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.

Tips

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.

Writing small

I am writing this on my iPad Nano, otherwise known as an iPod Touch. The screen is only about 40 characters wide and perhaps 10 lines high. So perhaps the only appropriate form for blogging from the iPad Nano is poetry?

I wonder if Li Po would have blogged?

Rewired Culture – 27th March

Just launched the Rewired Culture event for the 27th March at the Guardian offices in King’s Cross.

What’s Rewired Culture you ask?

Well here’s the description and big thanks to the Rewired State crowd:

Rewired Culture

Britain is a creative culture. We have a vibrant developer community, a growing and active entrepreneurial base and a vast, rich array of culture assets. How can we bring these together to create new opportunities for data owners and developers? How do we encourage links between data repositories such as museums, broadcasters and the wider community like data.gov.uk or the “London Datastore”? How do we ensure that the exciting work already underway in a number of organizations is shared more generally, so even smaller bodies and SMEs can learn from best practice and find workable routes to market? What are the cultural content business models for the 21st century? How do creators, curators, developers and entrepreneurs work together?

Rewired Culture is a day long event on 27th March 2010 organized by DCMS which is intended to explore these issues and more besides.

Rewired Culture has two strands – the first is a hackday bringing together data owners, data users, developers and people with ideas to see what they can create in a day. This builds on the very successful Rewired State events held in 2009.

The second strand is a halfday unconference style event starting at midday and running in parallel with the hackday for data owners, entrepreneurs, data users and communites to discuss business models, funding mechanisms and challenges.

We will be encouraging constant communication between the two strands because by the end of the day we want the event to have come up with a number of projects that people want to take forward on technical or business grounds, preferably both!

These chosen projects will then be used as exemplars for the Chief Executives and Chairs of the major national cultural institutions, broadcasters and key figures from the creative economy. They will be used as both an inspiration and a challenge to that community.

Rewired Culture will be open to all and you can register at http://rewiredstate.org/culture#register. If you would like more information then read the FAQs or contact us at rewired@culture.gsi.gov.uk.

FAQs

What about IPR?

Rewired Culture is not intended to solve every issue around intellectual property rights, instead we intend to focus on freely available assets and where IPR is then identified as a showstopper we will capture that point and raise it at the later meeting of Chief Executives and Chairs.

Why should I give away my ideas?

Ideas only have value when shared. We want to encourage people to share their ideas about both projects and business models. This is an opportunity to engage with the wider community and test your ideas. If you then want to take them to market then we will cheer you on. The only IPR we retain is in the Rewired Culture concept itself – everything else is down to you, the participants.

What happens to the Rewired Culture Projects?

We are still working on this and will be testing them at the event but the current thinking is that we will support the shortlisted projects where possible with hosting and facilitation.

We are also looking at the idea of running a simulation where one or more chosen projects would be given the opportunity to work through a pseudofunding round complete with an industry mentor and real VC’s.

Who should attend?

The event is open to all. If you are a developer, interested in data use or reuse, a data owner, someone who has an idea for an application using cultural data, a member of a cultural institution, someone who relies on public or private data for your business, an entrepreneur, someone who is passionate about open data or access to culture, someone in education, or someone who has taken part in previous hackdays.

You can sign up for the developer strand, the business strand or as someone with general interest in the subject. And we encourage people to move between the strands.

Why Rewired Culture?

There are lots of great individual initiatives out there – the BBC/British Museum A History of the world in 100 objects is but the latest. But these do tend to be individual initiatives and we want to encourage a wider flowering of cultural data initiatives from a variety of sources – public sector, third sector, entrepreneurs etc.

How much will Rewired Culture cost?

Attendance is free. We will obviously be posting the costs of the initiative itself as part of our commitment to data transparency.

Idle Thoughts – Basilisks

I came across this interesting new campaign on the Weather Channel in the US which uses an onscreen QR bar code so you can just hold your Android phone up to the screen and it will take you to the website where you can download the weather applet.

QR codes are not new and have been heavily used in Japan for a while now. They have the advantage that you can just use something you already have with you – a mobile phone – to easily point at a poster, a TV screen, an article of clothing … to get taken to a website of interest.

As my mind works in odd ways I found myself pondering on what happens when we have augmented reality phones which are continually pointed at the wider world, how will we cope with a constant stream of QR codes taking us to all manner of websites?

And as we blur the distinction between human vision and the augmented vision of reality via mobiles and other personal technology, are we setting ourselves up for a world where just opening your eyes could leave you open to a viral attack?

What IT is for

It is now a week since the launch of a major game changing initiative which will touch all lives and change the technology landscape.

I of course refer to the launch of the new UK Government ICT strategy and Open Source. Open Standards and Reuse Action Plan.

Sorry, did you think I meant the iPad?

Ah the iPad, which should really have been called the iBlankslate given that it has become a surface for people to project their hopes and fears.

The iPad will destroy the personal computer, it is not for work but every other moment, it is overpriced, it is just a big iPod Touch

So many views on something which has only be seen from a distance. My favourite is that line that the iPad is the machine for those who don’t use existing computers. I assume the advertising campaign will be “Are you dumb enough for the iPad?”

But there are some interesting points of connection between the Government ICT strategy and the iPad.

The ICT strategy is based around the dual pillars of a cloud based approach to system/information delivery and an Apps Store which provides a range of tailored and need-specific tools for working with the cloud systems/information. The iPad is based around the same model.

The ICT strategy seeks to tackle digital inclusion by not just tackling the user interface part of online transactions but also looking at how we can radically transform service delivery models to design needless complexity out of the service. The iPad offers the potential to tackle the former and could help us rethink some of the latter.

The ICT strategy, and in particular the OSOSR action plan, seeks to drive down costs and encourage SME’s/entrepreneurs/Third Sector to work with government by reducing the barriers to entry, facilitating reuse and shifting to a more agile business model where we are more about rapid collaboration and facilitation. The iPad … hmm, well is the iPad about less barriers to entry, more reuse and more flexibility?

My thoughts on the iPad are as idle as anyone else’s but I find it interesting to muse on the links between two groups wrestling with some of the same technological and business model challenges.

I shall return to this.

iSlated

The power of words was demonstrated over the Christmas period by the fact that Apple’s share price rose by 1% on the rumour that they would be launching a new tablet device.

Interesting though the questions raised by this sudden surge might be, others can speak to those much better than I could.

I am more interested in how such a device might succeed.

Despite what you might think, building a tablet PC is not hard. The form factor is just an extension of something like an iPhone and a quick look on eBay will show you how many Chinese companies can build an iPhone lookalike. For an operating system, well something like the excellent Jolicloud would be a good place to start or perhaps Moblin. Moblin in particular cries out for a touchscreen interface.

You create a central webstore/data repository, possibly using Amazon S3 or perhaps even Azure. The Tablet then becomes a window onto the Cloud with a transparent mix of local and webapps providing the user with ubiquitous data access via Syncplicity style synchronisation.

Easy. If you are a VC or an angel investor then give me a shout 🙂

So if it is easy then why is the world waiting for Apple?

I can think of 3 “good” reasons.

Bitter Experience

I have used tablet computers – both small ones like the Nokia 810 and Windows Tablet Edition laptops. Whilst they had an appeal they never became my main computer and soon fell into disuse. Did they ever make a profit? How many companies got burnt as a result?

Apple has a history of disruptive technological change – perhaps they can overcome this bitter experience of users and industry alike.

Ecosystem

A tablet is nothing without its connections, it only has value as a window into a wider world. All computers are the same; your office PC is not a general purpose computer, it is a window into your corporate information and systems.

The iPhone Apps Store has created a vast and rapidly developing ecosystem which would be just right for a tablet. At the same time, the disruptive effect of the Web on all information and service intermediaries means that businesses are desperate for new business models which look as much as possible like their old business model.

Point

The last reason is the deepest of all. What is a tablet for? People start off by eulogizing the potential of such a device but then very quickly trail off. We geeks may want a device which allows us to read RSS feeds in the bath but the vast, sensible mass of humanity do not.

But what happens as a tool becomes more ubiquitous? Look at how the iPhone has changed not just the smartphone market but people’s expectations of what a smartphone should do.

If a tablet allows you to carry your life with you in a small, secure form then what effect will that have on our culture and society?

Like everyone else reading this I will be buying an iPlate/iSlate/iiiMoosey, but at least I know that I have no idea why!

For now I will stick with the one tablet I know and trust 🙂

ReRewired

I was one of the judges at Young Rewired State this weekend. The event brought some 50 15-18 year olds together to work on taking public sector data and websites and making it relevant to them.

I was not quite sure what to expect. I cannot remember anything about being 15, and the world has changed greatly since then. This “fire” stuff for one.

What I was presented with (often expertly) was a range of exciting and occassionally transformational projects. You can find a list of all the projects here.

Whilst there was a vast amount to digest, after much thought three things in particular stand out for me about Young Rewired State.

The Reflecting Surface

What would happen if we were to hold a State Rewired State event? That is, what if we were to get a group of frontline staff, users, internal and external geeks, suppliers and data owners together for a 2 day event looking at say education or benefits? Would this help trigger internal innovation, build bridges between various communities and identify some quick wins?

Internal hackdays have been used by a number of organizations in the past, based on informal feedback there seems to be a real appetite for doing something along these lines in my daytime world. So time for me to talk to my CIO Council colleagues.

“Let their hand go for it,  grasp it”

How do these ideas get taken forward? At least one of them struck me as having real value and being an interesting thing to build on. So how do we do that? Do we leave it to the VC’s and angels or do we intervene, and if so how?

Take 1

We are at the very start of the mashup process. Some of the entries were blindingly obvious in retrospect but the fact that no one had done it before was a very sobering realisation.

It is also clear that we have yet to think through the implications of mashups. Perhaps surprisingly for a CIO, I am very uncomfortable with the cybernetic theory of government, that somehow perfect information will allow perfect decision making. 

That was one of the reasons why Blog-o-tics was so interesting to me, the idea of being able to gauge views on policy initiatives at a glance is very appealing, but how do we avoid ending up here?

Anyway, looking forward to the next round of Rewired State and discussing next steps with the CIO Council next month.

2029 part 1

Two key points before we start – the first is that anyone who tries to forecast the future is doomed and the second is that nothing here should be taken as having any official status at all. This is me thinking aloud

With that out of the way, here are some idle thoughts on the implications of technology as a driver of social change over the next couple of decades.

The Commercial Property Market is doomed

See those big office blocks? Why do they exist? Because the work done by the organization requires people to be closely colocated? Because the resources they need are in one place? Because it is more efficient?

In most cases none of those are true today and definitely not in 2029. Anyone who has ever worked in a corporate environment knows that there are only 3 things needed to work –  information, tools and people.

Information used to mean paper files – vast acres of boxfile plantations filling the land. But now information means a search engine and a memory stick.

Tools used to mean filing clerks, huge mainframe computers and typists. Now tools mean a laptop and wifi.

People used to mean … well what did people mean? Performance management was performance observation, serried ranks of people meant a diary full of update meetings and make work meetings. Think about how often you actually need to talk to people at work for real work related purposes, how many people you actually need to talk to and how many times it wouldn’t have just been easier to call, email or Tweet them?

Half the people reading this post will think it is obvious, they do not have offices or they just use short term touchdown or shared space. The other half will say that they are obviously looking at things like “hotdesking” to reduce demand for office space, but without challenging the essential concept of the office.

For most organizations, accommodation is the second biggest item of corporate expenditure after staff. Why are we spending that money? How long can we afford to spend that money?!

The HQ office is sacrosanct, we need those marble halls. It is a visible symbol of our corporate strength.

The office building is a dinosaur, it is like the battleship of a century ago, staggering onwards because of ego, tradition and self-interest. But like all dinosaurs, it is doomed.

Not all offices will go of course, they will survive in schools, universities, hospitals – anywhere where the purpose is either to work with people or, like museums, to work with objects.

But the general purpose office which makes up so much of any city landscape cannot survive.

So what happens to Canary Wharf? What happens to the revenues from rates and the jobs in supporting these land leviathans?

Good questions.

The city is a beach

What will the world be like when you can just look at an object and find out what it is? When you can change how you see the outside world so beggars or the poor never appear in your line of sight? When we are continuously wired?

So far we have separated World 1 – the real world, and World 2 – the online world but we are now starting to overlay them to create World 1.5 – the hybrid world.

Take something like Google Streetview – it’s an online representation of the real world overlaid with digital information. At the moment it sits on a computer screen but the next step is for computer screens to merge with glasses. So far, so old school cyberpunk but we can already see the first steps with iPhone apps that display information over live video feeds of your surroundings.

These feel clunky but what if it is in your glasses? Your contact lenses? A constantly updated reversioning of what you see. The glowing line that links you to your destination, continually adjusting to show you the way to go. The obscuring of sights you do not want to see. The ability to “Bing-o” anyone you see.

World 1.5 becomes a way of either seeing more clearly or, more likely, not seeing at all.

Big Blue World

Was at City University last night to see Thomas Gensemer, Managing Partner at Blue State Digital, talk about the use of social media as an engagement tool based on their experience running that strand of the Obama campaign.

I have to say that I was very taken by his approach. I was expecting something more technology focused, buzzword laden but instead the focus was very much on using simple technologies to build on basic good comms practice.

Some things I took away from the talk:

1. Be clear about why you are communicating. Do you expect the recipient to do something as a result? If so what? How will you know? How are you supporting them to achieve that? How does this become an engagement as opposed to just a one off?

2. Scale can be a way of derisking engagement. With 10 people if 2 disagree with you then that’s 20% of the audience actively against you, with 10 million people then even if 10,000 disagree with you it does not have the same impact.

3. If you are going to use technology then be clear why that platform. If the core value to you is being able to data mine the information about the people you are engaging with then doing that through Facebook or Bebo just means you have gifted that information to the platform owner. Not only that but you are now entangled in their brand values, viz. recent Facebook change of terms controversy.

4. Email works. Not email newsletters, no one reads them unless they are very specialised and effectively fanzines, but clear short emails which link to useful things. How can I get involved? What are the next steps? What resources are available to me? I liked the line about how the energy spent on email newsletters is vast and the return so slight.

5. Trust the people. User generated content can be gold. A recording of a teacher, a film of a volunteer these were the powerful things that stick in the mind.

6. But don’t get captured. It’s about facilitating community engagement, not community diktat. Be clear, be brave, don’t just delete and hide from things which challenge or embarrass but also do not get captured. Be clear what is up for discussion and what is settled.

7. Make it real and make it tangible. “I clicked here and I did this and now I am making this difference.”

None of this is unexpected, none of it rocket science so why are we still hooked on the idea that if we provide a platform that somehow, automagically, a topic will become interesting and people will become engaged?

Oh and

“Should” Should be Banned

Why would my Vista machine not connect to my wireless network? At first I thought that it was down to a clash with the router. When I changed the security settings it seemed to work but then it just randomly stopped connecting.

The symptom was always the same, it could see the access point and if I hit the laptop enough times it would kind of connect locally but would claim it could not see the Internet. The little pop up in the bottom right hand corner would say “Access: Local, Limited” or something of the sort.

I tried new drivers – no use, new access point – no use, new LAN card – no use.

I had given up hope until I tried a beta  test Vista laptop on our work public wifi connection and had the same problem. At home I could run cables but at work we have to get it to work.

After much Google-fu the answer turns out to be that Microsoft read “Should” as “Must” in a standard.

It has to do with how Vista responds to DHCP. The gory details are that Vista expects the world to behave one way and a lot of access point vendors decide to behave a different way. Net result, you get limited access from Vista via wireless.

There is a fix which involves editing the Registry.

Or you can run this utility.

As it changes the Registry you need to run it as Administrator. Right-click on application and chose “Run as Administrator” and then allow the next UAC dialogue.

I have tried it on two machines and it has resolved the problem. So if you have a Vista machine and use wireless then I strongly urge you to run it. Though if it destroys your machine and/or your planet I cannot be held responsible, for anything, ever.

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