the crowd how over 95% of websites who had complained of brute-force attacks – all had ‘admin’ as their WordPress login. If you want to keep hackers out of your website, having a less obvious login is a good place to start. Ward’s biggest tip for security is ensuring your have some WordPress-approved security plugins. These can monitor and block brute-force attacks, as well as scan any additional scripts for malware or broken files. His last tip for maximum security is to audit and review code as often as possible. If your plugin has a new security announcement, check it out and make sure you’re not at risk. Keeping up to date with security enhancements are always going to benefit your site and keep you safe from the latest attacker.

After a hugely successful talk at last year’s festival, Professor James Davenport from University of Bath returned to talk about cryptography and it’s role in everyday life. Arguably, the most well known cryptography system is the Enigma machine – which was cracked during World War II by cryptanalyst Alan Turing. These days, cryptography systems are virtually impossible to break. This is good news for anyone using the internet as electronic security is becoming increasingly important. Cryptography is used to protect credit card information, email messages and even corporate data. Confidentiality is created by encrypting messages to be transmitted or data files to be stored using an encryption algorithm such the Triple Data Encryption Algorithm, which applies the Data Encryption Standard (also known as DES) cipher algorithm three times to each data bloc.

When sending such personal information online, as well as security, you need privacy. Dr Steven Murdoch from University College London come to explain the need for anonymous communications. Dr Murdoch explained that he was a part of a user privacy project – Tor project – which is a network of virtual tunnels that allows people and groups to improve their privacy and security on the Internet. Tor is used by a whole range of people, from military personnel to bloggers, whistleblowers and activists to ordinary people. It can be used to source military intelligence, to maintain civil liberties for activist groups, and for socially sensitive communications – such as forums for rape victims, or people with illnesses. However, like most anonymous platforms, Dr Murdoch explained how Tor was also subject to user abuse. People take the anonymity and use it as an excuse to send threats and abuse to strangers on the internet. The most recent cases being the twitter trolls who abused MP Stella Creasy and sent rape threats, which resulted in their arrest.

The Digital for Bad day gave a great insight to the ever-changing internet, and how digital can affect so much more than meets the eye. Technology is a powerful tool, but as the day showed – it all depends on who’s hands it falls into.

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Digital after death

If you’re an organised adult with a fair amount of assets you’ll most likely have thought about, or even put into action, a plan for after your death. Whether that’s creating a will, putting yourself on the donor list or talking to your loved ones about your wishes post mortem. Not many people think about what should happen to their digital assets after they die.

PayPal, Betfred, Ebay and Etsy are all companies that deal in monetary transfers. Once an account holder dies the bereaved family members can often have a difficult time shutting down loved one’s online accounts and gaining access to their digital assets. Andrea Pierce who handles digital assets in estate administration for Kings Court Trust says that a lot of companies, such as Facebook, ‘won’t give executors access to accounts as it’s a breach of privacy and they’re very strict about personal data’.

So what are our options regarding death and digital assets? Some social media accounts such as LinkedIn and Twitter have procedures in place to shut down an account on behalf of someone else but they also have requirements needed beforehand such as a death certificate. Gmail have a relatively good service in place called ‘Inactive Account Manager’; if you don’t use your account for a certain amount of time your designated person will be notified and given access to delete the account and shut down subscriptions. However these are only a few of the many companies that people have online accounts with, and the majority are wholly unprepared when it comes to estate legislation.

As well as social media there are thousands of unused blogs and untouched domain names left abandoned in the dusty corners of the internet. People make arrangements for their businesses and liquid assets for after they die, so why leave a successful website to sputter into anonymity? There are cases where family or friends take over their loved one’s websites or blogs, such as Eva Markvoort, whose family continue to update her website 65 Red Roses and dedicate it to raising awareness of Cystic Fibrosis as she did. There is also the question of platform life expectancy; if a blogging platform gets shut down, what happens to blogs when their creators aren’t capable of moving their work over to a new platform?

Due to the lack of planning procedure with most social media companies, there are some sites and applications that have been created specifically for people who want to plan ahead. Dead Social is a service that allows you to set up messages, emails and statuses for after your death – think PS I Love You in the digital age. There’s also Planned Departure – a digital will website that holds all of your passwords and usernames that on notification of your death will pass all the information on to a designated benefactor.

Regardless of the few companies that help a well organised individual plan ahead, the difficulties that the bereaved face are still numerous. The problem is a lack of consistency in legal procedures and this can be solved with proper legislation and a wider awareness. If the government worked on breaking down the barriers between big companies and individuals, and started treating digital assets the same as physical ones the future of our digital lives after death would be a lot easier.

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Kano Story

In the digital world we rely on technology that not many of us understand. Only one percent of the world knows what goes on inside our computers and most people don’t know the limitations of their phones. Alex Klein, Yonatan Raz-Fridman and Saul Klein aim to educate the world in the art of coding and programming using computer games. Kano is a computer building kit that helps children as well as adults learn basic coding skills whilst assembling their own personal computer from scratch.

The idea was formed when Alex Klein was chatting with his cousins, who were under the age of ten. They wanted to learn to make their own computers but without any adult help and they wanted it be fun ‘like Lego’. Most modern children understand how to use an iPad, however if you show them a chip board they understandably wouldn’t have a clue. So how can you teach someone with no prior experience to build a computer from scratch? You throw them into the deep end and start small like getting them to learn different matching objects.

One of Kickstarter’s biggest success stories, Kano is their third biggest design project and the company’s largest crowd-funded learning device. They raised their original investment in 18 hours and went on to achieve half a million dollars in one month, with so many people interested in the project, Kano has become a worldwide product. The Kano team want to teach people to make the most of technology and to take the time to learn the basics. You can understand programming but not be a stereotypical programmer as programming isn’t hard but getting into it is. So, instead of giving people huge books they gave them the tools to learn programming a different way.

The kit contains a tiny single board computer, a case, stickers to personalise it, a power speaker, a keyboard, cables, a memory card and a booklet. Once assembled, the computer can be plugged into any screen and the user is free to start playing. Kano works like a computer game; once you complete a level you can advance to more complicated options, from this you’re creating code and building programs. However, within the booklet they never use the words ‘coding’ or ‘programming’. They didn’t aim to teach programming as the team believe that forcing children to learn is the same as forcing them to eat their vegetables. With this computer the user dictates its use, giving them self-taught skills and the ability to problem solve.

The reviews that are coming from both adults and children prove what an original product this computer is. One child demanded to send their Kano into space demonstrating that children have the most fertile imaginations of all.  As the users dictate the future of the project it seems the possibilities for this the computer has no limitations.

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Bath: Hacked

Open data is a hot topic in the news at the moment with the EU dedicating 14 million euros to support the cause across the whole of Europe. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then, that within the UK’s technological hub that is Bath, a whole weekend has been spent developing new projects and raising awareness of open data. Bath: Hacked was a competition hosted by the Bath Digital Festival that required teams to create varied projects utilising open data with the aim of helping the public.

Not many people are aware of open data, or how to use it, it is information that is available for everyone at no cost and for any purpose. The Bath: Hacked weekend was all about bringing the resource to public knowledge whilst finding innovative uses for the information that’s freely available. The event lasted 36 hours and took the shape of a friendly competition; inspiring the teams to create whatever project they felt promoted the use of open data the best, whether a website, program, app or infographic. The theme of the competition was ‘past, present or future’ involving Bath’s historical, existing and prospective data. The teams were encouraged to make their projects exciting, engaging and fun; the ultimate goal was to connect to people through open data.

The event brought together people from all areas of the digital industry, in some instances pairing up strangers who shared the same interest. There were experienced hackers from the previous competition taking part as well as some new faces, and throughout the event there were ‘data curators’ and hacking helpers on hand. By the presentations and awards ceremony on Sunday evening there was a real feel of community spirit, with everyone coming together to celebrate what people had achieved over the weekend.

Altogether there were seven awards to be won with the judges handing out the prizes. Winning the Heritage and History award were Sophie Drake and Andrew Page with their project ‘History Bath’, a website that provides a timeline to all the different plaques around Bath. The City Life award was presented to Adam Reynolds for his charting website that has already helped a local business find potential customers. The project to win the Better Bath award was ‘Exposé’, a website that helps the public discover what the local government is spending money on, and gives them the ability to provide feedback. The Best Shipped Project award went to Miles Armstrong and Felix Renicks for their website ‘Eat a Food’ that made picking a place to eat a whole lot easier. Jesse Stewart and Karolis Danilevicius obtained three awards for their website that assists parents to navigate their way through applying to local schools; they won the Hacker’s Choice, The Grand Prize and the Best First Timer awards.

After such an impressive array of projects, that have remained live after the event, and a fantastic turn out to the presentations the future for Bath: Hacked and open data is looking positive. Look forward to the next hacking event as open data continues to make a difference and help make this a smarter city.

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Bath ‘City of Ideas’ Enterprise Area

Did you know there are plans for something called an ‘Enterprise Area’ in Bath?

Bath Enterprise Area (Courtesy BANES Development & Major Projects)

This space alongside the river and running from Manvers Street in Town all the way to the Newbridge industrial estate has been designated as a key zone for economic growth. Apparently it has the ability to deliver 65% of the District’s growth by 2026, concentrating on the high growth sectors such as creative industries, software and technology.  The aim is to encourage new businesses to settle in this area of Bath by focusing resources, investment, infrastructure, etc.

B&NES have also set up an ‘Economic partnership’ that spans council, education and private sector representatives who, amongst other things, should oversee the Economic Strategy for B&NES 2010-2026.

So… Will this help? What would you do as well/instead?

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