March 22, 2021

Interesting Things on the Internet: March 22nd 2021 Edition

  • Why Generation X will save the web. Those of us who lived through the early days of the web—the late 90s and the early 2000s—need to explain what we failed to bring into being with the open, decentralized, empowering Internet, and help fold those ideas in to strengthen new movements for a better web.
  • Not All Men: Dismantling The Pyramid. Like the "as a white man with a degree, you're playing the game of life on the easiest setting" analogy of a few years ago, Max Morgan's pyramid gave me new ways of thinking about how I can help bring down the patriarchy.
  • Indies are Everywhere. We are. We're more interesting than those chasing VC.
  • Why I Still Use RSS. Your periodic reminder that you should, like I do extensively, get an RSS reader and start subscribing to blogs with RSS. I use Thunderbird for mine, because I also use it as my email client; has more background and some other recommendations.
  • More of a Talker. I am—in general, and slowly, and it's a bumpy road of ups and downs—getting better at spotting when I'm procrastinating and nudging myself into doing. Reading of the tricks others use to do the same is great. Us over-thinkers and talkers all need the rituals and tics to overcome that bump. Speaking of which, this tidying through tabs and making a start on this blog post is partly to overcome my procrastination in siting down to write the blog post that I've been not-making-enough-headway-with for the past few weekends. So, hopefully there'll have been something else published since the last Interesting Things... and this one.
  • The Urban Manufacturing Edition. A wonderfully-written vignette of the local manufacturing and making spread through Emeryville. This is what Liverpool could look like, if we want it.
  • The road to electric is filled with tiny cars. And this could be a way that we get around that Liverpool of the future, along with the bikes I was pitching last week. Given the near-constant concern over Vauxhall or Jaguar Land Rover deciding to close their plants here, how do we encourage more electric bike coachbuilders (Aglie Liverpool are already doing that...)
  • Delinquent Telephone Activity. Rachel Coldicutt reminds us that the street finding its own use for things also applies to tech, and encourages us to do more of that.

This week's RSS additions (see if you don't know what RSS is, RSS is how I find most of these Interesting Things...):

  • Adactio. I've oft ended up on Jeremy Keith's blog over the years. Finally decided I should just subscribe. I need to work out how he's styling his RSS feed so it's more human-friendly if you open it in a browser and steal that idea sometime!
  • Jackie Pease Zone. Jackie has started blogging her experiments into biomaterials and three-dimensional algorithmic embroidery.
Posted by Adrian at 11:19 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 21, 2021

A Footnote on Tech North

Tom Forth recently wrote about his perspective on Tech North and the following Tech Nation. When he tweeted about it he said it would get him into trouble. If such low-level criticism is troublesome then we really have got problems.

In his piece, Tom says that we need "strong institutions" in the North. On another day, and in another blog post, I'd probably argue that DoES Liverpool, a community and organisation that I co-founded, is (on its way to be) one of those institutions.

I had thought I'd fold my anecdotes about Tech North into one of those other blog posts, but I'm not sure it's important enough. However, I'll jot them down here to give me something to point at if it is useful to include in the future, and to make an entry in the public record on how ineffective Tech North was. They're not unique in that, I could write similar tales of meh about IoT UK (in fact, I got part-way through telling that tale as part of the Dataviz for Artists course that I worked on for Ross Dalziel) or Innovate UK or...

tl;dr - when Tech North finally deigned to come and chat with DoES Liverpool—two-and-a-half years after they started—and asked what they could do to help, I had one request. That their community engagement manager work from our co-working space every now and then, to get to know the community. A pretty low bar, that they failed to clear.

And the longer version...

In August 2015, Tech North arrived. I gave them a cautious welcome, and pointed them to my thoughts on what they (or anyone like them) should be doing to contribute.

They organised some events and programmes that didn't reach the piquing-my-interest threshold, as I didn't attend any. Maybe one? I have vague recollections of a startup pitching evening in the Baltic that I went to. They didn't, to my knowledge, attend any of the events being run at DoES Liverpool.

They appeared to do very little from what I could see, but made lots of noise about it.

As someone the CTO of IBM UK called "IoT king of the North", maybe they'd want to see what I thought about tech. As someone who runs a tech business in the North, maybe they'd want to talk to one of the companies they were set up to support. As someone who volunteers at DoES Liverpool, maybe they'd want to hear about our perspective on the Liverpool tech scene, from our four (at that point) years of experience with it.

Talking to me isn't the only marker of whether or not they were doing a decent job, but it wouldn't be the worst one. I keep my ear pretty close to the ground to try to find out how others are finding such support (among other things). If I'd been hearing lots of good things about Tech North on the grapevine then they'd be getting a better write-up too.

It's not like Tech North didn't know about me. Whenever they had something of their own to tout, I was on the mailing list. It even stretched to a phonecall when they were frantically searching for local startups to persuade to pitch at one of their events.

It seemed to take them over a year to work out that they should talk to the communities across the North, although having "community engagement managers" didn't result in any engagement with the communities I'm part of.

Eventually, in July of 2017 I actually got to chat to the head of Tech North. He came to find me in the break at a conference, because I'd asked difficult questions from the audience when he was on a panel. Fair play to him.

He wanted to come and visit DoES Liverpool and have a chat, and a couple of months later we'd got it arranged and he visited with the Liverpool community engagement manager.

It was a perfectly pleasant visit. I showed them round, and we had a discussion about what they were up to, who was in the community and the tech scene in Liverpool and beyond.

They explicitly asked what they could do to help and I said that they should work from the co-working space every now and then. It's not a new idea, Andy Goodwin used to rotate round working at all of the tech co-working spaces in the city so that he was available for people to chat to him and he'd get to know the people working at them.

Great idea, they said, we'll definitely do that. And we'll get a feature written about DoES Liverpool and published on the Tech North blog.

Neither of those things have happened.

Posted by Adrian at 03:25 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 14, 2021

Some Suggestions for Cycling in Liverpool

td; dr. If you just want my suggestions for how we can make cycling better, skim through for the bits broken out like this.

I do lots of cycling, as anyone bored by my continual #InTheSaddle posts on Instagram will attest. It's how I get to work and back; how I visit friends outside the city centre (and in neighbouring towns and villages); and how I get exercise.

It's been a gradual thing—I didn't have a bike at all at university, or for most of the time I lived in Bury St. Edmunds. I bought my first mountain bike just before I moved to Cambridge, and understandably started using it lots more there. When I moved to Italy, both bike and car went too, and since moving to Liverpool in 2008 my bike usage has continued to rise and now, despite a penchant for fast cars, I can't remember when I last drove a car—it must be getting on for a decade.

When the first lockdown started, I switched my exercise rides away from my well-worn options of the prom along the river, through Sefton and Prince's Parks, and the canal and loop line. I was looking for less populated routes, to stay safer from the virus, and leave a tiny bit more room for others to get outside too.

That resulted in me unlocking (more of) North and East Liverpool, opening up lots more of the city and joining up other sections that I knew well but hadn't worked out how close they were to each other. I've also been pondering, off and on as I cycle around, about how we can make the city better for other people to cycle in too.

Coincidentally, Liverpool City Council have a consultation on more cycling improvements running right now. Go and fill it in if you're local. I'm going to send them this blog post too, as some related-but-different options.

It was great to see how quickly the council rolled out its network of new, segregated cycle lanes. I've used the Stanley Road and West Derby Road ones regularly.

The real revelation for me though was finding that the existing cycle network is actually pretty good. It's just quite hidden. Despite being a frequent cyclist, the obvious routes around the city are those used by cars. For those just switching from driving that will be even more likely. Helping them find better routes will make their cycling more likely to stick.

In my experiments into 15-minute cities I've been looking more at the cycling-focused views of OpenStreetMap, and so ended up looking at that to find new routes to explore.

Who knew there are two cycle routes (not including the Loop Line!) that run broadly parallel to Queens Drive? Not me. Cycle Route M will get you all the way from Walton to Old Swan on quiet and residential roads. Cycle Route O tracks similarly parallel on the far (from the city-centre) side of Queens Drive from almost Fazakerley to Broad Green—it's not as quiet, running along Long Lane, and gets a bit tight through West Derby village as Town Row isn't very wide, but I've been cycling it lots since discovering they existed.

Use and promote one of the cycling-focused OpenStreetMap maps. Use or the CycleOSM layer of OpenStreetMap in maps shared by the cycling team. Contribute fixes or additional data to OpenStreetMap, which is used to make both of those maps. I'm happy to show people how to do that.

I've also been using Cycle Route 7 from Broad Green through Wavertree Technology Park and Edge Hill back into town, ever since I found it after delivering visors to Broad Green Hospital.

That's a great alternative to Edge Lane, particularly at the Broad Green end where it runs along quiet residential roads. That's pretty well signposted at the key points, like this crossroads pictured below:

A crossroads on a housing estate, with a small blue cycling sign showing that route 7 is straight on

However, as that shows, the signs aren't always the biggest, and they often lose the cycle route number or letter in favour of the name of the area they're immediately headed for. I don't think we should lose the area names, but the route letter/number is important. Otherwise it's hard to know if a sign turning off from the road you're on is for the continuation of the route you're following or where another route crosses it.

Only having the signs at key points where the route changes also means that if you miss one, it's hard to know if you're still following the route correctly. That's particularly problematic where the route runs through residential areas, because you're often not following roads where it's obvious how the route progresses.

Stick route name/number stickers on lampposts at regular intervals on routes. Getting a load of stickers printed up with the same up-arrow, bike logo and route identifier in the photo above (probably with them arranged top-bottom rather than left-right?) shouldn't be too expensive. Then stick them on lampposts at reasonable intervals all along the route so that cyclists can check they've not missed a turning, and won't have travelled too far if they do stray from the route and stop seeing signs. It will have the added bonus of making the cycle network more visible to everyone.

Moving on to something a bit more involved, we could make it easier for people to plan their routes using bikes. CycleStreets and are pretty good options for routes that are solely by bike, and give options for quieter routes rather then just the fastest.

While I'm happy cycling five or six miles to get somewhere, not everyone is. One option for those sort of distances (and one I use plenty when travelling further myself) is sticking the bike onto the train for some of the route. OpenTripPlanner will do that sort of multi-modal trip planning, and is reasonably easy to get up and running. Here's an example route I plotted from DoES Liverpool up to South Park in Bootle:

Screenshot of a map showing a route from DoES Liverpool to Bootle, in three sections: first by bike down to Moorfields station; then by train to Kirkdale; and finally back on the bike into Bootle

Create a Liverpool version of the open-source multi-modal route planning app Trufi. The Trufi app is very similar to the CityMapper app, but you don't have to wait for them to decide that they should add Liverpool. It lets people plan routes that use both bikes and the train; or walking, bus and train; or waking, bus and CityBike; or...

It's probably best for the Council to build, but could also be a standalone thing. There'd be some initial up-front development work, and then a smaller ongoing commitment to keep the data sources (it'll need an update to timetable information when the trains change that, for example) up-to-date, etc. Again, I'd be happy to help out, at any level from a bit of advice through to building it...

Beyond the infrastructure of cycle lanes, and signage, and better apps, are there other things likely to hamper people's move to cycling for their travel?

Looking at this chart from the Cycling and Walking: A Faster Route to a Safer and Stronger Liverpool City Region policy briefing from the Heseltine Institute, it looks like the less affluent areas of the city are slightly less likely to cycle and more likely to use the bus.


There's nothing wrong with that, and my multi-modal trip planner app recommendation would help bus users too, but if they're worried about using the buses due to coronavirus it would be good to tempt them onto bikes rather than into cars.

Set up schemes to let people buy the kit they need to start cycling. This is definitely the wooliest of my recommendations, but maybe one of the more important. Could the Council set up some grants to let those who can't afford it buy a bike? And/or the additional bits-and-pieces that make sense: lock, lights, helmet, panniers, waterproofs...? Or work with a credit union to offer a get-biking loan, paid back at the same sort of rate as a weekly bus pass?

I look forward to seeing what comes of the latest consultation, and it'd be great to add some of these ideas too.

Posted by Adrian at 07:41 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 08, 2021

Interesting Things on the Internet: March 8th 2021 Edition

  • Why The IndieWeb? "Using social media you do and say everything you would in real life but you're constantly being watched and listened to in case you say something enthusiastic about barbecues." Host your own content and "you won't inadvertently lure people into the clutches of nazi propagandists sharing the same contaminated space". That last bit is a revelation. Facebook continues to make it harder to get out into the real web because "there be dragons", when actually, you're more likely to encounter dragons on Facebook because they'll promote them at you.
  • Weeknotes: populism of equal cheating, warranties, language. Too many good links in Laura's latest weeknotes, so linking to it all.
  • They Live and the secret history of the Mozilla logo.
  • Let's Not Dumb Down the History of Computer Science. The text (or video) of a talk from Donald Knuth (one of the forerunners of Computer Science) lamenting the lack of technical histories of computing. I'd like to read more of those sort of histories. It made me realise that while I'm enjoying reading Making Art Work (a history of the art-and-technology field from the 60s; will be appearing as a blog-all-dog-eared-pages soon...), it's all about the people and there's very little on the technology beyond brief descriptions. Understandably, but I'd get a lot out of the more technical side too. It also makes me think about the prototype first-web-browser-on-a-mobile-phone that's sat in my flat, and how that needs writing up sometime, beyond this brief write-up I did ten years ago(!?!).
Posted by Adrian at 12:07 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack