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.
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November 21, 2016

Interesting Things on the Internet: November 21st 2016

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November 14, 2016

Interesting Things on the Internet: November 14th 2016

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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?

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October 31, 2016

Interesting Things on the Internet: October 31st 2016

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October 24, 2016

Interesting Things on the Internet: October 24th 2016

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October 17, 2016

Interesting Things on the Internet: October 17th 2016

  • The hazards of a world where mediocrity rules. Maybe not quite to the degree outlined in that article, but you can see a lot of those tendencies in the "innovation" and "regeneration" industries in this country. Sadly.
  • Technology is a wooden leg. Leila on great form pointing out that all this technology stuff is just a set of tools to use to do something more interesting.
  • Augmenting journalism. Jon Udell, arguing for an alternate approach to Basic Income to use tech to enhance—not replace—our abilities. I think we can, and should, do both.
  • GB1900.org. The OS maps for the whole UK from around 1900. Really interesting to see how the country has evolved in the past century, plus you get to help researchers create a gazetteer of all the text on the map.
  • Draw your city. Another mapping research project, this time looking at how far people think different cities extend. Some interesting contrasts between the different parts of the UK.
  • Betting on snowballs. I like this idea from Doc Searls, roll snowballs rather than push rocks uphill!
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September 21, 2016

Blog All Dog-eared Pages: The Last Grain Race by Eric Newby

When I was in Oslo last month for the If I Were the Ocean there was, as you'd expect, much talk of ships and sailing.

One of the conversations I had reminded me of a book I read a few years back, lent to me by my uncle. The Last Grain Race is a wonderfully written account by Eric Newby on what it was like to sign up as an apprentice on one of the last big sailing ships to make a round-the-world cargo trip.

Deciding, two years into his career in advertising at the age of eighteen, that there was more excitement to be had at sea, Newby signed on board with no sea experience, not able to speak Swedish - the language of the ship - and with his first voyage the eight months to Australia and back.

I bought another copy to send on to one of my fellow exhibitors in Oslo, but re-read it again first. There aren't many dog-eared sections, but hopefully they'll give a flavour of the prose in the rest of the book, which I heartily recommend.

Page 70

'Two bells, vessel to port; three bells, vessel ahead; one bell, vessel to starboard,' intoned Tria, very like a great bell himself.

Page 80

All through the night the south-west wind hurled us out into the Atlantic. From aloft came the great roaring sound that I heard for the first time, and will perhaps never hear again, of strong winds in the rigging of a good ship.

[On receiving news]

I decided from the beginning that if there was a wireless then it was only picking up German stations which in 1938 were making the ether hideous on all wavelengths. We were not anxious for news. As time passed, the ship possessed us completely. Our lives were given over to it. A hundred times a day each one of us looked aloft at the towering pyramids of canvas, the beautiful deep curves of the leeches of the sails and the straining sheets of the great courses, listened to the deep hum of the wind up the height of the rigging, the thud and judder of the steering gear as the ship surged along, heard the helmsman striking the bells, signalling a change of watch or a mealtime, establishing a reoutine so strong that the outside world seemed unreal.

Page 119

That night I learned what it meant to take in the outer jib near the end of a sixty-foot steel bowsprit, with no safety netting under it, alternately pointing to the sky and dipping to the tremendous boiling sea. The foot-rope on the weather side was fearfully slippery, the sail a lunatic wet thing. The wire leech of the sail was battering my head and shoulders and the sheet block was lashing about like a great conker on a string and threatening to brain us.

Page 176, preparing the ship for the journey "round the Horn"

The hatches too needed reinforcing. As soon as the last bags had been stowed below at Port Victoria, hatchway beams of seasoned oak were fitted in the grooves in the coamings and heavy 3-inch hatch covers put on top of them. The spaces between the covers were tightly caulked with oakum. Over each hatch two new tarred canvas covers were stretched, cut and sewn by the Sailmaker to fit one on top of the other. These had been secured to the coamings by flexible steel bands, tightly wedged, the wedges being nailed together.

Now the real labour began. On top of the canvas covers great baulks of timber 20 feet long and 4 inches think were laid length-ways; and at right angles to them, across the ship, three heavier pieces 14 feet long and 4 inches thick. The whole lot was lashed down with wire ropes to ringbolts in the hatch coamings and hauled taut with the capstan. Frequently the wire strops broke under the strain, and the work began all over again.

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August 29, 2016

Interesting Things on the Internet: August 29th 2016

  • The Continuing Journey Of A Media Lab: I Went To A Media/Art Lab And All I Got Was This Lousy Tote Bag. "This is the dark matter of a successful lab; its not making it look like a lab, it’s having a diverse mix of people, supporters, technicians, mentors and cooks; it’s having a sensibility of people doing interesting work who can get on with others or disrupt things." Great analysis from Ross. I'm now thinking "the background radiation of the culture" could be my new favourite term. What Ross talks about is something I got from the recent exhibition I did with him in Oslo, and also some of what Laptops and Looms provides.
  • Recovery From Privilege. Useful ways to think about privilege.
  • The War on Cash. Paying by cards is easy, but I don't think we should abandon the anonymity and utility of cash.
  • hackertyper.net. Now you can feel as awesome at coding as I am ;-)
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August 22, 2016

Interesting Things on the Internet: August 22nd 2016

  • Django Ditto and archiving your stuff. Interesting work (as ever!) from Phil Gyford. I think my bus is travelling in the same direction as his.
  • I Have A Little List. Russell's list of how big, integrated, seamless systems are generally just good ways to waste money and provide a big seamless way to achieve very little. Do less of this, governments, councils and big corps, and more of the sort of approach Phil Gyford is taking in the first case.
  • Why Teach Business to Artists? Not just useful for artists, I really like Whitaker's hierarchy of business concept in there. It feels like DoES Liverpool is running roughly at level 2.0, and looking at ways to poke into level 3. I can see me referring to this in future :-)
  • Hot Wheels road trip. Another superb example of how technology isn't just about efficiency and return-on-investment. Definitely worth watching all of it.
  • The Rozz-Tox Manifesto. "Item 12: Waiting for art talent scouts? There are no art talent scouts. Face it, no one will seek you out. No one gives a shit."
  • Yes, There Is Such a Thing as an ‘Introvert’ Hangover. I don't get the physical symptoms listed here, but can definitely recognise the phenomenon.
  • The sound of Blairite silence. I've not been paying much attention of late to Labour's thrashing, but Paul Mason's analysis is interesting to read.
  • Indy Johar - Democratizing cities. Really good talk from Indy about systems thinking and the challenges facing society.
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