Saturday, December 18, 2010

Who is in charge of banking?

Listening to a comment on the radio this morning set me thinking.

The commentator said “who is in charge of banking, we all thought that the bankers and regulators were in control, but it seems that there was no regulation or anyone in charge”

My thinking lead me to recall a scene I had watched from the home-office window yesterday. A coating of snow lay upon everything, and the birds were struggling to find some food.

A neighbour of ours had planted a sapling in their front garden a few years ago. A slow growing variety, it has taken those years to get to the small size it is now. It is a type that has red berries at this time and this year it is laden with red.

My eye was caught by a small flock of about 50 starling sized birds, wheeling and swooping in the sky.

As I watched they swooped in a gradually closing circle around the tree until the leader suddenly dropped from the swoop and landed on the tree, the immediate followers landed while the laggards swooped in another circuit as it seemed they had not expected a landing on that particular pass.

The leading birds grabbed beakfuls of berries and then, as the tail end of the flock landed, the leader and first tranche took flight, very quickly followed by all the rest.

This activity was repeated many times as I watched, and as is my way, I was trying to understand the process and the thinking behind it.

It seemed to me the leading part of the flock were getting most berries. They spent most time on the tree. The whole flock was being lead, as is usual, by a single bird, the rest following in the classic Starling formation.

What did I observe?:

  • When the first bird landed the formation split into two and the trailing birds did one more circuit lead by an alternate bird.
  • The leading bird was gorging for the longest time
  • The early following birds got the second longest time.
  • The trailing birds had less than a third of the time, firstly because they missed the instruction or whatever message to land, and thus they had to complete a extra circuit; secondly because as the lead bird left shortly after they landed and they did not stay behind their gorging was much shorter.
Could this be the structure of control in the banking business?

There appears to be a hierarchical structure in both, but the command flow seems much more fluid.

  • What are the benefits to this structure?
  • Would it be better to all land together?
  • Would the tree have collapsed under the weight?
  • Should the second tranche have stayed rather than taking flight?
  • Who was acting as lookout?

I know there have been studies of bird flight behaviour and will look there for some insights, at the moment there are more questions than answers, maybe you can help point toward some answers?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Tardis Lands in Soton

The train pulls into the station, I haven't been in this place since I was a child. I'd checked the maps, the streetview and the webs and had some hints at what lay ahead, but little did I know.

Heading away from the tracks I realise my feet aren't taking me the way the Gdirections suggest, a mix of old Victorian planning, Metropolis and Tuttleworld line the horizon. Glimpses of an opulent past are obvious as I head across formally laid out parks with palm trees and mysterious bushes wrapped in fleeces (to shade them from the chill wind I guess) which is whipping across from a vast empty marble clad square, reminding me of images of Moscow or China.

Corralled by barriers preventing foot traffic impeding the flow of those wheeled ones with warmed interiors, throwing myself against the railings to avoid the speeding side-walk cyclists and standing chilled at red man after red man, thinking these red men are not about easing or speeding the journey for me, or buses, but about something else.

Then onward, where ironically having been forced to stay on the side-walk until now, here I am pushed out onto the unprotected highway by warning bollards and a path obstructed by a mess of salt and ice, no thought for the casual pedestrian, just a solution seemingly laid to 'greet' visitors to the reception to one of Europe's biggest banks who are quartered here. This leads my thoughts down the path of 'Is this what British Banking has come to?'

Leaving the towers, the squares and the parks, I head toward onward bright coloured domes, car lots and clubs, it has a 'place of the night' feel about if even at this early hour of the day. As is the way of such streets in many an English town, it is lined with take-away food outlets that only awake well after the sun sets. Also in common with such streets, those on foot are able to amuse onlookers with a dancing stride inspired by a desire to avoid the 'Pavement Pizza'. The PP Hop perhaps, watch out it featuring in a 'Strictly Special '!

Why would anyone be heading this way at the unlikely time of the day? you may well ask.

A building familiar from the streetview research hove into view, similar but not the same, why, what was wrong?

Must be the right place, a Maplin store is just next door, but it says 'Shooting Star' on the signage not 'Kolebka' as the streetview showed. This must be THE place "Shooting Star Pub". My destination a 'Pub' at this hour of day, you think?

Are they showing the end of an Ashes match or a Rugby game from 'Down Under'?

A closer look reveals "BarCampSoton - please use other door" and "Welcome to BarCampSoton" on that other door itself!

As I push the door open and a powerful smell hits me. A faint smell of .... burning ... no, that's not it....toasting that's the word. Indeed a scene of breakfast hides behind the door, the warmth of the inside *is* toasting a crowd of people, but more so people are toasting bread, spreading jam, munching bacon butties, blowing on cups of too hot coffee, squeezing through with bicycles, computer hardware, boxes of cables and stuff, even a Dalek is trying to sneak through the throng, what a busy and buzzing atmosphere! The seemingly small pub seems vast inside, a real Tardis of a place, and even then the BarCamp will overflow to another pub down the road apparently.

It seems I wasn't the only one to arrive early to BarCamp Soton. I found a coffee, a butty and a pool table whose top was spread with randomly shaped pieces of card, a jigsaw? no, each labelled with a name and sometimes a twitter handle, this spread of name tags gave an insight into the numbers booked in for the day. No wonder @cminion and Chris Gutteridge were hopping around like the proverbial cats. Setting projection gear, stringing blackouts, arranging tables, writing up whiteboards for session planning and Wifi node and password details. This is all the stuff of un-conference organising, the Chris's have been here before, and their hopping is not as random as it appears, a tight plan is detectable in their moves.

The spread of white space on the 'schedule of the day' begins to disappear under post-it notes with intriguing notes of the gems to be revealed over the day. My own, an idea to have a discussion about my proposed 'HomeCamp Unleashed' is guided toward the comfy sofa space for the first session slot. This suits me well as a relaxed chat about how to free all my 'HomeCamp Spaces' from the confines of my podcast show and out into the streets is something that needs all the help it can get.

Called to attention, welcomed and briefed about the day, Chris is keen that everyone has a barcamp bingo card and a pen (what an inspired idea that is!) and then the sessions get under way.

Behind the curtain, a glow emanates, an ooo, an ahhh and an occasional ripple of laughter can be perceived. On the sofa I am joined by a group interested in what HomeCamp is about. I am hopeless at remembering names and I struggle to find the solution so many times, but technology helps me out, and pen and paper assist.

Some of those who have joined me, on the sofa's, are familiar with my podcast, most aren't, but the comments, suggestions and ideas voiced inspired me with a spring like burst of energy.

My concern that 'Hacking' is a word with more neg's than po's is confirmed, I am drawn to think that the key is the common thread of Creativity that links my HomecCamp Spaces. My thoughts are that in times of tight money, it is even more important for groups to cooperate where there is common ground and in an open source way. This is validated and inspired by discussion about Southampton and other Hackspaces. We discuss "the difficulties with informal research"and getting "peer review done", and I am surprised by suggestions that offering 'shwag' at an un-conference could be seen as a unnecessary bribe to draw ppl to the event, and may indeed give a negative msg.

The day was just developing, more name tags leaving the table for the neck-ties, more sessions, more volume from the excited chatting..... all too soon lunchtime arrived and I have to make a move toward the station to return home, I know I have two busy days a of chatting ahead, and I could easily go hoarse at this pace.

I left the others tucking into a hearty chilli (veggie or carnivore depending) and looking forward to the afternoon and onward into the evening of meeting 'ordinary folks'

I have to thank the Chris's for creating the event and all those 'too numerous to mention', that inspired me with bright, intelligent conversation even though this was no less than I expected from BarCamp Soton.

I promise to catch up with those I met, and will watch for new followers and alerts with the #bcsoton tag.

BarCamp's Rock!!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Formal vs Informal Hacking

I've been thinking about the perception of hacking in the wider non nerdy, non dorky or geeky community and thought I should write up my thoughts.

We use 'hacking' in many different ways with the spaces I mix in, and we understand the difference between, black and white hacking, creative and destructive etc, but I feel these subtleties are *not* recognised by many others and that the perception of hacking is always negative. Maybe I'm wrong, I have done no scientific analysis of the subject, but anyway 'hacking' is the word and I feel it could be useful to improve understanding of the phrase rather than avoiding it.

To help get the message across in the correct way I am thinking that we can divide "HomeCamp Hacking" into two types, formal and informal.

Formal in this terminology it is changes to the house, the home, the lifestyle enacted in the way a normal community person would want to undertake after having acquired a 'standard' property. The purchasing of items and services from shops (such as B&Q), suppliers and installers.

The items may be modified in small ways, e.g. material made into curtains, lampshades decorated with beads, spotlights creatively placed. I would include the use of standard item in a unintended way, such a intercepting a wireless signal with software patch. Even using a video-sender is modifying the function of the home in hacking sort of way.

Informal is the alternative approach using technology to that is not available "off the shelf", but can be created by modifying an existing product or building a new product from components. This area includes Arduino microcontrollers, sensor chip and components, making tables from tree trunks, solar walls, etc.

By connecting Formal and inFormal hacking groups there are opportunities start-up businesses to form, for commercial companies to *improve* their products and much more.

My Take on HomeCamp ( embodied in the regular podcast available via is strongly influenced by this thinking.

Let me know what you think!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Intellectual Property Rights - Music vs Fashion

I was interested to hear on a radio programme (BBC R4 You & Yours) recently a discussion about Fashion Week London. The comments that caught my ear were around the creativity of students and young designers and the value of the show as a place to display their work.

There was a discussion around the speed at which designs were being copied, but rather than hear it condemned in the way that discussions around software and music revolve, the 'borrowing' of ideas in fashion for use in low priced versions for the high-street was referred to as 'interpreting' a style rather than theft.

At a time when the Creative Commons license model is under attack as *not being* in the interests of those who choose to use it and they shouldn't have the choice to 'give-away' their IP, I find the position of the high street fashion retailers refreshing.

I support Open Source and believe it should be the choice of 'creators' to monetize their work as they wish, without creativity where would the world be. If Shakespeare had managed to lock the story of Romeo & Juliet down as tightly as Disney would now then Hollywood, schools and authors would have no stories.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Create a Standard Low Voltage Circuit in the Home.

I propose that building codes be changed to enable a low voltage circuit to be standard in buildings, particularly the domestic home. I refer to this as a Low Voltage Main (LVM)


Some facts:

1: Most electrical items in the home do not require current mains AC voltage (EU 220v, UK 240v, US 110v) to operate and so a transformer is used to reduce the voltage. Transformers consume power and resources for no gain.

2: Most electronics use DC current.

3: PV Solar Panels produce DC voltages in the range 12 - 48 volts

4. DIY work on mains circuits, particularly in kitchens and bathrooms, is subject to strong regulation for good safety reasons.

5. Voltage standards in the home vary around the globe, whereas most internal voltages in TV, Computer, Mobile devices, Automotive devices are standard around the world.

6. The power required for devices in the home is reducing with new designs and technology. Where it has levelled off (eg Graphic cards, Plasma TV's) the management of the power consumed is getting smarter.

Details of proposal:

A mains voltage supply (usually 220/240v AC) would be retained for high load equipment such as washing machines, freezers, ranges/oven etc.

To allow retrofitting and staged remodelling, the existing lighting circuits could be separated at the consumer unit. CFL and halogen lamps would be replaced with LED or electroluminescent units.

As lighting circuits are usually available in the loft, they are in the best place for the direct connection of PV panels without the need for high power inverter units.

12-48 volt DC storage would be included directly connected to the LVM, it would allow charging by solar PV or by a wind, water, biofuel powered generator. Alternatively power could be stored during low cost grid power times or when other sources are not available for use via the LVM.

Lamp fixtures are usually available in the ceiling and offer a viewing area that would make the ceiling rose an ideal place to mount sensors such as smoke, heat, humidity, temperature, movement etc. for safety, energy management and home automation purposes.

The standard should allow the use of standard data connections and wiring such as RJ11, RJ45, CAT5, TCP/IP and simple low cost adapters such as RJ45 to microUSB, USB, Car Cigar Socket, etc.

These connectors are available worldwide and produced in very large quantities so cost and availability is improved. Moving equipment between countries would not require any conversion.

Over-voltage protection should be included and smart voltage selection could be provided by data being sent from the requesting device identity codes. This would be possible by using Power-over-Ethernet standards at the low voltage source. Companies such as Cisco already produce suitable devices as Network routers and Uninterruptable Power Supplies, that could be easily adapted to such use.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The new 'Age of 3S' can double employment and rebuild Community for no cost.

Sharing, Shaping, Success. a new approach to employment for the Internet Age.

Given the major changes we have seen in the world over the last two years, I have been thinking hard about how the community can get the best benefits from all the sacrifices that have been made over this time.

Although many have gained from what has happened, I believe the majority have lost a lot. Of course many of those that have lost, did start off from a very comfortable position and so, have not been visibly impacted. Much of this comfort came from the effort of our mothers and grandmothers and was invested in the bank of mum and dad. The times that they did this will not be seen again, just as the Victorian age will never return.

These losses are most likely to be seen in a long period of lower consumer activity in all markets. The result will be a lower number of employee roles, each of which has increasingly, and will continue to, become more demanding.

When I started work most individual roles were more specialist, but the number of workers performing each role was greater, and each role was covered by more than one person. This allowed for sick days, holidays and a tea break. Over the years, and with the introduction of automation, this 'slack' has been removed, and has brought the workers more stress, reduced efficiency, more sickness, early retirement and work just 'not being done'.

The irony is that those very workers are now expecting to have to work more years than ever, the retirement age has been reduced over the years, but is now increasing. This means a further reduction in the number of working roles and has resulted in the blocking of these roles by those already in employment.

Although the Country has done pretty well on the surface, it has been like shiny oil on water hiding the sludge building up beneath. As the oil breaks up we see more of the sludge.

Many commentators are likening this time to points in the past, such as when people’s roles moved from being travelling hunters to settled farmers, and from farmers to factory workers. For years there has been talk about us moving into the “Internet Age” but it never seemed to arrive. I think it *was* actually arriving, just with a whimper rather than a bang. The creation of the 'Global' in market and communication terms is a one way change, we will not go back.

At present all the moves of Governments are to 'repair, return, regress' to try and return to the hey days of the last 30 years, but if this *really* is a "revolution for the working population", this won't happen, and it is exactly the time for a 'New Approach to Work', as any attempts to 'go back' are at best mis-guided.

Since I first drafted this post in the New Year, I have spoken to many others about how the ideas may work in practice, and have received a unanimously positive response. What has surprised me the most is that no-one has said "it's been tried before and didn't work because...." or “that won’t work because….”, or even “this is happening already”

My suggestion is that communities create a work-pair of an older and younger member to fill the roles available in all paid employment. This will rapidly double the number of people employed. It will put a framework around uncertain retirement plans for those approaching their 3rd Age, retain the experience of those who have worked so hard over 30 plus years and ease the move of those leaving education, with freshly honed skills, into their 2nd Age. This will produce a Win, Win, Win for the Elder, the Younger and the Employer. And the people of this Country, even, hopefully the World will gain (you’ll notice I’m not one for small ambitions :)

The basis of the plan is job sharing, and of course this is not new, it may not be uncommon, but it is certainly not routine or normal in any sense.

So how is this idea different from existing job share schemes?

This scheme would create an older and younger pair who would form one worker unit. I refer to that unit as a work-pair, but having discussed this with a women’s group I feel that a team of 3 might be better when younger women are making up a work-pair (There is a need to create a vocabulary to describe the scheme components).

Why now?

We have a need to reform work in a way that has not been seen in 80 years. We have tools that we have *never* had before, distributed computers, distributed communications, distributed community. We have used these tools to create a global community of social networks. I believe that the social network is the key to the success of this scheme, and why it’s time has come.

The work-pair would be formed by taking advantage of all we have learnt from the use of social networking over recent years. For example: the use of on-line, virtual and real world get-togethers, co-operation on projects and community activism. For those that are not on-line the Community would extend the social network into the off-line world, being brought to the off-line by those who have the on-line tools.

A key factor in the success of the scheme would be the building of a trust relationship between the partners. Few people agree on everything, and indeed the creation of a work-pair would benefit from the complementary differences within the work-pair. The key element of trust is that the work-pair must resolve any issues that arise within the pairing in a way transparent to the employer.

The work-pair would apply for jobs as one, not two, people. Their application should be assessed and an interview conducted as usual for a singleton. The employers focus should be on the work to be carried out, the measures and results expected, not on managing the presence of each of the work-pair.

Example 1: an older experienced flat roof felter is paired with a younger novice who has the strength and stamina the older man once had. The older man has seen many simple mistakes lead to fires and accidents that gives flat roofing a bad record. These two, by forming a work-pair, do a roof in less than half the time of one man, with higher quality and speeding the build process, bringing a better experience to those that commissioned the job, who will be prepared to use this contractor again and hopefully in preference to those with lower quotes.

Example 2: an older office administrator is paired with two younger women who recently left college. The younger pair are comfortable with the latest computer software, whereas the older knows all the un-written processes of the office. They are all happy to work on the keyboard, but each is concerned over RSI and would prefer to take a break from that work during the day. One younger is a mum and needs to collect and deliver children, the older has family in France and would love to visit them more regularly. I don't need to spell out the benefits of this scenario, particularly at a time when 'maternity leave' is back on the working agenda.

Some work types can be carried out remotely and this gives the opportunity of parallel working, potentially doubling the productivity of the work-pair over a singleton. Where the role requires worker presence, this would be arranged by the work-pair to ensure the times are covered, 24x7x365 as required. The employer should not be concerned with this scheduling. This would particularly suit an older/younger pairing as holiday arrangements, weekend commitments, etc. are likely to intersect rather than collide.

Such a work-pair would be more productive than one individual and the work-role could be expanded to take advantage of this. I would estimate that (1+1)/2=1.25 as a minimum. This greater productivity is needed to cover some of the extra costs of a work-pair, but there should be sufficient extra for each of the work-pair to be remunerated at a higher level than a singleton. As a minimum I would expect that each of the work-pair should earn ¾ of the singleton wage. Remuneration covers more than wages and in other areas the work-pair will gain in ways a singleton could never.

A community push will be needed to improve the legislative regime for the scheme.

National Insurance is levied on the worker and not the role, this needs re-thinking. Employers are as much behind this change as anyone, so we are pushing at an open door there.

The reduction in ‘un-productive people’ will be welcomed by any sensible government, so we are pushing at another open door there.

How about the other challenges?

What are the interests vested in the status-quo?

What do the others impacted think?

What are the other problems?

Now is your chance to join the conversation!

I want to hear your ideas, I need you to spread the word, to discuss the hurdles, to help find the solutions.

Let's show the world that Social Community Networks, work!

v2: typo corrections only.