Visit to HMP Reading

On the outside large brick wall, you are greeted with:

With freedom, books, flowers and the moon, who could not be happy?

– a famous quote from De Profundis by Oscar Wilde, written in very large letters. This sets the atmosphere to the visit.

HMP Reading opened in 1844. It was one of the first new prisons using the cruciform design – long wings of cells stretching out from a central point which allowed the guards to oversee each wing on all floors. Recently the prison housed young offenders (18 to 21 years old). Up to three offenders were kept in one cell when the crime rate spiked. The prison was shut in 2013 and has been kept empty since, costing a great amount of money for its upkeep. As a Grade II-listed building, it is not saleable.

The prison comprises 3 floors – 1st:  green, 2nd: red and 3rd:  blue. Not only is the door painted in the appropriate colour but so are the bed frames, metal tables and stools that are screwed onto the wall and floor.

view of floor 1 and 2

From floor 1 to 2 and more

Third Floor

One wing on Floor 3

Jail humour

Prison humour

Oscar Wilde was housed in cell C.3.3 (which became C.2.2 when the numbering system was changed). The cell is completely empty as many more prisoners have been kept in there. During the first three months of incarceration he was allowed only three books – the bible, a prayer book and a hymn book.  After that he was allowed to choose one book a week from the prison library. Eventually, he was allowed to receive books from outside so long they were vetted. These books can be found in the neighbouring cells – a nice but rather small collection. The following quote spells out his state of mind:

“In the great prison where I was then incarcerated, I was merely the figure and the letter of a little cell in a long gallery, one of a thousand lifeless numbers as of a thousand lifeless lives.”  – De Profundis, 1897.


Cell C.2.2.

Cell C.2.2.  was C.3.3.

Cell C.2.2. or Oscar Wilde cell

Cell C.2.2. or Oscar Wilde cell















Many artists were invited to show their work for an  exhibition which takes place in cells randomly chosen on the three floors. Doris Salcedo presents “Plegaria Muda” (Silent Prayer). The tables, roughly the size of a coffin, are made of wood and compacted earth. My first feeling was doom and pain, until I saw some green grass growing through the planks – then I thought of hope.

Death or Hope

Death or

















Other artists include

  • Marlene Dumas with her portraits of Oscar Wilde, Bosie and Jean Genet
  • Nan Goldin: The Boy, sequences of Salomé. She video interviewed  a 91-year-old man who is still campaigning for an apology from the government for his conviction for homosexuality 70 years ago.
  • Wolfgang Tillmans
  • Peter Dreher
  • Roni Horn
  • Felix Gonzales-Torres
  • Steve McQueen
  • Robert Gober

Writing by Ai Weiwei, Tahmima Anam, Deborah Levy, Gillian Slovo, Binyavanga Wainaina. Danny Morrison (Secretary of the Bobby Sand Trust) and many more are displayed on the cell’s tables. You can either read the papers or listen to the audio.

Contemporary history is also represented with aerial drawings of the H-Block of Long Kesh by Rita Donagh and two paintings by Richard Hamilton based on the blanket protest and the first H-Block hunger strike.

It is sad that the Reading Gaol, as it was known then, was made famous by Oscar Wilde for a crime no longer considered a crime. So how many people are in jail now for actions that will be legalised in 20 years or more?



Helen Schell at Maker Faire, UK

Helen Schell will be exhibiting once again at the Newcastle Maker Faire on 26th-27th April at the  Centre for Life.


HS-BeamDress13Beam Dress bc

She will be showing her latest creation the Beam Dress, which was created for Light up the Streets in Lancaster, UK, last winter.  It is one of a series of Smart Materials dresses exploring light reactive materials. In December, 2013, it was also displayed at the Mattereality Conference at the Scottish Museum of Modern Art, Edinburgh.

With the Beam Dress, her recent short film; UN-Dress with be also screened. This is a continuation of her previous creations that you may have seen at other shows. UN-Dress was a ball-gown made from dissolvable thermoplastic and was created for the Undress: Redress project in 2012. It was filmed, dissolving, during a performance at the Whitley Film Festival last year.

undress 1 undress 3

undress 2



This dress was commissioned by Science Learning Centre North East as part of The Fashioning Science project.

This project also included, The Dazzle Dress: This was made from Hi Vis safety jackets creating a futuristic and unusual ball-gown. It has been exhibited at the London Science Museum, Newcastle Maker Faire and Durham Cathedral. The project was short-listed for the North East Culture Awards in 2013.

Helen Schell is a visual artist and ESERO- UK Space Ambassador who specialises in artworks about space exploration and the science of the cosmos, and is based at NewBridge Project,  in the north east of England.

She organises exhibitions, residencies and children’s education projects by using art and craft techniques to communicate science. Through diverse projects, she invents inclusive activities to get participants interested in space and future technology. She makes large mixed media art installations and paintings, often described as ‘laboratories’.

In 2010, she was artist in residence at Durham University’s Ogden Centre for Fundamental Physics, where she collaborated with scientists and created a Space-Time Laboratory.

In 2012, as ‘Maker in Residence’ at the Newcastle Centre for Life, she created ‘Make it to the Moon’, an interactive education experience, mainly for children, where they imagine setting up a colony on the Moon. These workshops also went to the London Science Museum, the British Science Festival and Arts Catalyst. Other projects include being a judge for NASA’s children’s art competition ‘Humans in Space’.

Always aiming to reach diverse groups, in 2013 space art projects and workshops include Durham Cathedral, Hexham Abbey, and Gateshead Library for the Festival of the North East. In 2014, she created a project with Royal Holloway University – Invisible to Visible, exploring Dark Matter, Extra Spatial Dimensions and CERN, through a series experimental art books and a large family workshop.

The Moon Rocket, Hi Vis Ball-gowns and UN-Dress film will be show at Loncon3, ExCeL Centre, London Docklands; 14-18 August 2014

For further information, please visit the Newbridge Project.

Craft Conference, Budapest, 23rd to 25th April

Just got a teaser for this new conference –


Video streaming by Ustream

Not only will I be there with a bunch of books that will sell at 40% discount but the organizers have offered a $100 discount to the friends of O’Reilly.To get this fantastic discount register here .

Some of our authors will be there including:

Dan North: who will give a full day tutorial called Accelerated Agile: from Months to Minutes as well as giving this talk Jackstones: the journey to mastery

Chad FowlerMcDonalds, Six Sigma, and Offshore Outsourcing: Unexpected Sources of Insight

Douglas CrockfordManaging Asynchronicity with RQ

Ian RobinsonGraph Search: The Power of Connected Data

Michael NygardCooperating when the fur flies

Mitchell HashimotoVagrant, Packer, Serf: Maximum Potency DevOps

You can find a complete list of speakers here.

Budapest here I come!

Hope to see you there.

National Hack the Government 2014 – 8/9 March

National Hack the gov logoNational Hack the Government is an annual HackCamp run by Rewired State. As well as bringing great people together to have fun hacking and building things, we hope to improve transparency, open data and produce demo-able ideas that can be followed up and put into practice in real life. This is done by holding a competitive event for creating prototypes and building ingenious (and occasionally tongue-in-cheek) projects that help improve local and national services and make use of open data.

Now in its 6th year, an even bigger event has been put together to host local communities hacking around local data, issues and problems bringing in the National part in the title to life. A bar-camp has also been added on the Saturday to help share information and insight – to organically define some of the challenges that will be hacked on. This explains the title “Hack-Camp”!

The event will be followed up by a show-and-tell of the finalists’ work – taking the winners from each centre and allowing them to demo their ideas to the government, businesses and the wider community.

National Hack the Government is sponsored by:


sponsors issue 3















FutureGov is excited to be involved with National Hack the Government by hosting local communities’ challenges on Simpl Challenges, including GlasgowExeterLeeds and Bournemouth.

Simpl Challenges is our innovation platform that connects local public services and organisations with innovators and ideas. Gathering ideas before the event on Simpl will give more time for learning, talking and listening to each other, and building some fantastic prototypes on the day itself.

Follow the links below to find out more and submit your ideas for your local event, or you can take part remotely by submitting your ideas to the UK section:

You can also comment on the ideas submitted, so that the idea owners can get valuable feedback on their projects before the event has even started.

rewired_stateRewired State creates bespoke hack events that bring creative developers, designers and industry experts together to solve real world problems – promoting and supporting more than 1 200 of the UK’s most talented and inventive software developers and designers, as well as nurturing 1 500 promising world-wide developers under 18 through the Young Rewired State network.




London PHP Conference

HeaderHeadThe 9th Annual PHP UK conference is over! Lots of people, a very posh venue, great food and very efficient and friendly organizers: Johanna CherrySam Bell and Ciarán Rooney. What else do you need at the London PHP conference? Possibly some talks! I am told they were very good.

The conference was divided into 3 tracks, 27 world-wide known speakers and of course some beer events at the local pubs and Friday evening gathering in the exhibition hall.

For key notes we had:

  • What Makes Technology Work by Juozas ‘Joe’ Kaziukenas – compared making wooden chairs to building apps
  • The Future of PHP is in the Cloud by Glen Campbell – reviewed some of the key developments in PHP over the last few years and outlined how PHP can keep pace with the explosive growth of the cloud.

Some interesting talks included :

  • PHP in Space by Derick Rethans – how PHP can be used for all kinds of terrestrial and non-terrestrial purposes … Expect trigonometry and other maths, and rocket science/explosions! It feels that it should have been great fun to attend this talk.

PHP web services

  • Debugging HTTP by Lorna Mitchell –  Curl, Wireshark and Charles, the tools you will want to have at hand. Most of the comments are “great talk, will be using Charles…”. I have a very special relationship with Lorna as she helps me marketing her book PHP Web Services to her audience. Well done Lorna!
  • PHP at the Firehose Scale by Stuart Herbert – Here’s one to give the PHP bashers a well-deserved black eye! Twitter is one of the world’s best know social media sites, handling over 500 million public tweets a day (that’s around 6,000 tweets a second). How do they do it? With the help of PHP of course.

Other activities:

  • If suffering from an information overdose and wanted to relax, you could then go to THE CLOUD BAR (Presented by Engine Yard) – for an awesome chill out space, free swag, free coffee, and free info about everything cloud.
  • Or if feeling full of energy, you could join the HACKATHON (Presented by JetBrains) – alongside the main tracks and late into Friday night using Sochi Winter Olympics API data. Prizes were awarded throughout the Hackathon for the most innovative hacks including two free tickets to next year’s conference, PHP Storm licenses and more.

Make a note in your diary for the 10th London PHP Conference which I am sure will be even more awesome.