Books and the Internet in Prisons: Beyond the Right to Read

A British High Court justice has ‘struck down a ban on sending books to prisoners’, as reported by the NYT: A number of writers, poets and human rights advocates have been pressing for the right of prisoners to buy books from the ‘outside world’. Apparently the prison service had supported access to books, but only through the prison libraries or purchases through the prison service, as a security measure: to prevent the smuggling of other things into the prison, as we have all seen in popular films and television series. It seems to me that it is arguably worth the time and effort of searching packages sent to prisoners in order to enhance access to books. Surely the value of books in educating and supporting the rehabilitation of those in prison is a long-term payoff that offsets the cost of screening.

About a decade ago, I was introduced to an imaginative plan to enable limited access to the Internet from prison. There are a number of programs that enable limited access to electronic text messaging, for example, but by and large, this is a huge hurdle. Nevertheless, I hope advocates of this development are continuing to pursue schemes that might enable safe access to the Internet, such as for access to education and entertainment that could be as important as the right to read. I would like to hear of initiatives in this area, and wish them well.



Tutorial on Mobile Painting Apps by Jeremy Sutton

We were very lucky to have a wonderful tutorial at the OII on mobile painting apps, given by Jeremy Sutton. Jeremy is a natural teacher and spent the hour plus overtime describing the tools he uses for mobile painting on a tablet computer, focusing on iPad apps, all the time demonstrating the use and functionality of different tools – from brushes to apps – by involving the audience in his various sketches. He created a very useful Web page for the talk which provides his recommendations of tools for mobile painting, see:

Other URLs for painting on an iPad on Jeremy’s site include:

I met Jeremy when he was a physics student at Oxford, and I was a professor in LA in the early 1980s. After a career of over a decade at Oxford Instruments, he followed his love of sketching and painting after he sat down at a conference on computer painting and delighted the conference goers by demonstrating what could be done on a computer screen. He has been creating and selling his work, teaching classes and demonstrating the art and craft of painting with a computer ever since. He was off from our session to spend a day in the Apple Store in London. Now Jeremy is in California with a studio in San Francisco, and I’m in Oxford.

Take a look at his tips, and his Web site. He’ll either inspire you to try it, or provoke your thinking about the implications of computing in the production and access to art.

Jeremy demonstrating use of an app
Jeremy demonstrating use of an app
Bill and Jeremy at OII
Bill and Jeremy at OII


Student to Internet Pioneer: Josh Harris

Joshua Harris was a graduate student of mine in the early 1980s. My most memorable experience with him was in connection with a major paper that was assigned. Josh wanted to focus on the future of the personal computer. This was of course very early in the life of the personal computer, only invented at the end of the 70s. Josh said he envisioned what we would years later call a multimedia computer. He had clear ideas about how the technology would develop that were well ahead of his contemporaries.

The problem was that Josh did not want to do a traditional paper. Instead he wanted to build a model of his multimedia computer. I could not convince my colleagues to accept this proposal. It was shortly after this that he became disillusioned with the value of graduate school, and left to seek his fortune, which he soon did. In 1986, he founded Jupiter Communications, one of the world’s first Internet market research companies. He made millions went it went public. Later, in 1994, in line with his vision from a decade before, he founded the world’s first Internet-based interactive television network (

Called the ‘Warhol of the Web’, Josh was too constrained by academic institutions and processes. More importantly perhaps was his commitment to doing things – building models so that people could see what he envisioned rather than simply to read about it. This might be common in design and technology, but Josh personified this commitment.

Therefore, I can only celebrate his next creation – a world in which there would be no privacy. Surveillance was everywhere. Today, in 2010, most computer and social scientists who think about it are alarmed by the ways in which new technologies promise to erode privacy in society. One need not be a technological determinist to see how the technological capabilities are being developed in surveillance technologies, from satellite imaging to miniature cameras and sensors, to see everything. But also, and importantly, people want the technologies, whether security cameras or Webcams to check on the children at preschool. Josh saw this and built an environment in which he and 1000 other inhabitants lived for one month – a place with no privacy, branded ‘We Live in Public’ — created well before reality TV.

Josh is the best person to describe this vision and related projects. Take a look at this 2009 Sky Television interview with Josh or look at a trailer for the ‘We Live in Pubic’ documentary, which won acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival.

Josh has kept in touch with me through the years as one of the professors who supported his proposal. Schools are hard to build for a Joshua Harris. We should have let Josh build the model, but we did not dampen the creativity of a budding Internet pioneer with a vision of the future that everyone should seriously ponder.

Voices from Oxford Covered in The Korea Times

The OII’s Voices from Oxford (VfO) initiative has received excellent coverage in The Korea Times in an article by Kang Shin-who, based on an interview with Dr Kim Sung-hee, Director of VfO and Professor Denis Noble, our VfO anchor and editor, who was in Korea to attend a conference in his role as President of the International Union of Physiological Sciences (IUPS). In the article, a Yonsei University Professor, Lee Jung-hoon, gave a gratifying assessment of the initiative, saying: “In one sweeping stroke, VfO has managed to wipe out those boundaries [between a university and the wider world] with a little help from online technology. Covering research and debates over a wide spectrum of interdisciplinary issues, it now helps to stage Oxford as the center of lively discussions. Denis Noble, anchor for the program, is superb with probing questions and clear-cut explanations. As an Oxford alum myself, I’m very excited about the prospect of Oxford becoming, at last, the global venue of cutting-edge educational discourse.”

This is exactly the role the VfO project seeks to facilitate. I’d encourage you to read the entire article at:

OII’s Steve Russell: A New Art Exhibition on Fighting Cancer, ‘you look well’

The artist supporting the work of the OII, Steve Russell, is holding a new exhibit of art inspired by his experience in undergoing chemotherapy treatment for cancer. You can see illustrations of his art on his new Web site at:

The exhibition will be from 14 May to 4 July at the Art Cell Gallery at Cancer Research UK, Cambridge Research Institute, Li Ka Shing Centre, Roinson Way, Cambridge CB2 0RE

This is a brilliant collection that communicates the experience of undergoing cancer treatment is ways that are inspiring not only for those who have undergone cancer treatment, but for anyone. Who has not had a friend or family member coping with a cancer diagnosis? It is so rare to find individuals with the courage and ability to communicate their personal feelings about this experience, and through art.