Weeknote 22/2021: By the sea

Last week, I was on a family holiday – and the sun shone too. And, for the record, it’s still a holiday even if you don’t go abroad. It’s only a staycation if you stay in your own home.

Connectivity

Sadly, I’ve been strugging with mobile connectivity recently. I finally got around to putting a 5G SIM in my phone. Since then the 3/4G signal has been awful and I haven’t even seen 5G. giffgaff’s Twitter support were worse than useless, eventually demanding a list of personal information in a direct message including things they should know (like the identifier of the SIM they had sent me, which Android refused to show me). In the end, I gave up as I needed a SIM removal tool… I’ll try again this week, now I’m back home.

Meanwhile, in parts of Dorset, I even got a French mobile signal (when I couldn’t get an English one…)

Family History

One evening, whilst discussing family history, I found that my wife’s Great Great Grandfather was quite possibly murdered in the 1890s! The Coroner’s report suggests the body was found buried in a sitting position – so that sounds like foul play. It’s unclear whether there was a severed hand found nearby with some money but the newspaper says “hat” so that may be translation!

This week in pictures

Weeknotes 18-19/2021: Doubling up

Last week didn’t have a weeknote. I just didn’t get around to it! To be perfectly honest, my weekends are packed with cycling-related activities at the moment and work has been pretty busy too… so here’s a bumper fortnight-note. Even this is delayed because I locked myself out of WordPress with too many incorrect login attempts… but the very fact I managed to post this indicates that I got in again!

Working

There’s much I can write about my work at the moment but we are approaching my annual review. That means I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on the last 12 months and looking forward to where I need things to head in the coming weeks and months. It’s not been a wonderful year: although my family has been fortunate to avoid Covid-19 we’re still living in strange times and I really could do with leaving my home office for the odd day here and there. Procrastination levels are certainly up, followed by evening catch-up sessions. That could be another reason there was no week note last week…

Learning

I did manage to squeeze in another exam. It’s one of the Microsoft Fundamentals series: Microsoft Azure Data Fundamentals (DP-900) and I used Microsoft Learn to prepare, passing with a good score (944).

I’m also really interested in building a body of knowledge around sustainable IT and I worked my way through the Sustainable IT MOOC from the Institut du Numérique Responsable’s ISIT Academy. Not surprisingly, some of the statistics are French-specific but, in general I found the content interesting and enlightening. Definitely worth a few hours for anyone with an interest in the topic.

Watching

I’m a heavy social media user and I’m under no illusions about what that means in terms of my privacy. I often say that, if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product. Even so, my wife and I watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix a couple of nights ago. Highly recommended for anyone who uses… well… the Internet. So, pretty much everyone then.

Cycling

After riding England Coast to Coast (C2C) on The Way of the Roses a couple of years ago, I’ve been planning my next big cycling trip.

My eldest son and I were planning to head to the French Alps after his GCSEs this summer but, well, that was before a global pandemic messed up our plans. So we’ve been looking for something a little closer to home. We’re planning on riding the length of Wales – from Cardiff to Holyhead on Lôn Las Cymru

After booking all the hotels, and the train travel to return from Holyhead (5.5 hours, via England, with a change mid-way at Shrewsbury) the biggest challenge was booking 2 spaces for bikes on the train. I had similar issues with the C2C and I’m just hoping that I manage to make the cycle reservations nearer the time. I certainly can’t allow myself to stress about it for the whole 4 day ride up!

Something that will almost certainly come in useful on that trip are the waterproof socks I bought from Sealskins… they are fantastic:

Still on the subject of cycling, the Trek X-Caliber 9 mountain bike that I bought last autumn is back in the workshop. It’s 6 months old, with just 300km on the clock and the forks have gone back for warranty repairs (and that’s after the headset bearings already had to be replaced because they were not fitted correctly in the factory). More generally, there’s a big problem with bike part availability in the UK right now – partly Brexit-related (inability to buy from some EU-based vendors) but some general supply issues with some parts on back order until 2023.

Meanwhile, I’m finding more and more of my weekends involve supporting my eldest son with his racing (either cross-country or cycle-cross, with the occasional road circuit). One bonus was that the usual Saturday Youth Coaching session was replaced by a pleasurable gravel ride (and pub garden visit) this week due to non-availability of our usual venue.

Random techie stuff

The last few weeks in pictures

Weeknote 16/2021: Look after yourself – and watch out for friends and family too…

Most importantly, this week:

  • I was reminded not to take family members’ health for granted. Also, that the NHS has many problems but a) is staffed by some truly wonderful people and b) I’m really, really glad it’s there when we need it.
  • I was also reminded that I have some really supportive friends and colleagues. You know who you are. Thank you.

Lower down the hierarchy of needs:

  • I finally got the (Enterprise) Architecture as a Service service that I’ve wanted to launch off the ground. After years of thinking that it might be useful for clients to have access to someone for a day or two a month, it seems that a couple of days a week is more useful – it’s actually time to do something meaningful. Anyway, it’s given Thom McKiernan (@ThomMcK) an opportunity to go back on site.
  • Related to above, I found I’m a little jealous of colleagues who get to visit clients and interact with humans again. I don’t want it every day – just one or twice a week would be nice.
  • I was frustrated to find that the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is very misunderstood – and all too often given as a reason for not doing something, with no apparent knowledge of what the regulation covers.
  • A client project underlined that, even when using SaaS, you still have to plan for and take action around upcoming changes… such as the upcoming retirement of Microsoft Skype for Business Online.
  • I sold a bike. It felt odd:
  • Related to above, I found that Facebook Marketplace is a strange mixture of nice, normal people, and some very odd individuals who didn’t seem to understand why I wouldn’t accept their low offer when I had plenty of interest at the asking price.
  • My weekend activities were mostly cycling-related: riding in the sunshine; transporting my son to/from an XC MTB race; youth coaching, and marshalling at a road race (where my son was also racing).

This week in photos

Weeknote 14/2021: A week off work

This week has been spent at home. Mostly. It also involved some time wrapped in blankets in friends’ and family’s gardens, as England and Wales return to some degree of limited socialisation but northerly winds mean it’s still pretty chilly. Actually, it was snowing as I started to write this blog post.

As I mentioned last week, there were a few things planned for my time away from work. I celebrated a birthday on Monday. I had the final assessment for my First Aid Essentials in Sport certification on Tuesday. Then, Saturday was my first experience of coaching a group of young people to help them develop their cycling skills. It was… interesting. Oh well, they do say that practise makes perfect…

This week in tech

I haven’t really got much to report this week from the world of tech except:

  • After helping my youngest son out with renewing his Xbox Live Gold subscription (hint: CDkeys is your friend), he found that some updates in Minecraft were conflicting with the Windows Family Safety settings. That can be a minefield, but the error message directed me to the “Minecraft Realms and Multiplayer Troubleshooting” page on the Microsoft website, which helped me adjust the settings. The “I’m Getting an Error When Trying to Play Multiplayer with a Child Account” page makes it even easier to work out what to change, although I was able to leave the Privacy settings as they were (so only his friends can contact him by voice or text). Kudos to Microsoft for making it easy to work out what we needed to do.
  • I also got pretty frustrated with the limitations on my Apple Watch pairing with various old iPhones (or not). The end result is, I’m still selling my iPhone 8 Plus (which still has some residual value) and I’ve bought an iPhone SE for my wife. Expect to see a blog post here soon on the fun and games of moving cross-platform (I switched to Android when I bought a Samsung Galaxy S20 last year). Spoiler: don’t do it unless you really like messing around with tech and various platform lock-ins.
  • Apps asking for feedback really should be more considerate about when they interrupt your workflow:
  • Vodafone let us know that our monthly broadband is going up by £3 a month and by 3.9% above inflation. Apparently, that’s to cover the extra costs of running their network, but it seems to something that many providers are doing now…

Elsewhere in my life

Without going into specific details about my family’s medical history, Mark Booth at Body Limits is bloody brilliant. After just one session with Mark, my son could feel a tremendous difference in the knee pain he had been suffering whilst cycling.

Meanwhile, I’m not sure if carpentry and power tools are “tech” or not, but:

  • I found that drilling holes through plywood can easily split the face of the wood. The trick is to stop, just as the centre of the drill starts to emerge, and then use that centre hole to drill back in the opposite direction.
  • This video was handy as I fought with a jigsaw I’d borrowed from a friend. I had seriously started to doubt my blade-fitting abilities as I got through four of them to slice a sizable hole between two sets of shelves:

More thoughts on hybrid and remote working

I’ve been pretty open about my thoughts on remote and hybrid working and it’s only a few months since I wrote this post musing about the future of the office. This week, I saw The Economist had an interesting video on some of the challenges of working from home:

I was particularly pleased to see they called out having good home working facilities as a privilege many do not have and the consequential need for hybrid working (not just remote). Meanwhile, for those who can go fully remote, The Republic of Croatia is offering a Digital Nomad visa for a year

Back in Blighty, my friend Matt Ballantine (@ballantine70) was finally pushed over the edge with one online meeting too many:

“By removing the last filter of meeting organisation, the meeting room, we probably are organising more meetings than ever before.”

Matt Ballantine: “Zoomed Out”

And, as for the impact of remote work on our mental health… maybe let’s consider it’s not just remote working that’s been introduced to our lives over the last 13 months but also a whole load of other restrictions on social contact:

This week in photos

Weeknote 13/2021: Project progress and procrastination

This has been a short week (with only 3 days at work) but I’m pretty pleased with what I achieved in that time:

  • Publishing the Architecture Toolbox I’ve been working on for a few months. That sounds a bit grand for what’s really just a library of re-usable artefacts but, hey! I finally realised that I can’t do everything (perfection is the enemy of good) so it’s time to let it fly and let others contribute…
  • Starting to get under the covers of a new engagement with a local authority client where we’re carrying out some digital service design. It’s fascinating for me to learn from my colleague Richard Quayle (@RichardSQuayle) around concepts like the locus of control, the negatives of a command and control structure (cf. Edward Deming’s approach), failure demand – and much more as we jointly deliver this Business Consulting engagement.
  • A very insightful chat with a client where we’re looking to engage around an Architecture service. It was refreshing to hear that they find TOGAF too conceptual and want to take a more pragmatic approach around EA on a Page (which I referenced in my post on developing IT architecture skills).

I’ve struggled with procrastination/distraction this week too. The challenges of back to back online meetings are obvious but it seems meetings spaced out through the day can be equally problematic. The challenge is that they leave no time to really get into flow before the next meeting is due.

Anyway, both of these cartoons resonated with me…

(in the week that a the MV Ever Given got stuck and closed the Suez Canal, for 6 days.)

Back in the world of work, Alex (@LyleD4D)’s lateral thinking let me embed an msteams:// link in a SharePoint page, by changing the protocol section of the URI to https://.

Meanwhile, my colleague Richard Kleiser (@ThatRichK) introduced me to this diagram from Dave Clarke, which attempts to visualise the concept of Enterprise Architecture:

And that reminds me of something I meant to mention in last week’s weeknote – Rich Goidel (@RichGoidel)’s Strategy vs. Tactics cartoon, which featured in my Microsoft Catalyst pre-sales training:

I also started to see the direction that motoring is heading in. As electrification reduces revenues from servicing, software will become the next subscription opportunity.

Although it was probably intended as an April Fool, What Two Figures (WTF) pretty much sums up my feelings about What Three Words.

Outside work, the UK’s easing of “lockdown” restrictions saw the return to Caveman Conditioning – training outdoors again instead of over Zoom!

I also completed some online learning around First Aid Essentials in Sport. This is a requirement for my certification as a British Cycling coach but I’ve struggled to complete an approved course during “lockdown”.

A look ahead to the weekend

This weekend will see me:

  • Meeting up with another family for a country walk (something we’ve not been able to do for a while!).
  • Returning to Youth Training at my local cycle club (the first time we’ve been able to run a session since I became a coach).
  • Resuming Cyclist’s Dad/Directeur Sportif duties as my eldest son returns to racing.

It will probably also involve consumption of Easter Eggs (I did buy rather a lot of Creme Eggs this week).

Talking of Creme Eggs, Natalie Jackson (@NatalieDellar) alerted me to this post with “groovy things to do with Crème Eggs“.

And next week…

In addition to celebrating the 49th anniversary of my arrival on this planet, next week will be mostly spent at home including some time doing geeky hobby stuff in the Man Cave. There will also be the final assessment for my First Aid Essentials in Sport certification (which will be interesting over a Zoom call, to which I’ve been asked to bring a pillow and a bandage!).

This week in photos

Weeknote 12/2021: IT architecture, design thinking and hybrid work

I’ve tried writing weeknotes a few time over the years and they have been pretty sporadic. So, let’s give it another go… this should probably be weeknote 28 (or something like that) but it seems last year I named them after the week number in the year… so let’s try that again.

Because I haven’t done this for a while, let’s add some bonus notes for last week too…

Last week:

This week:

  • I published my long-form blog post on developing IT architecture skills, spun out from conversations with Matt Ballantine (@ballantine70) but also part of the work I’m doing to develop my team at risual.
  • My technical training was interrupted to complete the Microsoft Catalyst pre-sales training. It started off as what I may have described as a “buzzword-filled gamified virtual learning experience”. Then, I started to learn some consulting skills as Rudy Dillenseger brought Design-Led Thinking (aka Design Thinking) to life.
  • It was interesting to see Microsoft recommending the use of Klaxoon with Teams when facilitating remote workshops, which made me speculate about the future of Microsoft Whiteboard.
  • Was a week of virtual calls – even in the evenings. I had Zoom calls with British Cycling and for some financial advice but also a really pleasurable couple of hours on Signal chatting with an old mate I haven’t seen or spoken to in a while, who now lives overseas. It was definitely one of those moments when I appreciated a good friendship and it made me think “we should do this more often”.
  • Just when I thought I’d handed off some project management duties to a real PM, they bounced back at me like a boomerang…
  • The UK Government’s comments on returning to work (ahem, we have been working, just not in the office) reminded me of a post I wrote at the start of the year. Hybrid working is the future folks – we ain’t going back to 2019

The last couple of weeks’ photos

Last Orders at The Fantastic Tavern (#TFTLondon)

About a year ago, I wrote about a fantastic concept called The Fantastic Tavern (TFT), started by Matt Bagwell (@mattbagwell) of EMC Consulting (ex-Conchango – where I also have some history). Since then I’ve been to a few more TFTs (and written about them here) and they’ve got bigger, and bigger. What was a few people in a pub is now a major logistical challenge and Matt’s decided to call it a day. But boy did it go out with a bang?!

Last night’s TFT was at Ravensbourne (@RavensbourneUK) – a fantastic mixture of education and business innovation hub on London’s Greenwich peninsula. I was blown away by what Chris Thompson and the team at Ravensbourne have achieved, so I’ll write about that another day. Suffice to say, I wish my university had worked like that…

Last night’s topic was 2012 trends. Personally, I thought the Top Gear-style cool wall (“sooo last year, tepid, cool, sub-zero”) was way off the mark (in terms of placing the trends) but that doesn’t really matter – there were some great pitches from the Ravensbourne students and other invited speakers – more than I can do justice to in a single blog post so I’ll come back and edit this later as the presentations go online (assuming that they will!)

The evening was introduced by Mike Short, VP of Innovation and R&D at O2/Telefonica who also sits on the board of governors at Ravensbourne and so is intimately involved in taking an institution with its rooms in Bromley College of Art (of David Bowie fame) from Chiselhurst to provide art, design, fashion, Internet and multimedia education on Greenwich Peninsular, next to the most visited entertainment venue in the world (The O2 – or North Greenwich Arena). Mike spoke about O2’s plans for an new business incubator project that O2 is bringing to London in the next 3 months as O2 looks at taking the world’s 6bn mobile device subscribers (not just phones, but broadband, payment systems, etc.) to connect education, healthcare, transport and more. In an industry that’s barely 25 years old, by the end of the year there will be more devices than people (the UK passed this point in 2006) and the market is expected to grow to more than 20bn customers by 2020.

Matt then spoke about the omni-channel world in which we live (beyond multi-channel) – simultaneously interacting on all channels and fuelling a desire “to do things faster”.

Moving on to the 2012 trends, we saw:

  • A. Craddock talking about smart tags – RFID and NFC tokens that can interact with our mobile devices and change their behaviour (e.g. switch to/from silent mode).  These can be used to simplify our daily routine to simply enable/disable functionality, share information, make payments, etc. but we also need to consider privacy (location tracking, etc. – opt in/out), openness (may be a benefit for some), ecology (printable tags using biodegradable materials) and device functionality (i.e. will they work with all phones – or just a subset of smartphones).
  • Riccie Audrie-Janus (@_riccie) talking about how, in order to make good use of technology, we need to look at the people element first.  I was unconvinced – successful technology implementation is about people, process and technology and I don’t think it matters that kids don’t understand the significance of a floppy disk icon when saving a document – but she had some interesting points to make about our need to adapt to ever-more-rapidly developing technology as we progress towards an ever-more complex world where computing and biology combine.
  • @asenasen speaking about using DIY healthcare to help focus resources and address issues of population growth, economics and cost. Technology can’t replace surgeons but it can help people make better healthcare decisions with examples including: WebMD for self-diagnosis; PatientsLikeMe providing a social network; apps to interact with our environment and translate into health benefits (e.g. Daily Burn); peripheral devices like FitBit [Nike+, etc.] that interact with apps and present challenges. It’s not just in the consumer space either with Airstrip Technologies creating apps for healthcare professionals. Meanwhile, in the developing world SMS can be used (ChildCount), whilst in Japan new toilets are being developed that can, erhum, analyse our “output”.  Technology has the potential to transform personal health and enable the smart distribution of healthcare.
  • Matt Fox (@mattrfox) talked about 2012 becoming the year of the artist-entrepreneur, citing Louis CK as an example, talking about dangerous legislation like SOPA, YCombinator’s plans to “Kill Hollywood”, Megabox (foiled by the MegaUpload takedown) and Pirate Bay’s evolution of file sharing to include rapid prototype designs. Matt’s final point was that industry is curtaining innovation – and we need to innovate past this problem.
  • Chris Hall (@chrisrhall) spoke about “Grannies being the future” – using examples of early retirement leaving pensioners with money and an opportunity to become entrepreneurs (given life expectancy of 81 years for a man in the UK, and citing Trevor Baylis as an example). I think hit onto something here – we need to embrace experience to create new opportunities for the young, but I’m not sure how many more people will enjoy early retirement, or that there will be much money sloshing around from property as we increasingly find it necessary to have 35 year and even multi-generation mortgages.
  • James Greenaway (@jvgreenaway) talked about social accreditation – taking qualifications online, alongside our social personas. We gain achievements on our games consoles, casual games (Farmville), social media (Foursquare), crowdsourcing (Stack Overflow) etc. – so why not integrate that with education (P2PU, eHow and iTunes U) and open all of our achievements to the web. James showed more examples to help with reputation management (spider  graphs showing what we’re good at [maybe combined with a future of results-oriented working?]) and really sees a future for new ways of assessing and proving skills becoming accepted.
  • Ashley Pollak from ETIO spoke about the return of craft, as we turn off and tune out. Having only listened to Radio 4’s adaptation of Susan Maushart’s Winter of Our Disconnect the same day, I could relate to the need to step back from the always connected world and find a more relevant, less consuming experience. And as I struggle to balance work and this blog post this morning I see advantages in reducing the frequency of social media conversations but increasing the quality!
  • Ravensbourne’s Chris Thompson spoke about virtual innovation – how Cisco is creating a British Innovation Gateway to connect incubators and research centres of excellence – and how incubation projects can now be based in the cloud and are no longer predicated on where a university is located, but where ideas start and end.
  • The next pitch was about new perspectives – as traditional photography dies (er… not on my watch) in favour of new visual experiences. More than just 3D but plenoptic (or light field) cameras, time of flight cameras, depth sensors, LIDAR and 3D scanning and printing. There are certainly some exciting things happening (like Tesco Augmented Reality) – and the London 2012 Olympics will e filmed in 3D and presented in interactive 360 format.
  • Augment and Mix was a quick talk about how RSA Animate talks use a technique called scribing to take content that is great, but maybe not that well presented, and make it entertaining by re-interpreting/illustrating. Scribing may be “sooo last year” but there are other examples too – such as “Shakespeare in 90 seconds” and “Potted Potter”.
  • Lee Morgenroth’s (@leemailme‘s) pitch was for Leemail – a system that allows private addresses to be used for web sign-ups (one per site) and then turned on/off at will. My more-technically minded friends say “I’ve been doing that for years with different aliases” – personally I just use a single address and a decent spam filter (actually, not quite as good since switching from GMail to Office 365) – but I think Lee may be on to something for non-geeks… let’s see!
  • Finally, we saw a film from LS:N profiling some key trends from the last 10 years, as predicted and in reality (actually, I missed most of that for a tour of Ravensbourne!)

There were some amazing talks and some great ideas – I certainly took a lot away from last night in terms of inspiration so thank you to all the speakers. Thanks also to Matt, Michelle (@michelleflynn) and everyone else involved in making last night’s TFT (and all the previous events) happen. It’s been a blast – and I look forward to seeing what happens next…

[I rushed this post out this morning but fully intend to come back and add more links, videos, presentations, etc. later – so please check back next week!]

The future of mobile telecommunications (@jonin60seconds at #digitalsurrey)

I’ve written before about Digital Surrey but I don’t think I’ve ever said what it is so, as Abigail Harrison (@abigailh) explained in her introduction to tonight’s event, Digital Surrey is a free community; a network to meet up, learn, share and to generate opportunities, whether that’s from the information found, someone you met, or something else.

What never ceases to amaze me is how the Digital Surrey organisers come up with a constant stream of great speakers and tonight was no exception, with PayPal UK’s Jon Bishop (@jonin60seconds) entertaining us all as he talked about the future (in fact, the now) of mobile communications – generating plenty of discussion in the process.

I’ve tried to capture the key points from Jon’s talk in this post, together with a few comments of my own in [ ]. Once the video/slides are available, I’ll come back and add some links to them too:

  • If you want to visit the future of mobile today, go to Africa:
    • South Africa has 6m Internet users, but only 750,000 are on fixed-line connections and 57% never use the “desktop” Internet.
    • Africa also has the most engaged social network in the world: MXit was launched in 2003 and has 22bn messages sent each month (compared with 8bn on Twitter), with 45 hours of average monthly usage (compared with 15 on Facebook).
    • Imagine paying for concert tickets, food, or a taxi in the UK using SMS – no chance! But it’s happening in Kenya using a system called M-Pesa (Swahili for mobile money) and, Vodafone subsidiary, Safaricom is now the biggest bank in east Africa. Half of the population uses it with no need for a bank accounts (only 20% of people have a bank account, whereas 60% have access to a mobile phone).
    • This sort of activity is a necessity in Africa because of underinvested wired networks, expensive broadband, a rural population, large informal sector (traders, etc.), low bank account penetration and high mobile penetration. On top of this, using a mobile is safer than carrying cash around!
    • Not only is Africa transforming mobile communications, but mobile is transforming Africa. According to Nokia, each 10% increase in mobile penetration corresponds to a 0.8% increase in GDP.
  • Attempting to push aside some misconceptions about mobile, Jon highlighted that:
    • Blackberry has younger users than the Apple iPhone (which is too expensive and doesn’t have Blackberry Messenger functionality).
    • Google Android beats iOS as the top selling mobile platform worldwide, although the Apple iPad is currently unrivaled in the tablet marketplace. Whilst [Apple] iOS and [Google] Android are the major players today, keep an eye on Amazon, Samsung, HTC, and [Microsoft/Nokia] Windows Phone.
    • Are mobile carriers profit generating machines? Apparently not on current models: the time will come when profitability will dissipate as the cost per GB transferred is going down but the volumes of data use are increasing. As those lines converge, mobile operators have a problem.
    • Is it true that mobile ads don’t work? Actually they do! They account for $3.3bn in advertising spend, with $1bn going to Google; 56% of executives click on mobile ads and they can deliver better value than web ads.
  • Using the example of his friend “Shane” (a 15 year-old), Jon highlighted that none of Shane’s friends have iPhones – almost all use Blackberrys. Some have Android as a second phone (for games like Farmville) but, without BBM (Blackberry Messenger), today’s teenagers are out of the loop. They don’t talk any more: the only person who calls Shane is his mum; and he only makes a call “ when I’m in shit mate, innit” (i.e. in trouble). This prompts some questions as to what happens when young people enter the business world – if they talk in front of their friends but not their teachers – what about their colleagues? Teenagers wake up with a phone in their hand [so does this 39- year-old]; they use them to organise everything (via BBM [, Facebook, etc.]). And they like phones with buttons (to type quickly).
  • Jon moved on to look at how online and mobile communications have changed communities:
    • We still have geographic communities but people come together to share a common interest, whether that’s the Ford RS Owners Club, Knitting, or whatever [Digital people in Surrey?]. The speed and level of interaction is fuelled by mobile, on the go, access although, of course, this depends on the capability of the platform and access to wireless communications.
    • Jon suggested that last month’s riots in London and elsewhere were interest based, not geographic as, in a few hours they jumped north to south London before spreading more widely across the city. Perhaps the common interest was that they don’t like the Police, or perhaps it was just that they wanted free stuff from JD Sports! After the first few hours media coverage fuelled the interest, so it’s difficult to say whether the mobile networks had any influence.
    • We’ve had social networks for years but now they are mobile. What does this mean for policing? Well, one senior Police Officer in the audience suggested that it means they need to be quicker!
  • Another area changed by mobile is photography. The social web has made the picture the beginning of the journey, not the end.
    • We used to take a roll of film, develop it, and put the pictures in an album, or a shoe box.
    • With digital we took the pictures, used the memory card to get them onto a computer and then share them/interact with them.
    • Mobile means we can skip the computer and gain instant gratification.
    • 150m images were shared on Instagram in a year [it may make bad pictures look deliberate, butAndy Piper commented it’s the 5th most valuable startup on the planet right now – and it’s not even on Android yet] and the Hudson River plane crash is often cited as an example of where news broke first on social networks.
    • Now we also know who took the picture, where it was taken (GPS), using what camera and what settings (EXIF), who’s in it (tagging), as well as the time and date.
  • Mobiles have also changed how we interact with the world, using a multitude of data points:
    • Compare jogging in the 80s with jogging in 2011. Whereas once we may have had a Sony Walkman and a Casio watch with an illuminated screen to track time, today we can track our steps, average speed, route, effort (calories burned), top speed, distance and time. We have become mobile data points. Phones can track sleep patterns too [and Runkeeper has established a health graph of interconnected services].
  • Mobile is not the future, it is now. Not quite as now as in Africa but it is mainstream:
    • According to Morgan Stanley, Last year there were 670m 3G subscriptions (up 37% year on year).
    • More mobile devices are connected to Wi-Fi than PCs.
    • Smartphones will outsell PCs in 2012 – we are approaching an inflection point.
    • There will be more mobile Internet than wired by 2015.
    • And if you want a signal as to the way in which things are heading, the world’s biggest PC maker may stop selling PCs.
    • When we look at mobile payments PayPal is processing $10m in transactions each day, with $3bn from mobile this year (globally) – and they expect that to double next year. Customers spent $1bn at Amazon using their mobiles in the past year (and that’s pre-Kindle Fire).
  • The question of “what is mobile?” generated some discussion. Jon suggested it’s phones and tablets; not laptops; and that the operating system is a good indicator. Other suggestions were that it should be anything with a SIM; to do with where you use it, not what it is; of that it’s about whether the device fits in a pocket.
  • Moving on to QR codes, Jon highlighted shopping in the Korean subway and interaction with posters [I saw an example where rail passengers could scan for the appropriate timetable for their route]. Whilst it’s true that the application is a barrier to entry,14m Americans scanned a barcode in July 2011.
  • Mobile is changing B2C marketing with multi-tasking users using a smartphone whilst they are doing something else (72%) including listing to music (44%), watching TV (33%), using the Internet (29%) or playing games (27%). After searching for a business on the phone, 77% call or visit and 44% purchase in store or online. So what does this mean?
    • We are always on, always accessible.
    • We multi-task – so include a mobile call to action in advertisements.
    • We’re in a hurry – so sort out the mobile flow (ensure websites are optimised for mobile devices – 76% are not)!
    • We are ready to take action – so make it easy for us to do so!
    • Think about entry (search results, barcode, email banner link); landing (results, mobile pages and search ads) and call to action (call, click, download, access map or directions).
  • On the B2B front, executives use up to 4 devices (laptop, company Blackberry, iPad, personal smartphone):
    • 55% use their mobile as a primary device with 80% preferring to access work email on the go.
    • We are ready to take action, to download and run B2B apps, click mobile ads, and to make purchases.
    • 200m people watch mobile videos on YouTube each day and 75% of executives watch work related videos and share.
  • So, how is the world of mobile changing? Whilst we can’t predict 10 years ahead, Jon highlighted some technologies that are already here but not mainstream:
    • Near Field Communications (NFC): for data sharing, payments, device pairing, advertising. Providing a communications platform with a simple tap, NFC is not as clumsy as a QR code and the chips are cheap so we’re Likely to see NFC widely adopted. Paypal have a video demonstrating the use of NFC for sending money.
    • HTML 5 arguably makes the web what it should be:
      • Application quality improves in a browser.
      • No more plugins (Flash, Silverlight, etc.).
      • More freedom and independence for publishers/developers.
      • 30% faster than Flash.
      • Improved profitability for publishers.
      • Easier compatibility, so quicker releases.
    • The cloud [which shouldn’t be marketed to consumers – it’s a B2B concept!] is changing our views on ownership of media [e.g. Spotify]. Storage is less important, connectivity more. Ordinary items can connect using the same technology.
    • Whilst it’s a bit early to be making predictions about its success, or otherwise, the arrival of the Amazon Kindle Fire looks like it will bring the first real competitor to Apple’s iPad ecosystem and Apple, Amazon and Google all have investments made (with more to make, potentially) in their content networks.

As ever, thanks to all at Digital Surrey for allowing me to attend – it always seems cheeky for a guy from the Buckinghamshire/Northamptonshire borders to visit a networking group for business people in Surrey but you make me so welcome! Thanks also to Jon, for letting me blog about his presentation contents. The next couple of events sound great too – watch the Digital Surrey website for details.

[Updated 3 October 2011:  to include Jon’s slides and link to his post]
[Updated 5 December 2011: to include the video of Jon’s talk]

From snapshots to social media – the changing picture of photography (@davidfrohlich at #digitalsurrey)

My visits to Surrey seem to be getting more frequent… earlier tonight I was in Reigate, at Canon‘s UK headquarters for another great Digital Surrey talk.

The guest speaker was Professor David Frohlich (@davidfrohlich) from the University of Surrey Digital World Research Centre, who spoke about the changing picture of photography and the relationship between snapshots and social media, three eras of domestic photography, the birth and death of the album and lessons for social media innovation.

I often comment that I have little time for photography these days and all I do is “take snapshots of the kids” but my wife disagrees – she’s far less critical of my work and says I take some good pictures. It was interesting to see a definition of a snapshot though, with it’s origins in 1860’s hunting and “shooting from the hip” (without careful aim!). Later it became “an amateur photograph” so I guess yes, I do mainly take snapshots of the kids!

Professor Frohlich spoke of three values of snapshots (from research by Richard Chalfen in 1987 and Christopher Musello in 1979):

  • Identity.
  • Memory (triggers – not necessarily of when the photograph was taken but of events around that time).
  • Communication.

He then looked at a definition of social media (i.e. it’s a media for social interaction) and suggested that photographs were an early form of social media (since integrated into newer forms)!

Another element to consider is that of innovation and, using Philip Anderson and Michael L Tushman’s 1990 theory as an example, he described how old technological paths hit disruption, there’s then an era of fermentation (i.e. discontinuous development) before a dominant design appears and things stabilise again.  In Geoff Mulgan’s 2007 Process of Social Innovation it’s simply described as new ideas that work, or changing practice (i.e. everyday behaviour).

This led to the discussion of three eras of domestic photography. Following the invention of photography (1830-1840) we saw:

  1. The portrait path [plate images] (1839-1888) including cartes-de-visite (1854-1870)
  2. The Kodak path [roll film] (1888-1990) from the Kodak No. 1 camera in 1888, through the first Polaroid camera (1947), colour film cartridges (1963) which was disrupted with the birth of electronic still video photography (1980-1990)
  3. The digital path (from 1990)

What we find is that the three values of snapshots overlay this perfectly (although the digital era also has elements of identity it is mainly about communication):

Whilst the inventor of the photograph is known (actually Fox-Talbot’s Calotype/Talbottype and Daguerre’s Daguerrotype were both patented in 1839), it’s less well-known who invented the album.

Professor Frohlich explained that the album came into being after people swapped cartes-de-visite (just like today’s photographic business cards!) which became popular around 1850 as a standard portrait sized at 2.5″ x 4″.  These cards could be of individuals, or even famous people (Abraham Lincoln, or Queen Victoria) and in 1854, Disderi’s camera allowed mass production of images with several on a single sheet of paper.  By 1860 albums had been created to store these cards – a development from an earlier past-time of collecting autographs and these albums were effectively filled with images of family, people who visited and famous people – just as Facebook is today!

The Kodak era commenced after George Eastman‘s patent was awarded on 4 September 1888 for a personalised camera which was more accessible, less complex than portrait cameras, and marketed to women around the concept of the Kodak family album.  Filled with images of “high days and holidays” – achievements, celebrations and vacations – these were the albums that most of us know (some of us still maintain) and the concept lasted for the next century (arguably it’s still in existence today, although increasingly marginalised).

Whilst there were some threats (like Polaroid images) they never quite changed the dominant path of photography. Later, as people became more affluent, there were more prints and people built up private archives with many albums and loose photographs (stored in cupboards – just as my many of my family’s are in our loft!).

As photography met ICT infrastructure, the things that we could do with photography expanded but things also became more complex, with a complex mesh involving PCs, printers and digital camera. Whilst some manufacturers cut out the requirement for a computer (with cameras communicating directly to printers), there were two inventions that really changed things: the camera phone and the Internet:

  • Camera phones were already communications-centric (from the phone element), creating a new type of content, that was more about communications than storing memories. In 2002, Turo-Kimmo Lehtonen, Ilpo Koskinen and Esko Kurvine studied the use of mobile digital pictures, not as images for an album but images to say “look where I am”. Whilst technologies such as MMS were not used as much as companies like Nokia expected [largely due to transmission costs imposed by networks] we did see an explosion in online sharing of images.
  • Now we have semi-public sharing, with our friends on Facebook (Google+, etc.) and even wider distribution on Flickr. In addition, photographs have become multimedia objects and Professor Frohlich experimented with adding several types of audio to still images in 2004 as digital story telling.

By 2008, Abigail Durrant was researching photographic displays and intergenerational relationships at home. She looked at a variety of display devices but, critically, found that there was a requirement for some kind of agreement as to what could be displayed where (some kind of meta rules for display).

Looking to the future there are many developments taking place that move beyond the album and on to the archive. Nowadays we have home media collections – could we end up browsing beautiful ePaper books that access our libraries?Could we even see the day where photographic images have a “birthday” and prompt us to remember things (e.g. do you remember when this image was taken, 3 years ago today?)

Professor Frohlich finished up with some lessons for social media innovation:

  • Innovation results from the interaction of four factors: practice; technology; business; and design.
  • Business positioning and social shaping are as important to innovation as technology and it’s design.
  • Social media evolve over long periods of time (so don’t give up if something doesn’t happen quickly).
  • Features change faster than practices and values (social networking is a partial return to identity – e.g. tagging oneself – and not just about communications).
  • Some ideas come around again (like the stereograph developing into 3D cinema).
  • Infrastructure and standards are increasingly key to success (for example, a standard image size).

I do admit to being in admiration of the Digital Surrey team for organising these events – in my three visits I’ve seen some great speakers. Hopefully, I’ve covered the main points from this event but Andy Piper (@andypiper) sums it up for me in a single tweet:

 

Photographing the night sky

Last Saturday saw a “supermoon” – where the Earth’s moon is both full and in perigeesyzygy and so appears larger than usual.  I went out to try and shoot some images of the moon over the river but it was too high in the sky for the effect I was really after and it slipped behind some clouds.  Later on, the sky cleared and I got out my longest lens to take a picture of the moon (albeit without anything to put its size into context) and this was the result:

Supermoon 2

I was pretty pleased with this – especially when I compared it with one taken from the International Space Station! – although  some of the other shots in the press showed an aeroplane silhouetted agains the moon, or the moon appearing more “yellow” as it rose.  It’s just a straight shot from my DSLR with a 500mm lens, tripod mounted, at a mid-aperture (f11) and slow-ish 1/125″ shutter speed, with ISO set to 200, and with exposure compensation set at -5 EV (to stop the moon from “bleaching out”). Other than a crop and saving it as a JPG, that’s about all it’s had done to it.

But taking photos of the night sky is not usually so straightforward and, previously, my best results had been using a similar setup, but shooting in daylight.  The image below was taken a couple of summers ago, whilst on holiday in France:

La Lune

For this shot, I used an entirely different technique – it was actually taken with a clear blue sky, in the evening, converted to black and white and then the black clipping was increased to make sure the blacks really were black.

Anyway, back to the supermoon – nice though it is, anyone can take pictures of the moon – but what about planets in our solar system? Without a telescope?

SaturnJoe Baguley tipped me off that Saturn was just down and to the left of the moon at that time and sent me a link to his shot, in which Saturn is just 12 pixels wide but its rings are clearly visible. My response: “Wow!”. I went back outside with my gear and tried to replicate it but it seems that, on this occasion, his Canon 5D Mk2’s pixel density beat my Nikon D700’s – 12 pixels wide at 400mm equates to 15 pixels at 500mm, but with 2,400,000 pixels per cm2 on the 5D vs. 1.4 on the D700. That meant I was looking at something just 9px wide and that sky was very, very dark… maybe I need to go out and buy a telescope (for my sons of course!).

(Thanks to Benjamin Ellis, who inspired me to go and take pictures of the moon on Saturday evening, to Joe Baguley for permission to use his picture of Saturn, and to Andy Sinclair, who suggested I should write this post. The two images of the moon used in this post are © 2009-2011 Mark Wilson, all rights reserved. The image of Saturn is © 2011 Joe Baguley, all rights reserved. All three images are therefore excluded from the Creative Commons license used for the rest of this site.)