January 16, 2017
Interesting Things on the Internet: January 16th 2017
- A Smuggling Operation: John Berger’s Theory of Art. I'd tried watching John Berger's Ways of Seeing before and not managed to get into it. This article, which came to my attention after Berger's passing, finally gave me a way in to understand things more.
- Ways of Seeing - John Berger's excellent series on appreciating art (and how it's not necessarily what the "art world" put forward)
- The Cybersyn Revolution. A good (more in-depth than you usually see) write-up of Stafford-Beer's Cybersyn project which aimed to use computing to help manage Chile's economy, back in the early 70s
- I was wrong (or: five things I learned from Hubbard in 2016) Interesting look at analysing data and thinking about risk.
- How Do Individual Contributors Get Stuck? A Primer. I tend to do 4 and 6 when I'm stuck with 1, 10 and 12, so much 12...
- The Hollow Men II: Some reflections on Westminster and Whitehall dysfunction. Extremely long, but really interesting (and depressing) article about how dysfunctional Westminster is. "Events are over-interpreted because journalists do not want to face the idea that they are usually spectators of over-promoted people floundering amid chaos"
January 03, 2017
Is the "Maker Movement" a Movement?
I'm glad she did. It wasn't really something I'd given much thought to before. I've been involved in Maker culture, the Maker community, the Maker Movement, whatever it is, since pretty near the start, and so have just taken it somewhat for granted—and done my bit to help shape it—as it's grown.
But I'm not sure I could define what it is.
Looking in the dictionary, it defines a movement as "group with a common aim".
Judging it thus, Liz is right. I don't think there's a common aim among makers, other than to make, which seems rather broad a definition for a movement.
It's definitely a community, and probably a whole host of overlapping and intermingled communities who mostly share an ethos (that's not a proper capturing of a maker ethos, but it's one readily to hand).
There are advantages to not being a movement. I think that makes the maker community more inclusive and easier to adapt to new opportunities.
However, it also makes it easier to dismiss or to misunderstand. Most commonly by categorizing it as an updated version of the Arts and Crafts movement.
There's definitely an element of that, and I've made the "William Morris with a 3D printer" criticism myself. And there's definitely a risk that we may similarly fail to substantially change the mainstream culture.
However, I think that there could be a Maker Movement. That it is more than just an updated Arts and Crafts Movement.
I believe that the Maker Movement aims to democratize production and innovation.
The Arts and Crafts movement was defined by its celebration of traditional craft techniques and its rejection of industrialisation. The Maker Movement sees no such distinction—it embraces both the hand-carved wooden bowl and the CNC-routed desk.
What matters to the Maker Movement is that everyone who wants to produce some thing, has the ability to produce that thing. Not everyone has to be a maker, but there should be a universality of possibility.
It isn't just about the universality of who can be a maker; it's also about the universality of what can be produced, of the aesthetics of what can be produced. Not just items that are obviously hand-made but also objects that are indistinguishable from those mass-manufactured in factories.
Obviously a lot of this is driven by the falling cost of tools like 3D printers and the increasing digitalisation of manufacturing, coupled with borrowing the open source software community's sharing culture and assumption that you can (and should) make your own tools.
Added to that are elements of a much older tradition of people coming together in groups to achieve more collectively than they can alone, amplified by the Internet's ability to ease group discoverability and communication. That manifests in the collective purchase of machinery which would be out-of-reach for the individual and—arguably more importantly—the cross-pollination of skills and ideas that both accelerates the development of and improves the quality of the resultant innovations.
Democratizing production and innovation has the promise to improve our lives in many ways, from individuals 3D-printing themselves a new prosthetic hand through to new companies and products and communities building their own infrastructure.
We need to nurture and celebrate this movement and be vigilant against (and seek to better inform, to take under our wing and help) well-intentioned but ham-fisted approaches which miss the greater opportunities and cherry-pick the easier aspects such as filling workshops with shiny tools.
Here's to a better, Maker-fuelled future!
January 02, 2017
Blog All Dog-eared Pages: Ogilvy On Advertising
I read this years ago, but managed not to publish this blog post. I've just come across the draft again, so rectifying that mistake.
Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy ("Ogilvy on Advertising" on OpenLibrary "Ogilvy on Advertising" on BookBrainz) was an easy and enjoyable read. It's a pretty short book, but packed with lots of nuggets of interest.
When I write an advertisement, I don't want you to tell me that you find it 'creative'. I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product.
If you cannot afford the services of professionals to do this research, do it yourself. Informal conversations with half-a-dozen housewives can sometimes help a copywriter more than formal surveys in which he does not participate.
Big ideas come from the unconscious. This is true in art in science and in advertising. But your unconscious has to be well informed, or your idea will be irrelevant. Stuff your conscious mind with information, then unhook your rational thought process. You can help this process by going for a long walk, or taking a hot bath, or drinking half a pint of claret. Suddenly, if the telephone line from your unconscious is open, a big idea wells up within you.
'If you and your competitors all make excellent products, don't try to imply that your product is better. Just say what's good about your product - and do a clearer, more honest, more informative job of saying it.
You'll find no statues of committees.'
The Benton & Bowles agency holds that 'if it doesn't sell, it isn't creative.' Amen.
At the start of your career in advertising, what you learn is more important than what you earn.
In your day-to-day dealings with clients and colleagues, fight for the king, queens and bishops, but throw away the pawns. A habit of graceful surrender on trivial issues will make you difficult to resist when you stand and fight on a major issue.
[on applying for a job]
Be personal, direct and natural
You are a human being writing to another human being. Neither of you is an institution. You should be businesslike and courteous, but never stiff and impersonal.
Brains? It doesn't necessarily mean a high IQ. It means curiosity, common sense, wisdom, imagination and literacy. Why literacy? Because most communication between agencies and clients is in writing. I don't suggest that you have to be a poet, but you won't climb the ladder very high unless you can write lucid memoranda.
Above all, listen. The more you get the prospective client to talk, the easier it will be to decide whether you really want his account. A former head of Magnavox treated me to a two-hour lecture on advertising, about which he knew nothing. I gave him a cup of tea and showed him out.
Don't keep a dog and bark yourself. Any fool can write a bad advertisement, but it takes a genius to keep his hands off a good one.
On the average, five times as many people read the headlines as read the body copy. It follows that unless your headline sells your product, you have wasted 90 per cent of your money.
The headlines which work best are those which promise the reader a benefit - like a whiter wash, more miles per gallon, freedom from pimples, fewer cavities. Riffle through a magazine and count the number of ads whose headlines promise a benefit of any kind.
Headlines which contain news are sure-fire. The news can be the announcement of a new product, an improvement in an old product, or a new way to use an old product - like serving Campbells' Soup on the rocks. On the average, ads with news are recalled by 22 per cent more people than ads without news.
Do not, however, address your readers as though they were gathered together in a stadium. When people read your copy, they are alone. Pretend you are writing each of them a letter on behalf of your client. One human being to another, second person singular.
Some copywriters, assuming that the reader will find the product as boring as they do, try to inveigle him into their ads with pictures of babies, beagles and bosoms. This is a mistake. A buyer of flexible pipe for offshore oil rigs is more interested in pipe than anything else in the world. So play it straight.
Next to the positioning of your product, the most important variables to be tested are pricing, terms of payment, premiums and the format of your [direct] mailing.
Keep in mind E. B. White's warning, 'When you say something, make sure you have said it. The chances of your having said it are only fair.'
What price should you charge for your product? This is one of the most important questions which confront marketers, but, as far as I know, research cannot answer it.
It is usually assumed that marketers use scientific methods to determine the price of their products. Nothing could be further from the truth. In almost every case, the process of decision is one of guesswork.
The higher you price your product, the more desirable it becomes in the eyes of the consumer. Yet when Professor Reisz of the University of Iowa tried to relate the prices of 679 brands of food products to their quality, he found that the correlation between quality and price was almost zero.
[quoting ad-man Leo Burnett]
'Bug let me tell you when I might demand that you take my name off the door. That will be the day when you spend more time trying to make money and less time making advertising.
'When your main interest becomes a matter of size just to be big, rather than good, hard, wonderful work.'
Billboards represent less than 2 per cent of total advertising in the United States. I cannot believe that the free-enterprise system would be irreparably damaged if they were abolished. Who is in favor of them? Only the people who make money out of them.
December 21, 2016
Having looked back through a few previous entries in preparing to write this, I'm going to start linking them together. Not that it's hard to find the old ones, given they're all on the same date, but at fifteen years it's starting to build a collection of music that shows what I'd love to have shared over the years, and how that changes. So, from this year... previously.
Two tracks this year.
BADBADNOTGOOD's "In Your Eyes" (feat. Charlotte Day Wilson). More of a laid-back summer groove, but one I've listened to lots this year.
And then a more recent addition. Julia Jacklin's "Don't Let the Kids Win" is more reflective but similarly fantastic.
There's also a great even more stripped-down acoustic version.
December 20, 2016
The Left Needs to Get Over Its Fear of Technology
Forty years ago, when faced with a declining order book and redundancies, a group of the workers from various sites of Lucas Aerospace banded together and drew up an alternative plan for the company. Rather than continue to chase defence work, they proposed diversification into technologies like wind turbines and hybrid vehicles. Sadly the corporate management, when presented with the plan, decided not to implement it.
A few Saturdays back there was a day-long conference to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the plan.
It was an interesting day and one that left me with mixed feelings - some rays of hope with the level of awareness and desire to get stuck into the immense challenge of climate change; but a much greater feeling of an opportunities missed and of disappointment.
There were four tracks of talks and discussions, so there was plenty that I missed; however, it felt like there could have been more time spent trying to explain why the Lucas Plan failed. The simple answer is that management decided against it. That's true, but why? Was it that they were trapped in the 1970s framing of work as an adversarial battle of the bosses against the unions, and so couldn't accept a proposal from the workers? Maybe. But it could as easily be that betting on wind turbines and other revolutionary-for-their-time technologies was a big ask of a huge corporation. Were there other approaches the workers could have made after the plan was refused? Could they have set up smaller firms or workers co-operatives to pursue some of those ideas? How might the unions support that? Could they invest in them? Unite seem to own student housing here in Liverpool - do they also own factories? If not, why not?
Many of the same challenges that faced the authors of the Lucas Plan hold true today (and some are far more pressing). It feels like such an approach is even less likely to succeed now than it was then, so what should we be doing differently?
Not that all of the missed connections came from the traditional left. Despite a fair overlap with the sort of approaches taken in hackspace and makerspaces (especially when you factor in the Greater London Council's Technology Networks - a series of community-based workshops providing access to shared tools - which came out of the aftermath of the plan), there were few representatives from the Maker community. Only a handful that I was aware of, although that did include two speakers: Liz Corbin and the aforementioned Adrian Smith.
There are two threads I want to pick up in response to this.
The Maker Movement is a Niche Movement
Liz's talk was a good exploration of the "Maker Movement" and the possibilities for it meeting with those in the unions/left who are interested in plans like the Lucas Plan.
However, there was hardly any awareness—when Liz asked at the start of her talk—of makerspaces, hackspaces and the like. When you're immersed in the world of Make Magazine, the tech press talking up 3D printing, and academics doing research around the number of makerspaces, etc. it can easily feel as though this stuff is mainstream. This was a welcome (if uncomfortable) wake up call to that. There is much work to do in taking it to a wider audience. [I'd managed to miss that last sentence from the original piece, until Jackie Pease pointed it out]
Liz also argued that the "Maker Movement" isn't actually a movement. It's not something I'd much considered before, but I think she's right. There's a strength in that, because it means it can be more inclusive and futher-reaching, but it also makes it harder to achieve momentum because there's no articulated mission to run at.
I've often wondered about how we avoid the idealism and optimistic futures being lost as (/if?) it becomes mainstream, in the way that hippie movement, punk, and the Internet were as they were co-opted by capitalism/consumerism. Maybe it's just inevitable, and maybe you can only get to nudge the supertanker in a more equitable direction, but how do we maximise the size of the nudge?
The Left Ignores Technology Until it's Too Late
Throughout the day there was an undercurrent of mistrust and hostility towards any technology. This was despite us convening to celebrate a plan to develop all manner of cutting-edge technologies. There was even an entire session on automation and AI which was just to organise the resistance to the assumed job losses.
I went to the resistance session, and the level of neo-luddism was dispiriting. The bright-spot within it was when a younger (20-something I'd guess) suggested hydroponics as a way to reconnect urban-dwellers with growing (in response to the speaker from the Land Workers Association proposing that we need to get more people back tilling the land). Sadly, in response, rather than explore that and constructively-critique the idea he was just subjected to ridicule and instant dismissal.
I'm not in favour of using technology to consign more and more people to the "useless" bucket, but looking at how successful the original Luddites and the unions in the 70s (including the Lucas Plan itself) were, it seems that history shows that such approaches are unlikely to work.
Why does the Left (in the UK at least, I'm less sure of how things are elsewhere, and it feels as though groups like Podemos might be more tech-savvy) surrender all use of technology to the capitalists? There's lots that technology and digital tools could do to help workers organise, or to protect their safety, or assist in asserting their rights.
There are many topics within technology which require debate and informed argument, but ignoring and resisting all new tech (is there a list of what technologies are okay? Is it just ones invented and popularised before you got a job?) means that the Left won't understand the issues until it's too late.
The Left hasn't always been fearful of technology. Stafford-Beer's Project Cybersyn is the most obvious example, which was cutting-edge in its day. I'd love to hear about other examples.
There are many technologists, coders, designers, who want to make the world a more equitable and nicer place. If we can find ways to marry that to the energy and history of the unions and organised Left then maybe together we can bring that to pass.
December 19, 2016
Interesting Things on the Internet: December 19th 2016
- The Strange Death of Municipal England. Stark laying out of the disgraceful impact of central Tory cuts to local councils. The numbers involved are just staggering. Eric Pickles, the secretary of state for communities and local government between 2010 and 2015, declared that ‘[…] People blame the bankers, but I think big government is just as much to blame as the big banks.’ This line of argument has allowed the government to present the slow strangulation of local government as a helpful nudge towards reform. I haven't seen any evidence of a similar slow strangulation of the bankers...
- Five Leadership Hacks. Mostly meeting/scheduling tips, but useful.
- It's Not Innovation If Nothing Changes an excellent talk from Megan Deal, looking at civic innovation projects and pulling out commonalities. Lots of head-nodding (both on what's gone right and on the challenges) from my experience with DoES Liverpool.
- The Greatest View In Liverpool. Not the best subject, litter, but a perfect digitally-native (not that she'd ever use such a term, and quite rightly too) way of communicating the problem, from Jane MacNeil.
- How the tech sector could move in One Direction. Tech, you're looking in the wrong places to solve your diversity problem.
- Defending Accounts Against Common Attacks. A good non-techie primer on keeping your computer secure.
- The demand for Creative Space: 24 Kitchen Street and the exploitation of independent culture. How do we move the planning conversation on so that there's more than just "who has most money?" as the criteria for how our cities, towns and countryside evolve?
November 28, 2016
Interesting Things on the Internet: November 28th 2016
- The Politics of Optimism. It's hard to remain open and optimistic when things aren't going well, but it's an important thing to work at.
November 21, 2016
Interesting Things on the Internet: November 21st 2016
- When the maps run out. The best take I've seen so far on the current political climate and paralysis. The linked article Unnecessariat is also excellent, if sobering, reading.
- Public In/Formation. A great article arguing for libraries' role in smart city and open data initiatives. A more in-depth look at some of the topics I was poking with my recent talk to the Society of Chief Librarians.
- You Are Still Crying Wolf. Trump is bad, but maybe not as bad as the media's hyperbole paints. Or at least, maybe he's bad in different ways.
- Kim at Interesting. Touching, sad, beautiful.
November 14, 2016
Interesting Things on the Internet: November 14th 2016
- The Best Way to Predict the Future is to Issue a Press Release. Fantastic skewering of the techno-determinism and the religion of disruption.
- UK hospitals shut down by malware. Why we shouldn't let politicians—however well-meaning—water down online security.
- Practical Frameworks for Beating Burnout. Not revolutionary, but some good reminders in there.
November 03, 2016
Life and the Liverpool Tech Scene
This was originally a long (as you'll see) rambling response to an email on the DoES Liverpool discussion group asking where all the local tech speakers are for the upcoming GDG DevFest Liverpool. Given that it ended up with a potted "what I've been up to" and some general ruminating on the local tech scene, it felt like it might be worth posting here too.
(And if you want any more of my recent writing, it's mostly been ending up on the Indie Manufacturing blog.)
tl;dr - a long ramble about me being busy, then 3 suggestions. Skip to the ###### to find the suggestions :-)
I'm extrapolating wildly from my experience here (so, y'know, it's all speculataion and probably wrong, but that doesn't usually stop me ;-) but... it might be that they're all busy and aren't sure how the event fits into what they do?
I did get asked about it a while back and haven't replied or done anything else about it. Sorry about that, it's nothing personal, I just get too many things like that in my inbox and my far-from-perfect method for deciding which ones I can respond to is that I do them in roughly priority order (which is a whole different can of worms to unpick...) and get to as many as I can. Which ends up appearing rude to anyone else because they just don't get a response :-/
I try to pass on any that others could do instead and where it's more obvious that I'm a bottleneck otherwise, but I think the GDG request looked more like a general request (not an impersonal one, but one where me not replying wouldn't stop you finding other people).
I've also recently ignored the chance to go to Poland and speak at some big dev conference there, and go out to Texas for Dell launching their IoT strategy. Which isn't to show how important I am or how successful I am, but to show the level of opportunities that I'm annoyingly passing up.
So I've missed out on those, but what I have done is... DoES is still here and functioning better than ever (there's still a load of "organisational debt" to work through, but there are a load more people involved in helping make epic shit happen - last Saturday's Make:Shift:Do being a great example - without me being involved, which is great and freeing me (and the other directors) to look at longer-term stuff), and yesterday I sent off the PCB designs for the Ackers Bell which is my bootstrapped startup side of things as I build IoT product.
Alongside all of that, I have to find enough consultancy work to actually provide any income to fund the rest of this stuff :-D And work that will fit in and around that (and take precendence at times, obviously, as that's the only way I get any money while I'm still in the product development side of the startup...).
Right now that side is getting a bit more focus, as the big project I was expecting to do with Museum in a Box which would've paid the bills for the next few months has fallen through and so I'm in the hustling to find things to replace that shortfall (so if anyone has any paid projects... give me a shout :-)
All of which is a rather long-winded me, me, me...
So some thoughts that aren't just "sorry, I'm busy"...
Firstly, in case anyone is hanging back thinking "oh, one of the usual suspects will step up in a minute" - we won't necessarily, and so you should offer to give a talk. The only way any of us get better at speaking and get better known for our speaking is, guess what, by speaking at things :-D If you're worried that GDG DevFest is too big a leap for your first talk (and I don't know how big a thing it is, so first off ask Paul [who's organising the Liverpool DevFest]!) then find a meetup where your experience would fit and offer to speak there. Or an even easier first-speaking step would be to speak at Ignite Liverpool sometime - that's more varied in the sort of topics we cover and it's only for five minutes :-) That won't all solve Paul's immediate problem but will mean there are loads more people to speak at next year's ;-)
Paul, who is GDG DevFest aimed at? I'm assuming it's for Android devs, with a touch of doubt that it's maybe wider than that? I don't pay much attention to what Google are up to, so don't know anything about it. It's tricky to then think about how I'd frame a talk at it, as I don't know who the audience is. I don't have a standard talk that I dust off for all my speaking gigs - each one (maybe as can be seen for how not-polished they are ;-) is written specifically for the occasion.
Finally, where /are/ all the Liverpool techies? There was a BBC report into tech clusters across the country and according to that Liverpool has more tech jobs than Cambridge (20k vs 19k). As someone who's lived in both cities that's either (a) ludicrous or (b) I hardly know anyone in tech in Liverpool.
I suspect it's mostly down to differing definitions of "digital tech job". Liverpool has a load of agencies whereas Cambridge has lots of tech startups, and the latter require more engineers. I know a load of people running the agencies in Liverpool, but I don't seem to encounter the techies working in them enough.
There are loads of events going on round the city now, but lots of them seem to be more general and/or aimed at the business side of tech. There's nothing wrong with them at all - they're /really/ useful - BUT they don't attract developers (IMHO). I think there's a gap in the community for the meetups where you find out more about how to do load balancing on a database cluster or the lessons learnt in building an app to talk to the Facebook API, etc.
I think. Am I just not getting along to enough of the right meetups? Is there a demand for that sort of thing beyond me?
I suspect the regular GDG does fall into the sort of meetup I'm talking about, so this half-rant isn't aimed at that. However, I don't get the same visibility of what talks it has, or when the events are happening, as I do with Baltic Schmooze or Creative Kitchen (for example). Is everything hived off in its own silo of meetup.com group? How can we cross-promote things without giving everyone more work to do in running a meetup or requiring everyone to sign up for loads of meetup.com groups? I guess the Startup Digest used to provide that sort of coverage, so maybe there aren't enough events out there?