Monday, December 21, 2009

Cyberbullying In The Name Of...

Sitting at my kitchen table (the warmest place in the house) fighting off the Christmas lurgy, I seem to have a more reflective take on the whole "Killing In The Name Of" vs. Joe thing (I forget the name of Joe's single). For me the whole campaign has some disturbing elements:
  1. Who are these people who set up this Facebook group? Do you know them? Do you know who they're connected to? Or their agenda? NO. Remember: "No-one knows you're a dog on the internet".
  2. I've been into what I would (perhaps pompously) refer to as "serious music" for over 30 years, and in that time I've never given a rat's arse who was number one because the singles chart has always been for kids and old grannies.
  3. Simon Cowell isn't evil, he's just tapped into a market that's out there - if you don't like what he does, then just switch it off.
  4. There have always been attempts by impresarios to control "the talent"; from the days of Tin Pan Alley, through to Chinn & Chapman, Stock, Aitken, & Waterman, and now Simon Cowell. And people who don't like what's on offer will find something else: The Blues, Bill Hailey, Elvis, The Beatles, Sex Pistols, or RATM.
  5. RATM are part of Sony.
  6. The charity thing looks like smoke and mirrors.
  7. When I step back from the hype, I get the bad feeling that one million people have just committed the biggest act of cyberbullying yet against an 18 year old boy. Live with that.
  8. Lastly, all of this reminds me of the Johnny Rotten quote "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?"

Monday, December 7, 2009

Alistair Darling, Are You Serious?

On the BBC's Andrew Marr show yesterday, Alistair Darling appeared to announce the cancellation of the NHS Connecting for Health IT program. He just slid it into the conversation without further reference. His reasoning was: "because it isn't critical to delivering front line services". I know that the CfH program is flawed, but this is monumental stupidity. A good IT system will give you control, improve accuracy, reduce waste, and increase productivity; in the case of the NHS, this means more time spent on treating patients. I believe that universal healthcare is essential to any civilised country, but I fear that without the implementation of new digital technologies the NHS will not be able to deliver this in the 21st century. And that's a problem for all of us.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Internet Predictions for 2010

They'll be coming thick and fast over the coming weeks, so I thought I'd get my 10 internet predictions for 2010 in now, with a nod to Spinal Tap:

  1. The big online retail phenomenon of the year will be carpet.

  2. The government will charge a universal broadband tax to be given directly to those poor, hard done by actors, directors, and pop stars.

  3. All internet content will be charged for, particularly this blog, with a premium rate for anything deemed 'unsuitable'. Eventually, all of the money in the world will reside with a handful of porn barons.

  4. Microsoft will finally admit defeat and decide the internet is not for them. Three months later they will announce a new, patented, product called the 'WINternet' which will cost 500 pounds per seat, will be incompatible with the current internet, and will be replaced by a new version every 3 years. And we'll all buy it.

  5. TV will become obsolete, as we all rush to watch (old) programs in a low-res postage stamp window on our computers.

  6. Orkut will be the social media application of choice.

  7. All government IT projects will be delivered on time and in budget, and will be really useful.

  8. Apple and Dyson will team up to add a portable vacuum cleaner to the iPhone - 'The iPhone that sucks'.

  9. 2010 will see the death of the PC (you have to predict this every year, it's a given).

  10. The election will be cancelled as 'too expensive for the public purse', to be replaced by a UserVoice forum.

  11. We'll all buy a government ID card.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Never Go Back

I found myself in Liverpool the other week, alighting at Lime Street Station much as I had in my student days, some 20+ years ago. I haven't been back to Liverpool in a while, certainly not the city centre, and my initial reaction was that nothing much had changed. Years of dust fell away from my memories and off I walked into the city centre, in torrential rain, like some kind of mesmerised salmon looking for my place of origin. I soon realised that the city centre has changed a lot, and for the better, but that just made me plough on further until I got to Dale Street and the business district. By now I was truly soaked, and I was only carrying a minimal change of clothes, but on I trudged. I found that the old business district has not changed too much in 20 years and that's a good thing, because it's fantastic, so on I pressed until I came to the Street where I had my first job after university - Tithebarn Street. I could see my old building up the way, and my heart quickened and my clothes dripped, as I anticipated ascending in the lift to check out my old office. I hurried to the entrance where I was cruelly halted; it was blocked and overgrown with weeds, the windows were boarded, a tower block frozen in the late 1980s, a ghost building - sad, tired and decrepit - the ground floor wine bar locked up, Derek Hatton no longer entertaining his council cronies with lunchtime champagne.

The moral of this story is that you can never ever go back... unless of course you're Doctor Who.

Happily I can say that I enjoyed the new Liverpool very much, the Liverpool Software City event was excellent, and I ended the night as I have so many others in that place, drunk and in a curry house. I hope to visit again soon.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Social Networking Etiquette

Perhaps it's just that I have an old fashioned attitude to these things but recently certain people have begun to bug me, and it all revolves around LinkedIn. Now I really like LinkedIn, after years of subscribing I'd finally begun to get it in recent times, to the point where I find it pretty useful... BUT, recently the behaviour of a small minority of people has irked me. I'm happy to share my network with the people I connect with, because I'm pretty selective about who I connect with, but lately I see a trend of people wanting to connect to me (who I know BTW) who want to keep their network secret and yet are happy to have access to mine. Well, that's just wrong - in my book that's not networking it's data mining. I'm sure these people might have an explanation about still being able to get introductions or whatever, but that's not my point. My point is about shared trust. So, please, don't try to mine my contacts - you know who you are!!!

I might, of course, be wrong. In which case I'd be happy to hear anyone else's opinion on this.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Am I Being Brainwashed? (#TEDxNCL)

Interesting and thought provoking evening at TEDx in Newcastle yesterday (#TEDxNCL). Daniel Pink's video was very interesting, but I was most engaged by the two live speakers who talked about user experience design.

As a business and as a consumer, I can see the need for good design of the user experience. I stood in the bar with a group afterwards where we named umpteen elements of user experience on the web where things could drastically improve for the customer. In business, we all need to find better ways to engage with our users in order to find and retain more customers - and some of the examples of design given during the talks were truly impressive, making me think straight away about how to do things better.

But it also made me think about how I make my buying decisions. These days it seems that companies are using all sorts of subliminal methods to make me buy stuff. I talk on the phone or have face to face pretty regularly with someone who's doing NLP or some other Jedi thing on me. Now I find that the designers are at it as well.

Now, I'm all for buying quality, good value, products that satisfy a need or solve a problem but now I worry about where my need or my problem is coming from. Is it from me, or am I being manipulated beyond my control? I need to think seriously about developing some kind of mental resistance - in the meantime, I'm making a kitchen foil hat to keep those messages at bay and keeping a close eye on my bank balance.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Who Would Win a Fight Between a Lion and a Tiger?

When we were kids, I'm sure we all asked questions like "Daddy, who would win a fight between a lion and a tiger?". Well I did anyway. And so did Malcolm, a friend of mine in primary school, who asked really imaginative versions of the question, for example "Who would win a fight between a lion and an eagle?" which seemed obvious at first but as we bent our infant minds around the problem we conceded that an eagle has the capability to strike at the eyes of a lion and so win the contest. These days, when I see how quickly our common or garden pussy cats can move, I'm pretty sure the lion would shred the eagle.

Another example was "Who would win a fight between a lion and an elephant" a classic match-up of power, speed, and aggression against bulk and strength. I've seen this one on film, where half or dozen or so lions - if they're hungry enough - can bring down an adult elephant, and it's horrible to see. Normally, though, a single lion is aware that it could be stomped or tusked and an elephant is wise enough not to push a lion too far. In nature, it appears, good sense prevails and that a victory isn't a victory if you're mortally wounded in the process.

Which brings me to Microsoft, Google, and Apple. All having spats with each other recently, all seemingly determined to fight it out, despite the fact that they all have the power to inflict considerable damage on each other. Hopefully, this is just testosterone at work and that good sense will prevail eventually, because one thing is for sure: the customer, you and me, will suffer if any of these guys go head to head, all guns blazing.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

It's Time for the Nasty Party

Looking into the near future, its becoming increasingly likely that a Conservative government will take the reins of power sometime in late Spring next year; so now is the time to consider the implications for the digital industries.

Tricky one. The Conservatives are the traditional party of business, true, but it's still difficult to predict how they will behave. We can look back to the last Tory government, which allowed coal, steel, shipbuilding, and many other industries to decline (terminally in several cases) without doing anything to support the local entrepreneurship that was needed to rebuild the affected communities. Indeed, the legacy of those times can be seen in the underclass created and the increasing social problems we now face. So not much comfort for business there, then.

But the Tories of today are not the Tories of the 1980s. I believe David Cameron to be an honourable man with a much better feeling for real people than most politicians despite those puerile, outdated taunts about his 'toff' upbringing. So what will happen? Clearly Tories have small government at the root of their belief system, there is a need to cut public spending, and there have been several statements from the Tory front benches on cutting back quangos. So, Regional Development Agencies beware! Not so fast, because all oppositions make noise about cutting quangos, and turn out to be very poor at doing it when in government.

There will be cuts, though, and in my opinion there should be. But we still need to make funds available to good people with good business ideas so that their businesses can grow. There needs to be support for those businesses from the rest of us - local and central government should show the way and use more products and services from innovative UK companies. Looking for good examples of business support, the more I read about the Princes' Trust, the more I like what they do. The Tories will look to partner with charities like this.

What about new markets? I think there will be a certain amount of de-centralisation that will open up some markets, probably in healthcare IT, and possibly in broadcasting. Cameron seems to have a better understanding of the web than others, and so harnessing social media to re-engage the public with politics and decision making could be on the agenda. Changes to the supply chain will be brought about through carbon trading, renewable energy programs, better waste management, sustainable food production, and public transport reform - albeit by looking to the private sector to drive it. These will also provide opportunities for the digital sector.

Am I expecting help for my business from a new Conservative government? Crikey, no. You see, as a true (reluctant) child of Thatcher I have come to believe that no politician can truly help any of us and that our best hopes lie in self-reliance.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I did it... I finally did it

Yes I did. I vowed several months ago that I would never buy another Windows machine, and although I'd done that about ten thousand times before, as I spoke the words I realised that I actually meant it. Not that anyone else in the room at the time found it convincing, but I did it!

So what did I do. Well, I spent a less than satisfying couple of days faffing with making a Windows laptop dual boot to Ubuntu desktop. And while I really like Ubuntu desktop, after a while I decided that all this seemed a bit too high maintenance for what I want, which is to get on with developing and consulting (which makes me money), and not being my own IT manager (which doesn't).

So I bought a MacBook Pro. Not only that, I ditched my Orange phone and got myself an iPhone 3GS. So I've swapped total dependency on a global software giant for total dependency on another, you might say. Well, yes. But the MacBook and the iPhone are sooooo good. They've already saved me loads of time and hassle and I've only just got started. I haven't even had to buy Parallels to run any much missed Windows apps yet - I haven't missed any.

The only things I haven't bought into as yet are iTunes (strongly dislike DRM), and MobileMe - I went to Carbonite for a backup solution and Google is my contact and calendar master source, so I figured I didn't really need it.

I'm currently hoping Spotify makes it to the iPhone App Store soon.

Monday, July 13, 2009

What Makes a Good Networking Event?

I've been to quite a lot of networking events recently and with the current economic situation there seems to be more and more events springing up. Some of these events have been really good and some really poor, and I've begun to understand the patterns that determine which is which.

For me, big turn ons are:
  • Ice breakers - whether that is a buffet breakfast with tables to sit around, or 'matchmakers' to introduce people, or whatever.
  • Good speakers, short and to the point with plenty of time for questions/debate.
  • Panel sessions where the panelists have differing views - I find argument stimulating.
  • A mixture of business and tech people - it's nice to talk to peers, but even more interesting to mix people up.
  • Presenters who stick around to engage with the group.
  • Alcohol (but not too much) - perhaps even the chance to retire to a good bar after the event and carry on the conversation.
  • A good setting.
Big turn offs are:
  • Pre-arranged face-to-face meetings - people just trying to sell things to each other.
  • Speed networking - see above.
  • Being talked at by the sponsor for the whole duration - not really networking then is it?
  • Lack of basic refreshments - I'm not talking food here, simply tea, coffee, and water.
  • Long presentations.
  • High ticket cost - means the event is likely rubbish (not talking conferences here, of course).
  • Business referral groups - 'nuff said.
Can there be improvements? I think so. If you look at Supermondays, for example, they're making great use of online tools like Eventbrite and Twitter that mean you can prepare much better for your networking sessions. Obviously, being a high tech group that's to be expected, but I'm sure this stuff will roll out to the rest of the world, hopefully sooner rather than later. My message to networkers is to get your on-line profile accurate and up to date, and link to it (perhaps rather than your corporate website) when you book the event. I'm sure that way you should have more interesting and productive conversations.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Fun with the Google App Engine

I've been playing with the Google App Engine SDK in recent weeks, starting to build an app that will scratch a personal itch of mine (more of which at a later date, when I'm closer to deploy). Anyway, I'm keen to share my early experiences.

So what's the Google App Engine? It's basically a platform that allows you to build web applications that can be hosted on Google's (enormous, secure, resilient) infrastructure. For free. Well, you get a pretty large quota of resources for free, and you can turn on billing to pay for any more your app may need. There is database support in the shape of Bigtable, support for secure http, and even the ability to run scheduled jobs (cron jobs). However, there are some restrictions: you can't open a socket, and threading is disabled for example. At the moment the supported languages are Python and Java. I chose Python (version 2.5 is implemented in the App Engine).

With Python comes Django (you can develop App Engine apps without it, but I like Django). Lots of people seem quite upset that its only Django 0.96, although the most recent SDK (version 1.2.3) supports version 1.0 albeit that you have to explicitly state this in your code. The default remains at 0.96. It doesn't bother me, so I use Django 0.96 - it'll be interesting when the default changes from 0.96 to 1.0 to see how this is managed by Google (I'm trusting that my app won't just break one day). There are also some bits of Django we lose; for instance models are replaced by Google's database module and as a result the Django Admin application doesn't work, and session management is broken.

So how to manage session data? We can go back to cookies or we can use the Memcache, Google's distributed in-memory data cache. I like the Memcache.

Any other draw backs so far? The database doesn't support full text search, and the SQL implementation doesn't have a LIKE operator, so I've had to do a workaround in order to implement an AJAX autocomplete form field. And there's no transaction support... or is there? You can actually perform multiple database updates as a single unit of work, but to do it you have to sacrifice some of the distibuted nature of your data. Data can be grouped on a single database node by specifying a parent entity (the root for the group) when saving another entity. Transactions can be performed within this group. It's a bit like the old principles of CODASYL database 'sets', which I learned from my grandfather. I guess you have to think about design to get it right, Google recommends not to implement more than one 'customer' worth of data in a single group.

All in all I think that the Google App Engine could be a great way for developers to get an idea off the ground without incurring huge costs in the early stages of a project. I'll let you know how things develop from my own early stages.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Branding the Ego

My experiences of the web, and of social networking in particular, combined with my natural inclination towards privacy have led me, in the past, to hide behind a corporate identity. In certain cases this is a good thing, since many people I deal with in business are more comfortable with a corporate identity and having employed a couple of people this year on short term contracts, it has made sense to describe what "we" can do. However, it is clear that a lot of what I do is me, indeed a friend of mine recently pointed out the obvious fact that I have no exit from the company as the company is, in effect, me. So I swallowed my dislike of being the focus of attention, and in an attempt to reach those who prefer more personal contact, I created my personal online brand.

How, you may ask? Well, I grabbed an online ID from Facebook to match my Blogger ID, my Twitter ID, and my chosen LinkedIn public profile URL. Then I chose a serious-looking photo of myself (note to self: look happier!), cropped it artistically (so I thought) to add an air of gravitas, and posted it to all my profiles. I then made sure I cross-link my profiles, using this blog as the centre of it all. I've used Twitterfeed to publish my blog updates to Twitter, and I've added the Blog Link application to my LinkedIn profile in order to publish my blog there. I've also had some mini cards printed, containing only my Twitter ID and my Gmail address, complete with pictures of me - actually, I might have gone over the top there.

Now I'm (stern looking) dlavery62 across the board, more or less. You can catch me on LinkedIn here , Facebook here, and Twitter here. I'm easier to find, with a consistent presentation, and now I await the wrath of the internet gremlins.

P.S. My corporate identity is still alive and well at

P.P.S. I really must change that photo!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Hello, World

So, first post. Not strictly the first, more like a comeback I would say.

A busy week all round, lots of online kerfuffle over an article in the Daily Telegraph about the grimness of the tech sector up north ( Justified indignation all round. I could go back hundreds of years and detail the many innovations that came out of the North East of England, and are still coming today, but it isn't really worth it. And we managed to keep the Scots at bay while we were on so that the rest of England could get all soft and fluffy. There are always people who want to have a go at the North for one reason or another, much like there will always be people who will vote for the BNP, its largely a case of ignoring the noise and getting on with what we do best - which will always result in proving these people wrong.