A better nation?

“Work as if you lived in the early days of a better nation.”—Alasdair Gray

Inspiring idea … but what does a better nation look like? How does it work?

Read this.

In my post TechnoLiberation a few weeks ago, I rather vaguely proposed that the new political/economic paradigm would come up from underneath, that it would be predicated on enormous numbers of people using information technology to create new forms of interaction that worked for humans, that superseded the current models, rather than did battle with them.

Paul Mason’s new book, for which the article is a pre-publication taster menu, makes a much stronger, more detailed, and compelling case that the beginnings of this transformation are under way already – that the economics of information underpin all sorts of human initiatives, on a wide number of fronts, that offer tentative blueprints for ‘a better nation’ in the making.

A better nation – and one which people in technology can easily imagine that they are working in the early days of.

Convergence is coming like a train on rails…

Blogger Brian Posey, discussing Microsoft’s ‘Continuum’ concept, has this;

In another demo, someone connected their Windows Phone to a large screen and to a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. Not only did Office expand to accommodate the larger screen size, but the experience was identical to that of working on a PC.  The presenter even said that with some of the higher-end phone models it will be possible to use your phone as a phone and a “PC” at the same time. It would be possible, for example, to work on a spreadsheet on the big screen while talking on the phone, playing a game or watching a video on the phone’s built-in display.

Using the phone as a PC seemed like a completely seamless experience. The only indication that the presenter was not using a PC was the fact that there was no desktop mode.

This is convergence, and I predict (with my usual complete lack of originality) that it will produce a major upheaval, and the final nail in the coffin of the traditional PC as a consumer device. I’ve been going on about it for ages, but not here so far.

The logic is simple. If you have, always with you, a powerful-enough computer that has access to all the software and data you need, then why would you ever bother to use a different device? Why would you spend out on another powerful computer, with different software, that is effectively immobile – another device that condemns you to continually switching interfaces, worrying about synchronisation, using different networks, different UI paradigms. Seriously, why?

Well, for quite a number of very good reasons, you are no doubt thinking – but the thing is, all of those reasons are melting away, and melting fast…

Continue reading “Convergence is coming like a train on rails…”

Wearable data business models re-imagined

I’ve been thinking about this, off-and-on, over the last few weeks, ever since I had a conversation with a chap hoping to build up a large database of Type 2 diabetes related stats, analysis of which would allow his firm to develop a tool to help sufferers self-manage their own care.

In the context of our own interest in getting hold of large amounts of data from wearable devices with movement information related to exercises, I began to think about the differences, wondering what they might suggest.

Continue reading “Wearable data business models re-imagined”

Fleep is the word … it’s got groove, it’s got meaning…

I’ve just read about, then immediately joined, then immediately fallen in love with…  Fleep.

In common with many others, I have hated email for years; such a clunky old tool, used, because of its ubiquity and peerless network advantage, for everything – even though 90% of the use cases are horribly inappropriate (can you imagine the nightmares engendered by a 4 year old ‘reply all’ email used for arranging an annual street party?).

I have used many other things – google groups, wikis, chat, groupware, application-specific commenting tools – some of which were rather better, some of which were rather worse than email – but each of them not email, and sometimes that was good enough.

Continue reading “Fleep is the word … it’s got groove, it’s got meaning…”

DeepMind takes baby steps, but this is significant

When, a year ago, Google bought, for a reported $400M, a small and previously little known British artificial intelligence startup called DeepMind, the acquisition was widely reported, the general press essentially saying; “Gosh golly, these tech type geniuses are, like .. wow! And they get rich too!”(1,2).

Continue reading “DeepMind takes baby steps, but this is significant”

Costing coding work – and the value of experienced intuition

OK, I’ve come to an impasse with what I’m doing at the moment – banging my head against a particular wall for a few hours too long.

Time to move on to another topic; pull out the mental list of all the things that need to be at least thought about in order to move our startup forward.

IP, MVP, business model, data protection, regulatory environment, legal structure, read more about Scrum/Agile, marketing strategy, logo design, data structures, UX prototyping …  …  … …  (…:::!!!!)

OK, here’s one: how much money are we going to need to spend on coding to get to a scalable MVP launched?

Big question! Cost estimation is a big deal in traditional bricks-and-mortar architecture, too, so I’m aware that this is not a subject to be taken lightly or fudged. A frequent and serious pain point in construction projects is when project estimate costs rise significantly AFTER the client is committed. Whatever else happens when this occurs, confidence and morale are dented, usually badly.

Construction clients want to spend as little as possible while statutory consents are at risk, and one way to spend less up-front is to do lightweight cost estimation (on the back of lightweight specification) and hope for the best. Of course, even if they have misgivings about these estimates, consultants are often unwilling to rock the boat at an early stage, not wanting to be the messenger that gets shot. Less scrupulous players have even been known to downplay cost risk until the client is committed, and then milk the situation (‘Oh, you wanted us to do the roof? Oh no, we never included for that. Yeah, yeah, I know you need a roof – rainin’ innit? Let me see what I can do for ya. Not gonna be cheap though – you wouldn’t want to skimp on a roof, wouldja?’).

So my approach to construction projects is almost always to convince clients of the value of making a larger-than-typical effort at the early stages to address all the likely risks – I’d rather have a client cancel early than go into something that is going to turn into hell for everyone. If they come up with another project in a few years perhaps they’ll remember me as that honest chap who saved them from getting burned.

So, can I do this with software?

It seems not. In fact, it seems not, big-style. Continue reading “Costing coding work – and the value of experienced intuition”

… eating glass, staring into the abyss

I was talking to my friend Mark van Harmelen of Hedtek (of whom more in a later post) about setting off on this path, and he gave me this quote from Elon Musk;

Being an entrepreneur is like eating glass and staring into the abyss of death.

This was meant kindly, of course; did I really want to put myself in this position, this level of stress?

There are two parts to a response to this; firstly, do I believe that this really what it’s like?

Continue reading “… eating glass, staring into the abyss”

Startup Productivity Tools event 28th Nov

This event was put on by Tech Meetups, an international setup with events all over the world – the first of theirs I’ve attended.

I was unfortunately late, so I missed the presentation from HootSuite, who aim to allow management of multiple social media campaigns. My loss.


ProdPad: As I arrived, Janna Bastow was presenting a tour through the set of tools offered by ProdPad, the startup she founded with her partner, and which they have successfully bootstrapped. ProdPad offers a suite of services clustered around the earlier stages of product development for teams – starting with ideas, offering tools for capture and management, for gathering comment and feedback on them, all recorded and transparent to all stakeholders – specific permissions can be given to users outside the organisation.

Continue reading “Startup Productivity Tools event 28th Nov”

Artisanal coding culture

I am not a coder.

To qualify this statement, consider a parallel: I understand a fair amount about the techniques that are used to form, shape and join timber, both theoretical and from practical experience, as a designer and maker on a number of scales. But I would never call myself a carpenter, because I have worked alongside carpenters, and have a deep respect for what a skilled carpenter can do.

By the same standards, I’m not a coder, although I do have some understanding, some experience and I hope some of the analytical ability. I certainly have the same respect.

Artisanal coding cultures have had little chance to develop real depth; human culture has a pace that, speed up as we might, is still tied to the pace of organic life, and information technology, by that yardstick, is barely three generations old. On top of that, while wood has remained wood, and steel remains steel, digital culture has undergone successive revolutions – largely hardware driven – with software following behind, catch-as-catch-can.

Nevertheless (even while understanding much of the content on only the surface level), I am convinced that the c2.com wiki maintained by Ward Cunningham has material that will prove to be significant in the development of a coding cultural tradition. The interchanges there are distilled, terse, limpid and at the same time open to an almost metaphysical dimension to the practice – a preparedness to take a step back and consider the inherent qualities of how algorithmic implementation is.

Explore at will.