Dec 29

Radios and Fire Engines

I’ve been digging into some history, of the house and into some of the things hanging around.

First up we have an old EKCO radio, with the various choices of Gram, Long, Medium and VHF for wavelength choices.

EKCO radio

Then we have an old Corgi Simon Snorkel Fire Engine, model 1127. You’ll see quite a few of these for sale around the web but none quite like this. Grandad was the Chief Rate Fixer/Engineer at the Simon factory in Dudley having moved there from the Simon factory in Stockport in 1959 to start a new production site for the engine. When the first sample models were delivered to the team from Corgi, he was pretty upset that the toy manufacturer’s had got it wrong and painted the whole thing red. So he painted the lift white to demonstrate what it was supposed to look like and apparently got into a big argument with them. But he didn’t win it, as the production model still has the lift painted red.

Fire Engine

Dec 10

Day 1 Le Web

The first day at Le Web ’08 was a mixed day. The venue is great, as a space, but problems came out of this conference being the first to use the building, from heating that was not working correct, incorrectly positioned wifi that performed poorly and a badly chosen caterer that did not understand the need for lots of coffee and food.

I was not impressed with the first set of speakers, from the major sponsors Microsoft, Google and MySpace. Steve Gilmor interviewed Dan’l Lewin from Microsoft first, a series of soft questions that were easily turned into a business pitch, despite Gilmor’s seeming dislike in general for the big company, I was not impressed with the interview. The only thing I remember about the Google interview, with Nikesh Arora, is a comment about how scanning all the books in multiple languages will help them develop a translator and I missed the MySpace interview entirely but caught Amit  Kapur being interviewed in the Press Room, where he probably delivered the same message in about 3 minutes, the launch of the MySpaceID and the toolbar.  Overall, the corporate speakers were delivering a sales pitch, very little of interest.

David Weinberger was something else, a passionate talk about leadership in the post-information age. I blogged my notes and suggest again that you watch the video. This was great. Also memorable was Helen Fisher, talking about love. I’ve got a post to do about her biological basis for love. A third talk that had me thinking was my Paulo Coehlo, who discussed how he puts his work online, seeding it in the torrents, because it gives people access and has been shown to increase sales. (another full post to follow). I’ve heard plenty of genre writers talking about this (sci-fi, fantasy) but this is the first ‘mainstream’ author I’ve heard discussing it.

I missed many of the later sessions, spening most of my time catching up with friends and doing what conferences like this are best for – the networking. There was also a great Finnish sauna built into a truck that had been driven here.  They seemed to do a great business as people got colder and colder, a moment to warm up.

At the start of the second day, the heating seems to have been improved and the wifi is walking. The catering is still poor and we’re subject to a interview with the internet minister fromt he French government, but it looks like it could be a good day.

Dec 09

Leadership at the end of the age of information

I’m at LeWeb in Paris, taking notes on some of the talks.

Dave Weinberger gave one of his trademark inspirational speeches, all about leadership in a a changing world. I’ve taken live notes, not a strict verbatim copy, but got most of what he says. I fully recommend watching this one when it’s available

Are we at the end of the age of information? It does not mean the end of information…we will always have it. but the way it has effected our view of the world has changed…

In the last few generations..we have been driving down a stack..we are good at managing bits,….you reduce what you know to make it manageable, so machines can process it. We know more about people than the machine does…that stuff that make a person our friend.  In an information system a person is boring, all the interest gets stripped out. We do it so we can process the information.  In the information age, we are required by the systems to throw outtmost of the info as we can only manage so much.

In the age of the web, there’s a lot more info on a person’s Social Network page. and there are links all over the place, everything is connected.  Each of the links carries rich information. they each add to what we know. it is a much richer view than the age of information.  Hyperlinks are the opposite of information, links join things, connect things, in rich ambiguous ways, they are uncontrolled., they are the opposite of info, which is why the age of info is coming to a close

Now we are going up the stack, to increasing socialisation., it’s an abundance of good stuff AND an abundance of crap. we are good at dealing with crap, it is the abundance of good that is throwing things for a loop. we are just not ready for that, we do not know how to deal with that, the amount of good content is overturning the structure.

Leadership has been based on scarcity. Jack Welsh is taken as the avatar, the paragon of leadership. He’s a great leader, great business leader…leadership itself is scare, most people are followers. In an organisation, a leader has access to all the info, they lead by restricting access for the rest of us, there is an imposed artificial scarcity of info, that is how it worked. 

Humans make decision in the different way to computers, we have all these inputs and we decide which inputs are going to count, diff to a computer. we make judgements, the process of making a decision is the opposite of the model, of computers.

In leadership, there is a scarcity of people…it’s lonely at the top. we treat leaderships as thought  it is a type of heroism leader at the top, alone, with the weight of leadership on their shoulders. 

Leaders are realists…they would not have built wikipedia, Linux, realism is not ambitious enough.  Leadership in a networked world is a property of the networks….we need networks with the properties of a single heroic leader.

In the US, we have strong leader now (or will do in Jan). We have s strong, traditional leader who understands the network.  You can see this in his campaign, they had a social networking site, they connected. One of the first things they did was put up at the start. It was not a great site but they are getting it better. They understand the web, which is to put something up, get feedback and then fix it.

Let’s talk hypothetically. Say Obama set up a social network for citizens, let’s say it has to face 100m people talking to each other.    Conversation and intimacy don’t scale, but this has been solved before.   Let’s say they combine properties of Daily Kos, plus Facebook,  MySpace etc.  So here you would have millions of little conversations, then a mechanism by which the important ones would move up.   There would be filters using a reputations system, things will rise up and then the government can start to participate in areas.  The people who are in the conversations will emerge from the  reputational system.  It’s reputational democracy (Simon Willis).   A new structure of democracy, it did not exist before and now it does, it has come out of the software implementation of a reputation system, based on small choices form a a developer.  But let’s say one day the developers change from a 5 star to a thumbs up and down syst, this has huge implications on the dynamics, the entire system can be changed in important ways from small decisions…They change a level of democracy. In this situations, leadership is a property of the network itself.

We will still have leaders but it impossible to predict what the new leaders will be and how they are found. There are lots of contending interests, there is no way of predicting what the outcome will be.   On a local and national level, with politics, with the nature of leadership.   There is no clear way through, we just have to struggle on when we cannot predict what will happen.    I hope the old style leadership will be toppled…that the old hero that knows it all , that idea will tumble. There are great leaders, but they are no longer the only thing we need, they are too scare, we need abundant leaders. It has to be about the connected needs, the network. A leader has to embrace abundance….we need fewer leaders and more love.

Dec 06

Books Oct and Nov 2008

Here’s the summary of the last 2 months or reading

  • Crowd Surfing, Martin Thomas, David Brain. Good book on how brand should approach “surviving in the age of consumer empowerment”
  • Nation Terry Pratchett. He’s one of my favourite authors and this is one of his best. Not a Discworld novel, just a wonderful example of growing up and what it is to be civilised.
  • Shopholic Abroad, Sophie Kinsella. This is like a snack, a book that gets read in a day. I like it, I think, because I spend most of my time slightly amazed at the lead character who is completely alien to me. The plot was pretty predictable and I could see the ‘twists’ coming very early, but strangely enjoyable in a frothy way.
  • Azur Like It, Wendy Holden. Light, silly chicklit that has over the top writing and a predictable plot. But I keep reading her books for that entertainment value. They’re fun and fluffy, perfect for a bit of escapism.
  • Hostage to Murder, VL McDermid. One of her Lindsay Gordon novels, OK, but got a little frustrated at some of the angst and the jumps in plot. I prefer her character Tony Hill
  • Ghost, Robert Harris. I’ve enjoyed his previous books and this was the same. A well crafted novel with a bit of a mystery. This was a lot closer to current world than some of his previous books, I kept expecting the revelation to show how different the alternate reality was but never took that route, keeping it within current possibilities.
  • Let it Bleed; Black and Blue, Dead Souls. All by Ian Rankin. I decided to sart a re-read of the Rankin Rebus novels, well some of them, planning on reading through to the end. I’ve got all of the Rebus books, liking the Scottish detective despite his moroseness.
  • Bringing Nothing to the Party, Paul Carr. A biography by someone I know (or at least I keep bumping into at parties). It’s all about the London tech scene and Paul’s attempts to be part of it. A lot of it covers the time I was not in London, so it’s an interesting insight into what was going on. I also know many of the people mentioned and have heard different versions of some of the stories! I liked this tale.
  • The Devil You Know Mike Carey. A fantasy novel, about an exorcist. Good tale, a good read.
  • The Iron Hand of Mars. Lindsey Davis. One of the Didius Falco novels, about an investigator in Roman times. I like the books as they usually give you enough of a start to explore the history whilst being a good detective novel.
  • The Cup of Ghosts, Paul Docherty. Yet another historical fiction, this time telling the tale of Isabella and Edward II through the tales of household member Mathilde, a physician who has to hide the secret of being from a Templar family. The first in a series, so far, it’s good.
  • Scarpetta, Patricia Cornwall. I was getting really frustrated with this character, Scarpette the forensic Medical Examiner as she was getting really whiny and annoying. It feels like Cornwall has taken a fresh look at the stories with this book, with it being told through multiple character viewpoints and I felt a lot less like wanting to just shoot the main protagonist. The author therefore stays on the hardback list.