Zen Bosons

What is the simplest possible universe?

One answer is that it is ours because ours is the only universe we know to exist and one is simpler than two.

Another answer is to start from scratch with a blank sheet of … well what? Vacuum foam? Dirac sea? Hilbert space?

So rather than building up perhaps we should start by simplifying, decluttering the universe we have. We could start by getting rid of some of those high end elements from the periodic table, the ones with half lives measured in fractions of a second…

But although they seem to have no relevance to our world they exist because of the laws of nature so we would gave to unpick the laws of nature and elements, are in any case, merely energy situationally described in information terms so which laws do we need to start unpicking?

So perhaps we need to go back to the start from scratch approach?

And so this cycle of random night thoughts continues until I fall asleep.

Night all.


Two different stories, one platform

Twitter release an updated client for iOS which puts a large black hashtag bar across the top of the screen which results in users complaining bitterly that the functionality of the app had been sacrificed to the demands of monetization.

This morning I awoke to an update from someone whose long established Twitter username had been claimed by an organization who post-dated the person’s use of that username but who were a registered commercial entity.

The thing which they have in common is that they both reflect the difference between open and proprietary platforms.

The thing which most differentiates Twitter from email is that the email we use is based around a series of open standards – RFC1939, RFC822, RFC5321 amongst others.

Twitter can change the rules at any time.

But it’s not just Twitter

I wrote earlier this week about the risk of a single point of dependency in business models, but what if that single point of dependency is in our social and personal lives instead?

C is for Cookie, G is for Global

Cookie Bokeh

Image by Tomi Tapio via Flickr

You may have seen the recent news about EU legislation about the use of cookies on websites to track individual users. You can find reports on the BBC, The Register,  Techcrunch Europe and GigaOm.

I cannot write about the policy details or the implementation, for a start I am not involved in either, but the discussions around this particular issue have triggered a couple of thoughts on my part.

The first is the trite observation that this is a reflection of the many local vs. global tensions which the Internet raises. It is almost insulting to compare cookies to democratic liberation movements but they are both the result of local barriers being replaced by global platforms. And in return, local communities seek to raise those barriers in the new global space – be it cookie management or content filtering.

The second thought is that Internet commerce is based on a single point of vulnerability – not security – but identity management. We have struck an implicit and at best slightly understood agreement that we can shop and access services online in return for our interests and our activities being tracked and being sold onto the highest bidder.

The EU cookie proposals challenge that implicit agreement at a local level but what would happen if online tracking suddenly became a global concern? What if the Mozilla work on Do-Not-Track and the Microsoft work on cookie filtering become the norm for all rather than the exception used by just some of us? What if online tracking goes the same way as smoking or wearing fur?

What does the Web, what do business models look like in that world?

Any business model based on a single point of vulnerability is problematic, if that business model drives much of the valuation of the Internet economy then what happens?


let their hand go for it, grasp it

Sketch for Twitter. See also the author's desc...

Image via Wikipedia

Idea plus execution equals outcome.

Without both parts the outcome cannot be achieved.

An idea can be great but with poor execution it will stall, a poor idea with great execution is simply a waste of time and money.

Even the biggest companies can get it wrong – Google’s troubles with wifi were a poor idea badly executed while Buzz was an ok idea woefully executed.

If the idea is good enough people will tolerate grit in the delivery – Twitter and the fail whale being a classic example.

If the execution is slick enough then people may be dazzled long enough for you to sell them version 1, but they soon arrive at your doorstep with pitchforks and burning torches.

Innovation is often approached by businesses (and yes Virginia, the public sector is a business in this sense) as something both mysterious and highly dangerous.

This conflicted attitude can be seen throughout organizations, from the CEO down.

And I suspect that a lot of it comes down to regarding idea and execution as separate concepts, not as part of a seamless delivery.

Now you may, and rightly, say that this is all obvious. And you would be right.

But if it is obvious why do we all, including some of the biggest and the best, keep getting it wrong?


Books I Will Never Write

A history of the Franco-Prussian War told from the perspective of the animals in Paris Zoo.

A guide to implementing ERP in your organization on a ZX Spectrum.

A version of Shakespeare’s Henry V where all the characters are bears, apart from one giraffe.

The Wit and Wisdom of Jar-Jar Binks.

“Yes, I know that bus is red!” – My Struggles With Daltonism

A Practical Guide to Stairs

Cooking for Drummers

How to Forget

Was Biggles Jennings’s Father?

A 400 page exploration of why, if the plural of foot is feet, that the plural of boot is not beet.

Castles in the Cloud

Let’s start with a simple question – I give you a pound to look after for me. How much would you spend of your own money on protecting that pound?

Less than a pound? A pound? More than a pound?

You have almost certainly gone for the first option. After all if you lose the pound then the most you will be out is one pound so why pay more?

Ok, but what if you are a bank? You expect to be looking after lots of money so you build vaults, employ guards and build processes. All of this costs significant sums of money but there has to be a chance, small though it may be, that at any moment in time you may just be protecting one pound with all this security and investment.

So what about cloud computing? I put a “pound’s” worth of data into the cloud. How much are you going to spend protecting my data?

People sometimes pitch to me that they are like “a bank for data based in the cloud”. And then I ask them what they do to prevent bank robberies…

So your data is in the cloud, and that is nice, it is accessible from anywhere, it is transparently backed up. Everything is wonderful, and then the bank goes out of business. What happens to your data then?

I once had someone telling me about their wonderful cloud based data bank service which lots of people had bought. I asked them what would happen if they went out of business. Oh, they said, no one has ever asked us that question before.

If your organization has a contract for cloud based data storage – back up, live use, whatever – I strongly suggest you find out the answer to that question if you do not already know!

So your data is in the cloud and you have proper governance arrangements in place in case the supplier goes bust. All is fine. Until suddenly someone mentions aggregation.

Aggregation is the principle that the more of something you have then the bigger a target it becomes and the greater the consequences are of loss.

Back to money again, if I put a million pounds in the bank vault then the Willy Sutton principle applies. If I leave my million pounds scattered in piles of one hundred then the risk to me is that I lose at most one hundred pounds, if the vault is raided then I lose all one million.

The same with data, finding data in most organizations is usually a matter of luck. It is hidden in emails, shared folders, private folders, EDRM systems, databases etc. Data loss or theft tends to be of individual documents and any sensible risk management policy segregates data access to minimise the threat of some one person having access to all the pieces.

But now we are putting them all into the cloud, all in one place. Ah, hello Mr Sutton.

Part of the problem is that our security model remains essentially medieval. We build a vault, we put our treasure in the vault, we post guards around it. We need a different model in the cloud age, one where security is embedded into the individual atoms of information.

And atoms of information is a good way of thinking about the potential implications of bringing some of these individually innocuous but collectively explosive nuggets of data. People may recall in the early days of chip and pin some tills would print out the last 4 digits of your debit card number, some would print out the first 4 digits, and some the middle digits. Individually, each piece was of little threat, collectively… Hello empty bank acount!!

You might just want to spend some time going through your last bank statement…

The Cassandra Complex

I made a mistake today, I wrote an email while tetchy and sent it before I had a chance for proper reflection. Don’t get me wrong, the views I expressed in the email remain my views, I just should have taken a deep breath or three before sending.

What was the email about? Well, I will not go into details. Suffice to say I had been sent a paper on professionalism which was well written, strongly argued and had a clearly defined aim. Unfortunately I disagreed with every part of it.

Whether I am right or wrong is another issue for another place and another time. And another audience.

But I continue to muse on professionalism and the notion of a “Profession”.

What is a “Profession”? It is more than just a set of people with the same skills else doctors and vets would count as one profession.

It is more than just a set of people with the same knowledge else police and criminals would count as one profession.

Is a “Profession” a licence to operate in that sphere? That is true for many professions – lawyer, doctor, accountant – but not all – hatter, footballer, religious leader.

Can you be professional without belonging to a “profession”? Of course, just compare good service with bad.

So what is the model for the “IT profession”? Do we learn from the existing professions and build a similar model to theirs with gatekeepers and qualifications etc? Or do we start from scratch to build a new style 21st century profession?

And what is it that we want out of an “IT profession”? The respect of others? Some kind of parity of standing? People who behave professionally? To raise the standards in IT by having a cadre of skilled professionals?

And then there is the question of scope. Let’s say I start the “Bear profession” which is open to all ursines in good standing. We have brown bears, black bears, grizzly bears, polar bears… What about pandas?

Pandas are, I was brought up to believe, just raccoons with pretensions. So do we let pandas into the “Bear profession”? And if we let in giant pandas then why not red pandas?

So perhaps we have an entrance exam, one involving little cakes and honey. But what does that tell us? Solely that someone has passed an exam, which may or may not have any relevance to the actual life of bears.

So I find myself coming back to the same questions

What do we want from a profession? Is it about a profession or professionalism? Can we scope who is in and who is out? What fundamental difference will it make? What does a profession look like in the emerging world?

I have no answers yet, just vague shapes evolving at the back of my mind.

No Go the Flow

The concept of “flow” has come up a number of times in recent conversations. “Flow” is one of those things which is hard to describe but easy to recognise, those moments when we are so completely aligned with what we are doing that everything just seems to fall into place. It can be chopping wood, dealing with customers, cutting code or writing text; it can last but a few moments or it can last hours. We come out of it elated and having been vastly more productive than normal. “Flow” leaves us inspired and hungry for more such moments of clarity and productiveness.

So why do organizations make “flow” so hard to achieve? Our offices seem deliberately designed to ensure that “flow” is minimised and interruptions are maximised. Similarly we build vast processes which disrupt flow and seek to reduce the human to some Taylorite automaton, incapable of creativity and “flow”.

Given that we are never more productive, never happier, never more creative than when in “flow”, why do we seem to actively seek to ensure that we banish the possibility of “flow” from our organizations? Is “flow” such a great threat?

If not, if we are supposed to be encouraging productivity, happiness and creativity then why are we not seeking to maximise “flow”?

A Bear Faced Liar

Some time back I blogged about the paw twitching appeal of the infinite library but implied that I would be strong and would resist its appeal.

Yet now I write these words with a Kindle III beside me.

So what happened to change my mind?

Simple, the notion of being able to carry up to 3,500 books anywhere I go is just too appealing to resist.

Initial Thoughts

It is light, just about light enough to be unnoticeable and the device is easy to hold. It feels like a rubberised version of the chalk slate I used as a cub.

The screen still does that annoying white – black – white inverse refresh when you turn a page. But it is almost fast enough to be non-annoying even to a person like me.

The screen is excellent in good light and rubbish any other time.

Line images look fine but colour photographs are pants.

The battery life is exceptional, they claim a month for the wifi version and based on my use I can believe it.

The experimental webbrowser is er experimental. You can use it in a pinch but to frank they would be better off with Lynx.

I have had no odd looks reading it on buses or trains, even in my transpontine realm. I have ordered the frankly overpriced cover for it as I worry about the screen scratching. Oh and the illuminated cover is like some odd Roncomatic idea.


You can send PDFs to the Kindle by email – each Kindle has its own unique address. They come out readable but you can convert them to Kindle’s MOBI format by putting Convert in the email subject line.

You need to add your address to allowed email addresses as to prevent spam the Kindle will only accept email from preregistered addresses. Just go to your Amazon account to configure the list of allowed addresses.

It does not do email other than that which I think is a lost opportunity – I would buy the 3G version for my mother tomorrow if it came with an email client.

A Place

As I mentioned in an earlier posting I got back from a short break in Croatia a few days ago.

It was my first trip there and I had no idea what to expect. My vague ideas of the Adriatic coast were based entirely on readings of Eric Ambler and Wu Ming’s wonderful 54.

The place, Rovinj, turned out to be beautiful and fun. Imagine a place like Venice only on a human scale and without all those flooded streets 🙂 Venice is a special place, we share a patron saint after all, but Rovinj felt like home. Or rather, like a place one would like to have as a home.

Some rough and random memories of the trip –

  • Driving through Slovenia while the England vs Slovenia World Cup game was on and listening to it on Italian radio where suddenly in the middle of the flow of Italian the commentator said ‘David “Calamity” James’ and the world seemed a smaller place.
  • Discovering Galerija Brek and a whole new use for old computer parts as well as Ogi and Dena (woof!)
  • Eating with friends outside a wonderful restaurant and watching in awed wonder as a huge fish was consumed with lots of spuds and laughter.
  • Wandering through the vegetable Market and buying tomatoes and soap while being reminded by the anti-fascist memorials of the terrible price people paid so that we could enjoy these simple pleasures.
  • The mad ice-cream cone which made the mundane, though delicious, into a stunning pop art confection.
  • Sitting in a terrace, laughing and telling stories.
  • The sound of roinking 🙂
  • Pivo and delicious paprika flavoured crisps!
  • The nice apartment owners and their lovely restaurant with wonderful pizzas and fun customers.

But most of all, the simple pleasure of time with friends. We have created lives for ourselves that seem to fill up with meetings and meetings and presentations and meetings and paperwork and meetings. It is so easy to fall into the trap of assuming that that is how life is, how fortunate then to have beloved friends to remind us that life is very different indeed.