Edward Snowden to keynote London's ORGCON!

ORGCON19 is the annual conference put on by the UK Open Rights Group (disclosure: I co-founded ORG and volunteer on its advisory board); it is "the UK’s largest human and digital rights conference," and this year's conference -- held on July 13 in central London -- is centred on "Data and Democracy, Digital Privacy, Online Censorship & the Role of Algorithms," so it only follows that the whistleblower Edward Snowden as its keynote speaker! Read the rest

London developer makes last-minute changes to lock poor kids out of "communal" playground

Henley Homes got permission to build a 149-home development on the site of the Baylis Old School complex on Lollard Street by promising to include some subsidised, below-market-rent units and "a network of courtyards and open spaces ... which will provide attractive areas for informal play. This will emphasise the sense of community within the scheme stressing that the common areas are there for the use of all the residents." Read the rest

Majority of London's newly built luxury flats are unsold, raising the spectre of "posh ghost towers"

Property developers in London built more than 1,900 luxury flats in 2018, the majority of which have so far failed to sell; all told, there are 3,000 luxury flats on the market, a high-water mark for a city whose property market was hijacked by offshore oligarchs and criminals who converted much of the housing stock into empty safe-deposit boxes in the sky. Read the rest

London's awful estate agents are cratering, warning of a "prolonged downturn" in the housing market

London's estate agents were notorious profiteers of the property bubble, listing on the stock exchanges and rewarding investors with soaring share-prices that reflected the human misery of a city where life got harder and more expensive every day, where communities were shattered, and where subprime lending and other sleazy financial practices helped to destroy the global economy in 2007-8, triggering more than a decade of crisis from which we have yet to recover. Read the rest

"London Cries": the merchants' patter of 19th Century London

One genre of 19th Cen illustrated pamphlet was the "Cries of London" (previously), which celebrated the market traders' characteristic sales patter, which were catalogued as a kind of urban birdsong. Read the rest

London Heathrow airport departures halted after drone sighting

First Gatwick, now Heathrow. Departures at London’s Heathrow airport were stopped for some time on Tuesday after a drone sighting was reported to authorities. Read the rest

760 flights diverted from Gatwick airport after drone scare, affecting 110,000 passengers

On Wednesday night, in a "deliberate act of disruption" (but not "a terror attack") someone flew a drone of "industrial specification" into the airspace of London Gatwick airport, the city's second-busiest, causing all flights in and out of the airport to be suspended; the disruption has affected 760 flights carrying 110,000 passengers (so far) and the ripple effect is expected to last for "several days." Read the rest

London cops are subjecting people in the centre of town to facial recognition today and tomorrow

People in Soho, Piccadilly Circus, and Leicester Square are being told by the London Metropolitan Police to submit to a trial of the force's notoriously inaccurate, racially biased facial recognition system, which clocks in an impressive error-rate of 98% (the system has been decried by Professor Paul Wiles, the British biometrics commissioner, as an unregulated mess). Read the rest

Archaeologist dug up a 500-year-old skeleton wearing boots

Archaeologists at an excavation site for London's Thames Tideway Tunnel (the "super sewer") dug up a 500-year-old skeleton who died with his boots on. Based on the location of the find, the boots, and other signs, the fellow may have been a fisherman or sailor. From National Geographic:

"It’s extremely rare to find any boots from the late 15th century, let alone a skeleton still wearing them," says Beth Richardson of the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA). "And these are very unusual boots for the period—thigh boots, with the tops turned down. They would have been expensive, and how this man came to own them is a mystery. Were they secondhand? Did he steal them? We don't know."..

The position of the body—face down, right arm over the head, left arm bent back on itself—suggests that the man wasn’t deliberately buried. It’s also unlikely that he would have been laid to rest in leather boots, which were expensive and highly prized.

In light of those clues, archaeologists believe the man died accidentally and his body was never recovered, although the cause of death is unclear. Perhaps he fell into the river and couldn't swim. Or possibly he became trapped in the tidal mud and drowned...

Read the rest

London's new high-rises: speculators' luxury flats designed never to be occupied

London is the epicentre of the British affordable housing crisis, and while there are over 500 high-rises under construction in the capital, consuming nearly every available lot, virtually every one of these towers is designed to serve the high-end luxury market (despite plummeting prices in this category), whose anonymous offshore buyers often never occupy or rent out the flats they buy, merely holding them to flip them later. Read the rest

Bram Stoker's reference materials for Dracula discovered at the London Library

Bram Stoker's working notes for Dracula were discovered in 1913 (but not published until 2008); now researchers at the London Library have pulled the titles Stoker referenced and shown that these were the very books that Stoker used -- they can tell because he defaced the library books, circling the phrases he later made notes on. Read the rest

Portals of London: urban exploration to discover gateways to alternative universe

Salim Fadhley writes, "Portals of London, an urban exploration blog, presents an alternative geography of London. It's a catalog of the weird, decrepit and slightly crumpled - things the author posits might plausibly be portals to alternative universes, but then again might not." Read the rest

London food couriers targeted by motorcycle thieves

London is increasingly a city on two wheels: it's huge, it's congested, and gasoline is comically expensive. Thieves are targeting bike couriers, taking their mopeds and scooters for single-time use in subsequent crimes (such as robberies), and this BBC investigation shows how violent they're getting with victims.

We’ve all got used to having food delivered to our doorsteps at all hours of the day and night. But spare a thought for the delivery riders, because they’re frequently finding themselves the target of armed bike and moped gangs, who attempt to steal their delivery vehicles to use to commit further crimes. To reveal just how dangerous it can be out there, we armed some of these drivers with cameras. Chris Rogers has the story.

As a former Londoner now living in America, I have to admit that I can't imagine this sort of casual, push-you-off-your-bike theft here. Americans call it a "polite society" but that's just their way of describing an "I will blow your head off if you come within 10 feet of my bike" society. The result is an insane yet normalized pandemic of gun violence, but hey, at least no-one is going to try and nick your motorcycle at the lights.

Some of the scenes are so amazing it seems like fiction. The police are so useless that couriers themselves are forming gangs to retaliate against thieves. It's like the first scene of Akira, but on little scooters going "iiiiiiiiiiiiiii!" and all they want to do is deliver lunch. Read the rest

The first science fiction con was held in 1891 at the Royal Albert Hall

Charles Wallace writes, "In 1891 the Royal Albert Hall hosted what may be the first sci-fi convention, centered on the book 'The Coming Race' by our old friend Edward Bulwer-Lytton. The video linked above features a trip to the archives of the Royal Albert Hall by host Brady Haran. Good proto new-age weirdness with through-threads to current neo-nazis. Fun for all!" Read the rest

Mozilla is throwing a science fiction convention in London

Kevin from Mozilla writes, "MozFest -- the annual internet festival hosted by Mozilla in London -- is all about software. Right? Not so. The festival explores the future of the internet. As such, there are a whole slew of sci-fi and fantasy sessions and workshops planned for the Oct. 26-28 gathering. The event is open to everyone and all ages. It's a chance for sci-fi fans of all stripes to geek out and chat with experts." Read the rest

Street artists subvertise Facebook bus stop ads in London

Thanks to the members of a street art project, some bus shelter adverts for Facebook in London were improved by a good ol' fashioned culture jam.

The Protest Stencil is taking credit for these subvertising efforts which altered Facebook's messaging to say, "Fake news is not our friend, it’s a great revenue source," and "Data misuse is not our friend, it’s our business model."

They refer to their work as "honest Facebook ads," writing, "To facebook, you’re not a ‘friend’, you’re the product on sale." Preach it!

View this post on Instagram

those honest facebook ads are really getting around... . . . #facebookads #adhack #londonstreets #adtakeover #advertisingshitsinyourhead #acab #fakenews

A post shared by Protest Stencil (@proteststencil) on Aug 15, 2018 at 6:02am PDT

View this post on Instagram

TFW you realise that *you* are the product that’s on sale... . . . #facebookads #adhack #adtakeover

A post shared by Protest Stencil (@proteststencil) on Aug 13, 2018 at 8:36am PDT

(Design You Trust)

image via Protest Stencil Read the rest

Heartbreaking documentary on London's North Korean enclave

Little Pyongyang made the festival rounds and his been picked up by The Guardian. It tells the story of how one soldier made his way to Europe's largest community of North Korean nationals after escaping the brutal regime.

Joong-wha Choi, a former soldier in North Korea, lives today with his wife and children in a sleepy London suburb, home to Europe's biggest North Korean population. Despite enjoying the new found comforts of his British life, and being emancipated from the pressures of the North Korean state, he has a desire to return to the land that betrayed him, and feels like his true home. Joong-wha reflects on both why he left North Korea and the state of his day to day life over the course of several months, in a portrait of loss, longing, and the complexities of healing from trauma.

Here's a nice Q&A with the filmmakers

Little Pyongyang (YouTube / The Guardian) Read the rest

More posts