Belfast Met announces iPhone Dev course

Belfast Metropolitan College have released details of their iPhone course. Starts on the 28th January, and us every Thursday evening for 15 weeks. It costs a mere £68 and is being run by an experienced developer.

See page 22 of the Belfast Met prospectus.

(and yes, if it hadn’t been on a Thursday, I’d have been in there)

The End of Movember

Over the past 30 days, I’ve grown a Mo. A Selleck-like monstrosity which threatens to take over my face. If there’s something I’ve learned, it’s that I’m much too grey to have a ginger moustache. Though it was sometimes comforting, it was also itchy and required proper maintenance and care otherwise it looked even worse.

Anyway – here is the Month of the Mo.

The Last Mile

Last week there was a public debate on “Monetising Kelvin” held out at the Northern Ireland Science Park. The event was sponsored by MATRIX and Hibernia Atlantic.

Project Kelvin is a joint €30 million initiative between DETI and DCENR and is partly funded through the EC INTERREG IVA programme. The new cable will link Armagh, Ballymena, Belfast, Coleraine, Londonderry, Omagh, Portadown and Strabane to Europe and North America. In addition, the cable will also provide links to Letterkenny, Castleblayney, Dundalk, Drogheda and Monaghan. This build marks another key milestone in Hibernia Atlantic’s history, as the communications company is the first to deploy a cable from North America to this region. This build is also notable for Northern Ireland and global companies alike, as it offers a new wealth of capacity and the ability to directly and securely connect to Canada, US, UK and mainland Europe.

This proposal adds high speed connectivity to the existing Northern Ireland Saturn Ring (NISR):

Locations on the Saturn Ring are already possessing high speed connections but if you’re not in a building sitting on a Point of Presence (POP) then you’re kinda buggered anyway. The cost for laying a 2 Mbit leased line from a very close POP is currently around £6K and a 10 Mbit line can be had for around £8.5K. The further you are away from a POP, the higher the cost.

The problem that Kelvin isn’t resolving is the Last Mile.

This refers to the fact that you can drag a high speed cable three thousand miles across the Atlantic ocean but when it gets here, you’re stuck on a slow upload link. But, I hear you protest, we have 50 Mbit internet links in Belfast? Download yes – which is fine if you want to have a nation of consumers but rubbish if, for example, you want to upload digital content (home-grown movies for example) to content delivery servers in the USA. In essence, if Kelvin doesn’t usher in a new heap of wireless connectivity, it’s not actually as much use. Unless, of course, you own one of the POPs and have a heap of office space to rent out.

So, what’s the solution for getting the data out there?

A few years ago, a group of cheeky folk mobbed around Belfast with iBooks and Windows CE handheld and large Omni and Backfire antennae and played with the idea of setting up an intra-Belfast wireless network. that group folded – people went off and did their own thing – but the concept itself is still valuable. Why don’t we have a wireless delivery system for bandwidth from a local POP? How much does it really cost to buy an access port on the POP and then feed that out to folk who need it?

I guess this is another vote for “who is looking after the little guy?”

Government Response to MATRIX

If you want a AAC file recorded from this event, grab it here (14MB, 30 minutes).


The guts of this is about developing support for Industry-led Innovation Communities. Something like @digitalcircle is trying to do.

1. Establishment of a Government Innovation Gateway.
In essence a portal to help local Industry Led Innovation Communities (IICs). It has the potential to reduce Red Tape. This is key to some of the IREP recommendations on simplifying the offerings. It’s going to be another website.

2. Developing Support Mechanisms to IICs.
Mentions fast-tracking support for R&D&I and a programme of dispersal of risk. Without any detail at the moment and probably sensitive at the moment post-IREP.
Competence Centres
Collaborative Networks Programme
Nothing mentioned about Digital Media and Software.

3. Enhanced Role for Further Education Sector in IICs
Involvement of FE in IICs to be encouraged. I’d go a step further and say it should be mandated – not as a pressure on the IIC, but as a deliberate instruction for the college. Colleges should be mandated to get involved. At the moment Innovation Vouchers are the answer here but there’s not enough College involvement for my liking.

4. New approach to public procurement to encourage innovation in Northern Ireland Industry
More focus on Pre-Commercial Procurement and development of market opportunities in the local market. This may go somewhat towards fixing the issue of our taxpayer money being spent on large company services outside NI when perfectly good small companies inside NI exist – just hampered by the red tape.

End of the day, this sets out a 2-3 year plan. This is not going to be quick or easy. Tragedy is that this stuff needed “several months of cross-Departmental collaboration” and represents “a true focus by all Departments”. An “Inter-Departmental Group of senior officials was established” to produce this response..

MATRIX was formed in February 2007. So, we’re nearly 3 years into it already. It’s designed to be focussing on improving the state of the economy in tech and science for the region. It’s meant to be giving Northern Ireland the “edge” in industry – turning the region into a successful high-tech economy. The Minister re-iterated that our competition is not between Belfast and Derry, or Belfast and Armagh or Armagh and Derry – but against other economic regions. It’s designed to help reward collaboration between industry and education. Implementation is already underway – but who are the implementors?

The Innovation Community spotlighted was the Global Wind Alliance. It’s not clear if they’re meant to be a n example to follow – because they were in place before this new strategy

I’d suggest that more needs to be done to encourage blue-sky work. We see very little of it in local businesses and yet the Universities are criticised for doing too much blue-sky (non-industry-focussed) research. We need to be doing more to bring these guys together. The blue-sky vision of academics tempered into keen opportunity by enthused entrepreneurs. Do we need 3 years to put that in place?

XCake Belfast November

XCake, the local developer group for folk who use XCode had an interesting meeting last night. It was held in the very impressive University of Ulster Belfast campus and was catered for with cake and traybakes by Digital Circle.


The first presentation lasted about an hour and detailed the developments in the OneAPI, a GSMA Reference model for interoperability of network services for telecommunications operators. That’s the long way of saying it’s an easy way for developers to get access to call control, SMS and location services from cell networks. We had three clever folk (Seamus, Richard and Michael) from Aepona who very ably demonstrated the services and answered developer questions. More usefully, however, they were asking the developers about their opinions regarding the use of SOAP and JSON. This is all above me – but it was entertaining to hear the opinions (which were essentially: making XML for SOAP isn’t an issue for most developers but JSON is lighter and simpler).

After that we had a short discussion about our future meeting with Translink, the developments we’ve had with accessing their data and the renewed enthusiasm considering that the Ordnance Survey in Great Britain is opening up it’s 1:10000 map dataset to the public. I hope you’ll join me in encouraging the Ordnance Survey in Northern Ireland to do the same. For what it’s worth, we also have our baleful eye cast in the direction of the Postcodes held by the Royal Mail. At the end of the day if there was government money (our taxes) used to pay for datasets, then I’m determined not to pay for them again.

And we finished with a discussion of future events:

  • An Intro to InterfaceBuilder
  • NimbleKit, PhoneGap and Titanium: do they do what they say or is it all bollocks?
  • Developing for iPhone without InterfaceBuilder
  • Unit Testing for iPhone

We’re kinda unaware of other developer-related events in Belfast but we did mention that Monday night is Demo Night at MobileMondayBelfast.

Movember Day 17

Another quick #Movember update. If you’re feeling flush, then pop along to my sponsorship site and throw some cash in there. It’s for prostate cancer; one of the ‘it won’t happen to me’ afflictions.

We’re now on Day 17 of the month and the moustache is starting to get uncomfortable. Owning a Mo means a lot more work. You become concerned with the appearance of it and find it necessary to carefully trim to keep it even – never mind the absolutely necessary trimming to keep the hairs out of your mouth. I have become concerned whether the Mo needs some sort of conditioner to soften the spiky bristles which make up male facial hair and I do fret a little that it’s not harbouring morsels from my last meal. It’s really a lot of stress.

But without further ado, I present to you, Mo17.

Photo on 2009-11-17 at 15.05

An index of mooring?

I know it’s a little premature as I didn’t manage to clock a single hour on a boat this summer and I’m still not able to actually sail (though I’ve done the book-learning!).

I have, however, started to hack together a wee map of moorings which I plan to update and would appreciate any input others have. Green icons indicate free moorings, Red icons indicate pay-for moorings. A dot in the middle indicates whether the location has other facilities that might be useful to the intrepid sailor.

View Mooring Spots in a larger map

Drop me a mail if you want your mooring added to the list!

Workplace 2010

Workplace 2010 is an initiative within the Civil Service. I recently met with Mark Bennett, who works for the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP) and is specifically charged with OpenDataNI along with a team of talented anarchists within the walls of the Civil Service. Mark took the time to show me around Clare House which is the home of the DFP (as well as other departments including the Strategic Investment Board).

I took a short video:

This shows some of the facilities, including the circular meeting rooms, a glimpse of some of the ‘standing room’ for visitors as well as the copious amounts of hot-desking space and collaboration areas. This, a booth not dissimilar to that found in a restaurant, was my favourite:


A booth with ethernet, power and a monitor. Plenty of room to spread out or work with someone. Perfick!

Did I mention the entire place was flooded with WiFi? (BTOpenZone so not perfect but still, progress, and from somewhere you would not expect).

A Darwinian World?

Someone commented on Twitter that if you believe in Evolution then you should be in support of a Free Market. (I am going to ignore the difference between Evolution and Natural Selection for this discussion because the commenter at the time didn’t seem to grasp it).

The premise here is that because I believe, as a humanist and a scientist, in the theory of natural selection, that I must therefore apply the process of Survival of the Fittest to every walk of life.

This is an obvious non-sequitur.

I believe natural selection exists because I have seen evidence (such as the Peppered Moth) to support it. However, I would not wish to live in a truly Darwinian world where the only method of survival was to be the strongest, the toughest, the most capable.

As a race, humans have permitted their intelligence to create civilisation. We have worked together to create a society where pursuits such as art, poetry, writing and the playing of games, have become valuable. These pursuits act directly in the face of traditional natural selection (though they themselves may be selected for in a population depending on the social trends of the time).

So how does this relate to a Free Market?

Well, it doesn’t. The position that a belief in Natural Selection should mean the application of this theory to every walk of life is typical of someone who neither understands society nor evolution nor natural selection. Humans do not wish to live in a Darwinian society – we have laws to prevent this. We cannot kill with impunity to gain prestige or power, we choose to restrict the ability of those who have an undue advantage. We believe in fair play, in following rules, in applying compassion and mercy. These are not the agents of Natural Selection – quite the opposite.

For the individual, evolution and natural selection is meaningless. When we try to apply it to human constructs such as the economy of a nation then we end up creating meaningless applications which serve to undermine what, in my opinion, is the core of civilisation: overcoming our nature.