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April 14, 2014

RSS Feeds

One of the benefits (and by which, I really mean disadvantages... :-) of having a blog that's *checks* ooh, 11 years and 5 days old, is that you have no real recollection of why you set things up the way you did.

I'm sure there was a good reason why I didn't provide a full-text RSS feed for it. However, I have no idea what that reason was. Up until recently, the RSS feed link pointed to an RSS1.0 version - index.rdf. At some point I'd also added a full-text RSS2.0 version - index.xml, again, for reasons lost to the mists of time.

A few people recently had asked for a full-text version, including tedder42 in a comment on the most recent entry. I had been pointing people at the index.xml feed, as a simple fix, and updated the links on the main page to that a month or two back, so any new subscribers would get that version.

However, in the spirit of GDS' Do the hard work to make it simple, I figured I should just switch the index.rdf feed to full-text too.

So, if you happen to be reading this via RSS (yay!) then you should now get the full posts (with embedded links). Though if it turns out that doing that has broken your reading of the site, give me a shout and I'll switch it back and point people at the original full-text version.

Phew. Lots of words, for nothing particularly exciting. (No change there then... ;-)

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Interesting Things on the Internet: Apr 14th 2014 Edition

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April 10, 2014

Interesting Things on the Internet: Apr 10th 2014 Edition

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March 24, 2014

Interesting Things on the Internet: Mar 24th 2014 Edition

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March 16, 2014

Interesting Things on the Internet: Mar 16th 2014 Edition

  • A great, if depressing, look at how Silicon Roundabout is slowly being killed by the council and property developers. I should get this printed and circulated to the Liverpool council as a warning, although we've already got the student housing bubble...
  • More good startup-activity blogging - Rowan Simpson explains how government funding, accelerators, incubators, etc. are all startup derivatives
  • What Your Activity Tracker Sees and Doesn't See - a wonderfully illuminating way to look at how accelerometers, the actual sensor in things like Fitbit or Nike Fuelband, interpret the world.
  • The Future of Jobs: The onrushing wave. Long, interesting article from the Economist, looking at whether computers/robots/etc. will replace all our jobs, and whether or not we'll find different jobs to do instead.
  • How to Think - grit, curiosity, self-control, optimism and being challenged to step up to the plate; sounds like a good recipe to me.
  • Stupid Smart Stuff "Whenever you see something labeled "smart" or "intelligent," be assured that it is actually rather stupid."
  • The Good Master. Interesting thoughts on a new old model for apprentices and careers from John Willshire
  • I learn from this Tim O'Reilly post that we've been inadvertently practising "Lean Urbanism" for the past couple of years at DoES Liverpool. It just seemed common sense and part of an age-old tradition of reusing old, interesting, perfectly serviceable buildings for new uses that focused on people and activity over polish and superficial appearance. Still, given the continually repeated attempts at regeneration-through-glossy, maybe it does need a new term. If you look beyond the neologism, there are some good points and links in the article. I just need to find the landlords in Liverpool with imagination and willingness to try something different.
  • HS2: more people back northern rail improvements than north-south project. Nice to have some (slightly more scientific) research to back up what I was chatting about with a furniture designer in Sheffield the other night - shaving more time off our trips to London will reduce how much work I can get done on the train, better transport links across the UK Maker Belt would be more useful than HS2.
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March 10, 2014

Best City, Best Business Awards, the Missing Links

Last week I attended the Best City, Best Business awards evening, held at Liverpool Central Library. They'd asked me (along with Cllr Nick Small, and Christine Bulmer-Goodwin of Empower Funding) to give a brief talk before the awards, as a local entrepreneur (the second time in as many weeks that I was speaking at the library).

It was an informal talk, with no slides. Rather than talk about what I've done, I related some of my journey back to the city, mixed in with a call to give before you get and to look for ways to help each other rather than just compete. Building a business is a hard job, after all. I also related the story of Silicon Valley's open culture beating Boston's more insular approach, and finished with some pointers to the community and events we have at DoES Liverpool (particularly Liverpool Startup Club.

I fear it was as dis-jointed and scatter-gun as that sounds, but everyone was very polite about it...

Anyway, what was more interesting were the winning businesses. There were two categories: Best Business Start-Up and Best Women’s Start-Up; each with three prizes: second runner-up, runner-up and winner. There are some impressive businesses among them, making a real difference to people's lives. I had a real case of imposter-syndrome by the end of the evening.

The council website has published an article about the awards today, but it fails to link to any of the businesses. In this Internet-age, that's a disappointing oversight, but also in this Internet-age, I can publish things myself, and so wanted to fix that.

Best Business Start-Up

  1. Emlyn Jones of Family Court Help
  2. Second Skin Events
  3. English Rose Vapours

Best Women's Start-Up

  1. Kathy Lawrence of The Boudoir Book
  2. Impropriety Theatre
  3. The Original Cupcake Company (who I can't find online - not the most original name sadly...)
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Interesting Things on the Internet: Mar 10th 2014 Edition

Another dose of interesting things I've encountered of late...

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March 02, 2014

Interesting Things on the Internet: Mar 2nd 2014 Edition

Some really good things in this edition (not that they aren't all good, but, you know...):

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February 24, 2014

Interesting Things on the Internet: Feb 24th 2014 Edition

  • Can we avoid a surveillance state dystopia? A good counterpoint to the gloom about Snowden, etc. Not that things don't need to change - it outlines plenty of reasons that they should, and also suggests ways that they could - but outlines plenty of reasons for optimism.
  • Open data, a vision from Leeds. Nice to see Leeds looking to experiment with how open data might improve their city. More importantly, there's an open data community, which is what led to this initiative. Will be watching it with interest.
  • The Government has just postponed the care.data scheme, which was looking to make all our medical records available to buy for medical research. Ben Goldacre has written a measured look at the issue, laying out the many problems and concerns, along with how it could benefit humanity (although Ross Anderson's comment is also worth reading). It's a good example of how the default motive of profit, and the Government's lack of credibility ruin something that could be of great benefit. There's an opportunity, if the NHS could manage to approach the issue from the perspective of its patients, to define new and better ways for us to share data about ourselves without sharing what we don't want. To build something that would act as a best practice for corporations to adopt to protect more of our privacy rather than erode it. It would be harder to achieve (although probably at a similar cost), but would properly move the UK up a notch in open data rankings.
  • This blog is 12 years old. The reason it's still here will surprise you. A good summary of many of the reasons I still write things here. My blog isn't quite as old, but will turn eleven in April, which means it's been around for longer than both Twitter and Facebook.
  • care.data and the community. Before I've even hit publish on this set of links, there's been further developments in the Government's care.data scheme. Outside of that scheme, strictly speaking, but they've sold all our hospital records to insurance companies. And they wonder why people are worried. Paul Bernal does a good job of laying out the concerns. I am heartened though by the effect he outlines in the section "Underestimating the community" - he's right that the response is a great example of the now-networked citizenship being able to out-perform those in charge in assessing the risks and amassing a collection of experts in the many different disciplines that it cuts across. And also in how it shows that people aren't just motivated by the market and profit. I'm looking forward to more of this as (the members of) society works out how to organise things in this way.
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February 23, 2014

Opening Up Planning Awareness

On Monday evening, Creative Exchange and Engage Liverpool are holding an event to investigate improving the planning process, as part of Creative Exchange's Open Planning project.

Unfortunately I can't attend as I'll be running Maker Night here at DoES Liverpool, so hopefully this will let me provide some input by proxy.

Given that I walk round the city lots, and have an interest in how it evolves, I often stop to read the planning notices posted up on lampposts to see what is being proposed. That's how I spotted that we were set to lose the Banksy Rat (which sadly has gone, although we're three-and-a-half years down the line and the building is only just nearing completion now).

The problem with notices posted on lampposts is that you have to spot them. And stop long enough to read them. And if you want to know more you have to try to remember a code for the application and then remember to check on the council website when you get back to a computer. Plus you won't necessarily spot ones round the corner if that's not somewhere you regularly walk, and you can't keep an eye on other areas in the country. I still have a house in Cambridge, so it would be handy if I could maintain an awareness of what's going on around there.

All of this is stuff that the Internet should make much easier, and a couple of years ago it did. There was a lovely civic-minded website called Planning Alerts. It let me define an area around a postcode (so I looked within half-a-mile or so of my house in Cambridge, and across most of the city centre and Georgian Quarter here in Liverpool) and then whenever there was a new planning application in one of those areas I got an email that told me about it.

It was great, but sadly fell foul of the misguided belief that it was better for us citizens if third-parties were made to pay to licence the postcode database.

It seems that Openly Local has made attempts to provide the same functionality, although it's hard to find on their site - I had to resort to guessing URLs to try to find the page of planning applications in Liverpool, and it doesn't seem to have been updated for almost a year.

That's good, but seems rather coarse-grained. I'd get all of the planning applications for Liverpool, whereas I'd prefer to limit it to a smaller area. I'm interested in what happens in Everton or West Derby, for example, but not at the level of reading every planning application.

So, as a first step I'd like something that restores the level of functionality provided by Planning Alerts.

Beyond that it would be good if there was some way for people who were interested in a particular area or application to find each other and discuss proposals.

I know that sounds like I'm suggesting a discussion board, or forum, but I'm not.

Planning applications aren't something that I want to discuss frequently enough to visit a website dedicated just to that. The discussion needs to come to where I already hang out. In my case, that's Twitter, but for others it would be Facebook. Hashtags (on Twitter at least) are the way that people congregate around a given subject, so reuse those. Maybe spark up a new hashtag for each application, something like the first half of the postcode, plus a unique number, for example #L1_325 for the 325th application in central Liverpool; or #CB4_88 for the 88th application on the Cambridge business park.

The new-planning-alerts website could then aggregate and display the latest discussion on a page for the application, but would be pointing people to where the conversation was happening. Yes, you'd split debate across Twitter and Facebook, but you wouldn't have to police a discussion forum and it would widen participation as other Twitter followers would see the hashtags and maybe join in.

This is all hand-waving and ignoring the problem that many people aren't as engaged online or even have Internet access. Providing SMS alerts as well as the email alerts would widen the coverage, although not completely.

I have long wondered (though annoyingly never blogged about, despite regularly wanting to point to it!) whether a Neighbourhood Printer would help bridge that gap. The idea being to stick Internet-connected printers (just a laser-printer) into corner shops, etc., which would print-on-demand the recent planning alerts, useful notices from the council, and also blog posts from relevant local blogs. (Looking at some of the information on Openly Local it does feel a bit like it could be the Openly Local paper edition). Pair it with routes into learning about computers and the Internet for people who then realise there's something useful on the Internet, and repurpose some of the techniques from Walking Papers and you start to take the Internet out to areas where it doesn't normally reach. If anyone wants to fund me building a few to test things out, get in touch!

Finally, the focus on planning applications often leads to people trying to stop things happening, rather than encouraging them. How can we find ways to bring people together to discuss and organise ways to make their locality better? Projects like I Wish This Was and YIMBY are an interesting start. How do we get more of that?

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