Thursday, October 27, 2011

Citizen Journalism

Languages, Photography, Film Noir, Inheritance Tax, Philosophy, Jewellery Design, Massage ... and Citizen Journalism. These are all courses offered by Queen's University's Open Learning Programme.

QUB Open Learning Citizen Journalism class

I met some of the students on the ten week Citizen Journalism course on Wednesday evening. They're half way through their programme, and have been looking at the development and value of citizen journalism, old media versus new media, blogging. Having talked to a real live blogger (cough), they'll now go on look at newsworthiness, ethics, legality as well as building their own blog and posting to it on their chosen subjects.

Talking to tutor Patrick Toland about QUB Citizen Journalism Open Learning course (mp3)

Patrick Toland is the course tutor, and I spoke to him after Wesnesday's session was over. He's pleased with the way the course is going, and hopes it will be run again.

It's a well constructed course and surprisingly thoughtful as well as practical. Perhaps in a year's time some of the students will still be blogging and feeding their passions and interests back into society. I'm looking forward to tracking down what they write about.

You can browse through the current prospectus or keep an eye on the Open Learning website if you fancy signing up for a course or two.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

East Belfast Speaks Out - back on Wednesday 30 November 2011

Update - Click through to read coverage of the actual event.

Update - postponed until early 2012 due to industrial action on 30 September.

East Belfast Speaks Out 2011

If you live in East Belfast, then here's a date for your diary. East Belfast Speaks Out is back for its third year on Wednesday 30 November. Local residents' chance to pose their questions to a panel of local representatives.

The general theme of the evening is

“How responsive is the Assembly to the real concerns of the electorate?”

The organisers are planning to vary the format from this year onwards. While continuing to welcome questions on all subjects of concern to the people of East Belfast, an Executive Minister will be invited to join the local panel to allow some topics to be addressed in detail by the politician responsible.

Minister of Education and Minister exercising the functions of the deputy First Minister John O'Dowd MLA (Sinn Féin) will be joined by Judith Cochrane MLA (Alliance), Sammy Douglas MLA (DUP), Jackie Gallagher (UPRG) and Jim Wilson (Loyalist Community Worker) John Kyle (PUP councillor). Mark Devenport will be back again to chair the evening.

Last year, organisers pulled together a panel that included the First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness as well as the Secretary of State Owen Paterson Minister of State Hugo Swire as well as Dawn Purvis and journalist Liam Clarke. Topics covered included the size of local political institutions, Historical Enquiries Team, CSI, the future of NI, corporation tax and the Azores ruling, why Owen Paterson was missing for the second year in a row, university fees, capital cuts and public sector job cuts.

I wonder will having Jim Wilson on the panel this year rather than in the audience actually prevent him from asking the same question he's popped in the last two years, “Do the panel think the Historical Enquiries Team is the best way to move our society forward?”

Ashfield Boys School on the Holywood Road will once again be the venue. Doors open at 7pm for a 7.30pm start.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Talking to Gerry in the Occupy Belfast camp set up in Writer's Square

I spoke to Gerry Carroll at lunchtime today, sheltering under a pagoda set up beside the impromptu Occupy Belfast camp in Writer's Square opposite St Anne's Cathedral.

Gerry from the @OpOccupyBelfast camp in Writer"s Square /cc @OccupyBelfast (mp3)

About ten tents are pitched in the square. The protesters have a nightly meeting at 6pm to decide on the next course of action, and have no plans to pack up their camp.

More info on Facebook and Twitter.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Social Economy, in Belfast and Dublin

Contemporary Christianity hosted a fascinating conversation on the theme of the Social Economy back at the end of September.

Maurice Kinkead has spent the last 25 or so years developing and managing not-for-profit organisations, initially in faith based organisations and more recently with an inter-sectoral partnership. He is Chief Executive of East Belfast Partnership and has responsibility for two subsidiary companies, both leading social enterprises in Belfast.

During his talk titled The Social Economy: voluntary sector operating with private sector values? he spoke about his experience as a practitioner, learning at least as much from mistakes as from success, the positive aspects of initiatives like ‘Making Belfast Work’ that were subsequently lost in red tape, “people have values and ethics, not sectors”, described the social economy sector as “businesses that happen to be owned by charitable organisations, are (hopefully) profitable but non-profit distributing, and often employ and train people”.

Describing some of the issues that face the social economy sector, he suggested that “sometimes private sector values are good values” and went on to explain that the gap between who is paying and who is receiving a service sometimes leads to a drop in service quality in the social economy sector. He also advised that if a business wouldn’t be prepared to take its clients to court, then it shouldn’t be in a client-focussed industry – after all “running a social economy or charitable organisation doesn’t make you soft in the heart or soft in the head”. He suggested that bonus schemes could still be applicable in the social economy sector to improve motivation.

Last week, Contemporary Christianity had a follow-up event that again looked at the Social Economy, this times through the eyes and faith of Dublin-based Sean Mullan. He’s the initiator of Third Space, a new social business initiative to create social hubs in the redeveloping parts of Dublin city. In November Third Space will be opening its first meeting and eating place in the Smithfield area of Dublin City Centre. Might be worth a listen too.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Digital Switchover - analogue TV signals stop on 24 October 2012 across the island of Ireland

At primary school in P4 or P5 (I think) we used to listen to a short current affairs educational radio programme each week. Homework that night was often to write a summary of the main story.

One week, it was all about cable television – a new concept, and I remember writing up pages and pages about the number of channels that could be offered through the coaxial cables that would be wired into everyone’s home.

It was at least another ten years before CableTel started to dig up the streets of Belfast. Early cable TV systems were analogue, but they paved the way for today’s bewildering choice of television transmission technologies that now includes cable, satellite, digital terrestrial, and IPTV.

By early 2011, 90% of homes in Northern Ireland homes had a television or set top box capable of receiving digital TV. (Source: Ofcom’s Communications Market Report Northern Ireland, 2011.)

On Friday morning, a robot called Digit Al user the ever-so-wonky Albert Clock to unveil the date on which analogue television signals in Ireland will cease to be transmitted.

Denis Wolinski and Digit Al unveil digital switchover date

In just over a year – on 24 October 2012 to be precise – 0% of Northern Ireland homes will be able to pick up an old analogue television signal. Two weeks beforehand, analogue BBC Two will be switched off as a final reminder to anyone who missed the publicity.

In fact, 0% of homes in Ireland will be able to pick up an analogue signal as plans for Digital Switchover have been synchronised across the island.

While Northern Ireland’s three main transmitters already broadcast Freeview at low power, switching off analogue allows the digital signal to be boosted and extended to the 40 or so relay transmitters. That’ll boost Freeview availability from 66% of households up to 98.5%.

As part of NI’s switchover, a mini-mux (a small group of channels) will broadcast RTE1, RTE2 and TG4 right across Northern Ireland meaning that the days of stealing overspill signal from the Irish transmitters near the border - or relying on the low power Divis transmitter that broadcasts the Irish language channel TG4 to parts of Belfast - are gone. However, some content (eg, sport) may be subject to rights issues and be removed from the northern version of these channels. People living close to the border will of course still be able to tune in the overspill of the southern transmitters as long as they have the right spec of set top box. Local media has so far made little mention of the availability of RTE1, RTE2 and TG4 right across the north.

Denis Wolinski (he’s the one on the left) is Digital UK’s man in NI. At Friday’s announcement about the date he explained:

This announcement paves the way for the end of analogue TV and the dawn of a fully digital age in which everyone can enjoy more channels, more choice and better pictures. Digital UK will ensure people know what to do, and that advice and practical support are available to those who need it.

That last sentence is important. Paid for out of the BBC licence fee, the Switchover Help Scheme offers practical help to people who are aged 75 and over, eligible for certain disability benefits, registered blind or partially sighted or living in care homes.

For £40, they will be given equipment to switch one TV per household to digital. They will be able to have that equipment installed if they want it, a demonstration of how it works and a number to call while they get used to things. If they’re eligible and also on income-related benefits, the help will be free. Everyone eligible will be contacted directly before switchover. More information is available on 0800 40 85 900 and online at

With slightly different digital transmission standards in use in the north and south of the island, together with the introduction of Freeview HD (and Youview), clear and practical information will need to be made available for everyone so that the right choices are made.

Northern Ireland will be the very last region of the UK to switch over. The October date means that audiences relying on Freeview won’t be able to watch Euro 2012 and the London Olympics in high definition as Freeview HD won’t be available until switchover in October. However, coverage in HD should be available on cable, Sky, Freesat, etc.

This public service announcement has been brought to you by the numbers 0 and 1!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Things to see at the Belfast Festival at Queen's

Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen's logo 2011

Guidelines for a Long and Happy Life is new play by Paul Kennedy, set “one generation after a global apocalypse” (ie, bigger than the current economic crisis).

Only a few survivors remain, scouring the desolate landscape looking for food and clean water. Making contact with other humans is the biggest danger and the only hope. As desperation and paranoia grow, every move becomes a decision to trust or die.

The play takes place across the expanse of Old Victor Stationery Warehouse on Marshalls Road, off Castlereagh Road in Belfast, and the audience will move around the site to follow the action. Saturday 15 – Saturday 29 October (excluding Sundays). Tickets £12.

Back in the early 1990s, I remember seeing a production of West Side Story in the Gasworks site on Belfast’s Ormeau Road. The cast performed the beautiful songs by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim from a sparse multi-level set constructed from scaffolding. West Side Story is going to be staged in another unusual venue during this year’s Belfast Festival. Running from Wednesday 26 to Sunday 29 October, Music Theatre 4 Youth will be taking over May Street Presbyterian Church with a set built by the team from HBO’s Game of Thrones. Tickets £15.

Botanic Gardens will be inhabited by animals, goblins, fairies and pixies after 7pm on Wednesday 26 to Saturday 29 October. Enter through the main Stranmillis Road gate, and discover The Enchanted Garden. Tickets £3.

Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares

Hear the distinctive sound of Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares in the Ulster Hall on Wednesday 19 October. Formerly known as the Bulgarian State Radio and Television Female Vocal Choir the group has a unique sound and a distinctive uniform. Tickets £20.

Using audience suggestions to create a new show every night, Showstopper! The Improvised Musical will put itself into the hands of the ticket holders seated in the Waterfront Studio. In their own words:

… a bunch of improvisers who have learned how to make up a fully-realised musical on the spot based on audience suggestions. It includes incredible, moving story-lines, amazing songs, full group harmonies, dance numbers. It’s also very funny to watch.

We’ve been working on this show since 2008, working out how to improvise in increasingly esoteric styles – musical, dance, straight theatre, film genres – whatever helps us make the show more interesting.

Tuesday 25 – Thursday 27 October. Tickets £15.

More musical mayhem and merriment from The Nualas in the Lyric Theatre at 8pm on Sunday 23 October with comic songs and Oirish banter. Tickets £16.50.

Over three evenings, a “small swarm of loudspeakers” spread across the Ulster Museum atrium will plan “an hour of improvised instrumental music” from the archive of composer Joel Cathcart. Cicadas features the sound of guitars, gongs, a harp, an organ and a vibraphone.

The catch? Given the positioning of the speakers around the atrium, you can’t hear the full piece from one position.

Instead, each listener will navigate the architecture of the performance space to discover new sounds and constellations of sounds, shaping their own experience of the piece from within its interior.

Monday 17 – Wednesday 19 October at 7pm. Free.

Do you think there should be statutory regulation of the news media? That’s the title of the Europa Hotel’s 40th Birthday Debate. Chaired by Noel Thompson and introduced by Sir Billy Hastings, four speakers will address the topic before the audience votes: Suzanne Breen (journalist), Chris Bryant (Labour MP), Bob Satchwell (Society of Editors director) and Paul Tweed (Belfast-based international libel & defamation lawyer). Penthouse Suite, Europa Hotel. Tuesday 25 October at 7.30pm. Tickets £7.50.

At primary school when the UK Navy task force sailed to the South Atlantic – a conflict that played out on the radio with heavy military censorship and no moving pictures – I read The Battle for the Falklands by reporters Max Hastings and Simon Jenkins with interest. Max Hastings went on to edit the Daily Telegraph and London Evening Standard as well as picking up a knighthood. Tickets are still available for An Audience with Sir Max Hastings in the Ulster Hall at 3.30pm on Sunday 23 October. Tickets £10.

Amongst the wealth of talks, there’s An Audience with James Naughtie – long time presenter of Radio 4 Today programme – at 7.30pm on Friday 21 October in the Elmwood Hall. Tickets £10.

Malachi O'Doherty, Gerry Anderson and Carlo Gebler discuss men, manhood, sex and the dishes on Monday 17 October at 8pm in the Elmwood Hall. I dread to think where that particular discussion will go. Tickets £8.

Tim McGarry's Political Party

After years of driving mad Noel Thompson in the back of his taxi, Tim McGarry is delivering his take on Northern Ireland politics to audiences over two nights in the Waterfront Studio. Friday 21 and Saturday 22 October. Tickets £15.

Catalyst Arts’ current exhibition is looking at Digital Arts in the Gallery: New Media Showcase. The showcase of “work by artists who use a range of new media in strategically different ways”. You can see for yourself how new media technologies intersect with visual art at College Court between 11am and 5pm between Thursday 6 to Thursday 27 October (closed Sunday and Monday). Free.

As part of the Peripheries architectural conference at QUB at the end of October, the QFT is showing the film Build Something Modern at 4pm on Saturday 29 October.

[A] moving documentary that tells the little known story of ground- breaking and idealistic young Irish architects, including Seán Rothery, Richard Hurley and Gerald Fay, who travelled to Africa from the 1950s to the 1970s in search of both challenge and creative freedom. As champions of modernism, the young architects, aided by the efforts of colleagues from home, produced a large canon of remarkable architecture including churches, hospitals and schools deep in the heart of Africa.

Tickets £6.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

The Boat Factory, back as part of this year's Belfast Festival

Dan Gordon and Michael Condron, actors in The Boat Factory

A year on from its première in East Belfast last October, it’s great to hear that Dan Gordon’s play The Boat Factory is returning to the city in a ten day run during the Belfast Festival at Queen’s.

The magnificent Barnett Room in the Belfast Harbour Office is the setting for part play, part documentary, plotting out the development of the shipyard in Belfast, as well as charting the social history of the shipyard workers.

The play is a two hander, with Dan Gordon playing Davy (based on Dan’s father) and Michael Condron cast in the role of Geordie. While the play touches on the Titanic, it avoids taking the sentimental approach. I talked to Dan Gordon after the première.

Directed by Philip Crawford (Happenstance Theatre Company), the play is going on a short tour in November, with performances in Armagh’s Market Place Theatre (Wednesday 2), Enniskillen’s Portora Royal School (Thursday 3) and Glastry College, Newtownards (Friday 4).

Thursday 20- Saturday 29 October, matinees at weekends. Tickets £12.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Alternative Wedding Fair this weekend in Belfast - Ben Elton not expected to attend!

Wedding fairs are pretty common across Northern Ireland. This weekend, Cate and Saima from Quirky Weddings are teaming up with suppliers from across Northern Ireland in a bid to offer something distinctive to couples with upcoming nuptials.

The Crescent Arts Centre on Belfast’s University Road will be hosting the Alternative Wedding Fair on Sunday 9 October between 1pm and 5pm.

Instead of outfits, hair, photographers, flowers and catering, the fair will be offering outfits, hair, photographers, flowers and catering. But more unusual, and apparently with more of your personality injecting into the celebration. I asked Cate more about the event.

What kind of exhibitors are visitors going to meet if they come to your Alternative Wedding Fair?

We searched to find exhibitors who were a little bit different or who could tailor make something special. Sometimes if couples are working to a theme they find it hard to get exactly what they're looking for.

One of our most exciting exhibitors is a guy called Ciaran Larkin, whose company is called iMakeAnything. He makes anything. For example he makes levitating candles like in the Harry Potter movie. They can 'float' above your dancefloor and are quite the talking point!

We also have Brookhall, which is a farm venue outside Lisburn offering a refreshing alternative to the traditional hotel wedding. Anyone looking for a fun alternative to a wedding video can check out Marryokes! They make a music video at your wedding starring you and your guests.

This is just the start as we will have approximately 45 exhibitors, all of whom are open to unusual ideas!

Northern Ireland’s often a very conservative place. Have you witnessed much of a market for novel ways of adapting the traditional wedding with alternative ideas?

Absolutely. Feedback indicates that NI has been crying out for something different for a long time. We feel that traditional weddings aren't actually traditional at all. If you look at wedding photos from your grandparents generation it was nothing like today's weddings. We're on a mission to give people the confidence they need to break away from what wedding magazines are telling them they 'have' to have. We want them to allocate their budgets to items or services that have meaning to them and not feel obliged to have a lot of things they don't really need or want. No more wedding peer pressure!

Have you some favourite alternative weddings?

Yes if you look at our site we have photos of one of our exhibitor’s weddings ... Debbie from Dazzle Me With Your Tips. She married Jamie in the City Hall and then had a shin dig in Printer's Cafe. They each got a tattoo to mark the occasion and unveiled them to the other on the day. Their wedding cake had little zombies on it. The reason I love this is because they cast aside everything they had been told about weddings and organised a fun day out featuring things they liked and had meaning to them as a couple. It looked like a really great day! We LOVE to hear about other weddings and would love to hear from more couples so we can feature them on the site and inspire other couples!

You talk on the website about hating the stress and pressure that accompanies weddings. But with all these ideas and potential for personalisation, aren’t you adding to the stress by offering even more options and even more chance to aim for that ‘perfect’ wedding?

No not at all. The 'perfect' wedding is different for everyone. For some people their day will only be perfect if they've spent £1000 on chair covers. For some people it will only be perfect if they have Pac Man cufflinks! We want them to sit and think clearly about what they really. really must have on the day...using their own brains, not influenced by the magazines or people trying to stick the arm in. We want to encourage people to forget everything they already know about weddings and plan a party that celebrates the fact that they are committing their life to another person.

Tickets can bought in advance from the Crescent Arts Box Office for £3; tickets bought on the day at the door will be £5. Free entry for under 15s.

The photo above features Jeannie Johnston from J-Bird Bakery on Bloomfield Avenue who knows a thing or two about cupcakes!

Monday, October 03, 2011

Ikon at Belfast Culture Night

The ever-thoughtful and thought-provoking folks at Ikon took part in the recent Belfast Culture Night in the Cathedral Quarter. Ikon’s known for asking more questions than it gives answers, so their approach that even should be no surprise.

I give you The Evangelism Project where the group asked: What is love? And What must we do to be saved?

Political catch-up

In case they’re of more general interest, I’ve added links below to a few posts I’ve published recently on Slugger O’Toole.

Gusty Spence (1933-2011) tribute

The Great Big Politics Quiz where Haiti was the real winner with just over £1000 pounds was raised to support the rebuilding of homes through Haven Partnership. Over a hundred political anoraks (and friends) gathered in Belfast’s Black Box to tough their way through seven rounds of questions which ended in a tie – a coalition – with two teams on 80 points – representing Youth (UUP) Unionists and last year’s SDLP winners – well ahead of the rest of the room! (Pictures and some audio in the original post.)

Question master Jim Allister? And should David McClarty be more like him? The TUV’s sole MLA Jim Allister has been getting a reputation for running a one-man opposition/scrutiny function up at Stormont. He’s tabled a mere 24 questions for the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure to answer since May 2011. In fact, individually he has asked more questions than the whole of the Alliance Party, and if you consider the number of questions per MLA that parties ask, he’s an order of magnitude ahead of the rest.