Door creaks open

Spiders scurry for cover

A distracted ursine figure wanders in clutching a broom in one paw

Frenzied sweeping commences and stops almost as quickly

The now very dusty bear looks around, shrugs, breaks broom in half, drops the pieces and leaves closing the door

Spiders emerge from hiding places, a particularly brave one approaches the broom pieces and begins to weave…


The Only Management Handbook You Will Ever Need

No, we don’t need to get rid of managers, we need to stop tolerating poor management and stop using process as a substitute for management.

Leadership is about vision and behaviours, development is about support and challenge, pastoral care is about caek and inclusion.

Management is about creating space, resolving problems, stopping things becoming problems, making a positive difference to your team daily.

We need leadership, development, pastoral care and management. If any are missing then the corporate culture will fail.

Look at your own organisation. Are these four things in place? Do they exist in reality rather than just in process or rhetoric?

As a manager do you do these things? What would your team say? Honestly?


Installing an SSD in an Asus X202e

My old Windows laptop had finally reached the end of its useful life as a laptop, the trackpad had stopped working and compared to my work MacBook Air it was heavy and clunky.

So I looked around for a new laptop and ended up choosing the Asus X200 because it was on special offer and had a touchscreen. I was intrigued to find out if Windows 8 worked better with a touchscreen. The answer turns out to be “Yes, and touchscreens on small laptops work surprisingly well. But, I still use Start8 and ModernMix to make Windows 8 work like a fast version of Windows 7.

The Asus is light and nice but horribly constrained by an achingly slow hard drive. It only has 4Gb of RAM which is soldered to the motherboard so there is no way to up the RAM.

So instead I replaced the 500GB drive of sloth with a 128GB Samsung 830 SSD.

The original drive was partitioned in two with the C:\ drive holding the system files and the larger D:\ drive empty.

My first challenge was to clone the C:\ partition to the new SSD. The Samsung drive came with a copy of Symantec Ghost but no licence key! More usefully it came with a USB connector so one could plug one end into the drive and mount it as a bus-powered USB drive for installation.

I initially thought about following the suggestions I found on Lifehacker but then I discovered Paragon Migrate OS to SSD. It costs £15 and will only copy the system partition to the SSD but it handles everything else itself.

So I connected the new disk to the connector and plugged it into the laptop. I then ran the Paragon software which spent ages “preparing” and then when it started it reported errors on the disk. I restarted the laptop and ran the software again and this time it worked without problems, taking about 30 minutes to complete.

Once it had finished the software recommends changing the BIOS settings to boot from the USB drive to test that it has worked.

And of course *cough* *cough* I did that.

The Asus has 9 screws holding the underside in place. The 4 at the front are short screws, the remaining 5 are long. Once you have removed the screws, the underside is held in place by plastic clips. I used a slim, flat piece of metal to pop the clips and then I could remove the underside.

The hard drive is held in place by three screws although there are four holes. This will be important later!  I removed these screws and could then pull out the hard drive. I removed the rails from the side and attached them to the new SSD. I then slotted the SSD into place and replaced the screws. 

I then clipped the bottom back in place and put the screws back. Unfortunately I ended up with one left over. Remember the missing screw from earlier? It turns out that if you put a screw in the top right of the disk holder it stops you from replacing one of the base screws. So, don’t do that.

I then rebooted the machine and it is day and night in comparison. It now flies. I downloaded and installed the Samsung Magician software and configured the drive. I also ran Windows Experience which tells Windows it now has an SSD.

So for half the price of an equivalent MacBook Air, I have a fast touchscreen laptop.

National Hack the Government Day 2013

I had the pleasure and the privilege of being one of the judges at National Hack the Government Day 2013 yesterday.

The event is organised by Rewired State and at its heart is about putting public data in the hands of the public. In previous years the focus has been very much on central government data but now, thanks to the work of many, we can see many more datasets becoming available and this is reflected in the hacks.

There were too many great hacks to mention them all individually so this is an impressionistic piece on those hacks and themes that have stuck in my mind.

Hansardine was emblematic of the new style of data analysis – it took Hansard debates and used ngram comparison to pull out topics which were trending above average. 

Universerator won my prize for disruptive thinking by comparing university courses and future earnings. This kind of thing can be crudely reductive but for me it highlighted some of the cognitive dissonance in our culture – why do we value the arts so highly and yet so little?

Plc3bo was a nice piece of classic data analysis looking at NHS prescriptions. Extending this to cover generics vs. proprietary brands is exactly the kind of idea we should encourage.

The Taxpayer’s Alliance provided some datasets around council performance and Chief Exec pay scales. They would be the first to admit that the data needs work but even in its current state it is interesting.

For example, Council Chief Exec pay ranges from £120,000 to £450,000 which may well be “right”, I have only ever known one such Chief Exec and whatever we were paying them it was not enough. And it should never be about simplistic, reductive comparisons. 

The question for me is that my first reaction was astonishment at the range. It is easy for astonishment to lead to a search for overly simplistic responses. Data, like everything, requires context. Perhaps we all need to be better at contextualising the data we release.

I also awarded a feline centric prize to a hack which used cat pictures to represent data categories. Much like les quatre chats de priorité on my office wall, changing how we represent concepts visually makes a huge difference to our understanding of them. 

And finally we had a couple of projects looking at the data now released on the Hillsborough tragedy. One looking at putting an open RESTful interface on the structured data, the other using cloud tools to OCR scanned PDFs to allow for free text search.

These are both potentially very powerful tools but they bring home the obligation we all have to remember the people at the heart of the data. Technology gives us a chance to create a people’s history but that can only be done with the cooperation and support of people themselves.

The teams have done an amazing job and I am going to see if there is anything I can do to help.

So for me this year’s National Hack the Government Day was about people not data. That’s a good sign, it shows that as a community we continue to mature. It’s also the way it should be.

Inventions – The Sausage Turner

If you cook sausages in the oven the problem is to ensure even cooking given that one side of the sausage will be exposed to heat from the baking tray whilst the other surfaces are heated solely by the oven.

We have all had to rescue sausages which were charred at the bottom due to the uneven cooking process or had to try and remove sausages stuck to the baking tray, which usually involves leaving large amounts of sausage behind.

One answer is to regularly turn the sausages but who has time to do that?

Instead I propose using an automatic sausage turner.

This is a small spit into which each sausage is inserted. At each end of the metal skewer holding the sausage, supported at the extremes by simple A-frame mountings, there is a metal fan. This fan is painted dark on one side, light on the other and made up of bimetallic strips, this means that as the metal heats the fan turns and as the fan turns so does the skewer. This means that the sausage rotates automatically. It also means that the fat released by the sausage drains away from the cooking banger.

The skewer can be replaced by prongs for larger or odd shaped sausages.



Hello World – An epic poem in 4500 stanzas

Hello new followers, lured here by the power of poetry.

I fear I may disappoint you as I do not post that many poems. For obvious reasons 🙂

Like most people my first real encounter with poetry was at school. The classics seemed shrouded in an impermeable patina of age and respectability.  They felt like punishment, not illumination.

But there were some poems that were different – the syllabus included an Ogden Nash poem, e.e. cummings, Randall Jarrell.

These poems were chewable, they filled the mouth and challenged the mind.

Then I discovered Mayakovsky and everything changed. Poetry was no longer an abstract concept, locked on the page, it was an active engagement with the world.

Alphaville introduced me to Paul Eluard. A girlfriend to Martin Espada. Chance to Fernando Pessoa. My past to Yeats and Heaney. Through Mayakovsky to Akhmatova to Mandelstam.

Random browsing of Penguin classics brought me Li Bao and Tu Fu. Random reading of NYRB and LRB brought me Weldon Kees and Amy Clampitt.

Poetry went from being something trapped behind a glaze of worthiness to being something core, an essential thing.

That is the thing about poetry. It sneaks up on you, taking no prisoners.


A Modest Transport Proposal

(Inspired by the great Daedalus)

This morning’s rapid bus journey in to work provided further confirmation of what we observed during London 2012. The bulk of traffic congestion on London streets is caused by delivery lorries and the school run.

Children need to get to school, shops need to get deliveries so it is not feasible to simply ban these activities. And whilst we may be able to shift some deliveries out of daytime hours, this would not be possible for all and definitely not possible for the school run. 

So the fundamental challenge is to get both deliveries and children off of the streets during rush hour.

Perhaps the answer lies in a visionary initiative of the past? Pneumatic tube technology is still widely used in shops to transfer the contents of tills to the safe and to send purchases to pick up points.

So why not implement an underground pneumatic transfer system for school children and freight?

Because of their small body mass, children can withstand quite high accelerations and decelerations, and their small body size also makes it easier for them to fit into compact spaces. 

It should therefore be possible to use the same capsules for both children and relatively non-fragile deliveries.

So we build a hub and spoke system with spokes within easy reach of houses, shops and schools. Each day children assemble at their nearest spoke and are sent at high speed to the local hub, they are there transferred to their school spoke and sent on.

Goods are delivered either straight to the hub or from factory/dock spokes.

Speeds of 90kmph should be perfectly feasible meaning that the trip to school should take a matter of 10 minutes or so.

There are obviously some downsides – capsules are unlikely to hold more than 1 child at a time which will make copying homework more difficult, but children are adaptable and simply putting the brightest children in the capsules first and having them leave a copy of their homework inside should address that.Image