EurActiv: UK plans to create enterprise culture

From EurActiv:

An expert report prepared for the previous government in the UK called for the creation of “elite, business-focused” Technology and Innovation Centres (TICs). These centres are designed to do research but also engage SMEs by providing advice on funding, commercialisation and intellectual property.

The UK’s new government is expected to continue with this policy, notwithstanding the need to control public spending. Business Secretary Vince Cable has emphasised the need to support entrepreneurship despite the need for budget cutbacks.

Cable’s department for Business, Innovation and Skills has committed itself to backing free and open markets, as well as promoting “business and innovation through entrepreneurialism and individual engagement in the economy”.

The new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition has also pledged to create “an enterprise culture where everyone with talent is inspired and able to turn ideas into successful businesses”. Cutting red tape and offering incentives to start-ups are among the promises.

Trust me, I’m a Facilitator.

I work with people.

When I founded Mac-Sys in 2003, I founded it on the principles that had led be through a successful career in Nortel – that “IT Support” was only 30% technology, but 70% personality. I found that dealing with people who use computers to do their work was often stressful for those people and my job, as much as anything, was part-technician and part-barman. Often their fear of sounding stupid or revealing that they had done something foolish would cause them to withhold information that would actually slow down the resolution of the issue. They may have glossed over something crucial not realising the significance or made some efforts to cover their tracks. Therefore it took a certain bedside manner to get the information and I seemed to be pretty good at it. Knowing what you are talking about is certainly important but being able to project that to the computer user is also important. It didn’t matter whom I was speaking to: someone new to computers or someone long in the tooth with these devices; they had to be reassured that the problem was not necessarily their fault. Accidents happen and we never develop a counter-productive blame culture.

This background made my current job a lot easier. Experience of working with some of the top designers and technology enthusiasts in the province (and beyond) with Nortel and Mac-Sys meant that I was extending my address book and not having to create it from scratch. I had sponsored the first BarCamp in Belfast (BarCampBelfast was started by Matt Keenan and Mac-Sys was the primary sponsor) and also the OCCBBQ (which was organised by Evert Bopp) before I took this job with Momentum to deliver a facilitation role for the Digital Circle. I found it relatively easy to engender trust in those around me because most of them knew me already and I wasn’t having to start those relationships. Not everyone knew me obviously and some folk have had to put up with my rough edges before we developed a friendship.

My first hiccups with trust were surrounding my day job with Digital Circle and two little things

1. This was not the first time there had been an attempt to bind together the digital content industry in Northern Ireland. I don’t know why previous attempts had not been sticky enough but I’m arrogant enough to believe that it will be a combination of people and timing that will make Digital Circle stick around. The problem was that because some people had witnessed previous attempts, there was an expectation that this one would go the same way. I still get this reaction every now and then and it is obvious to me that Digital Circle does need some driving still but I can see real evidence about how it has brought the community together.

2. My involvement as a Director of Infurious. I started Infurious with my best friend Aidan Rogers back in 2006 and though he built two great products, the choice of platform failed us due to API instability and we didn’t seem to be going where we wanted to go. Building utility software to solve hard problems is fraught with this. And having a shifting API below us didn’t help. After that, Aidan moved away and Infurious had a little bit of a reincarnation with myself, Phil and PJ after PJ came up with an amazing design for viewing comics on the iPhone. Sadly I had already taken this job with Digital Circle and I felt I had to distance myself from the company. Over the course of a number of months, I signed everything off because I couldn’t recommend Infurious for contracting work as it would be seen as ‘feathering my own nest’ and my lack of work for the company meant I was failing my duty of care as a director. I put a decent amount of money and a lot of heart into Infurious and some of the most fun times I’ve had in the last five years were sitting up late talking to my best friend about some of the cool things we could build. I think he forgives me for not making him into a millionaire. But in the end, I sacrificed a bit of a dream to ensure trust.

These situations were somewhat pivotal in where I find myself now. There are people involved in the community whom I trust implicitly (and obviously for me to say this, there must be people who by their actions have made it impossible for me to trust them.) This is a difficult thing to manage because as a Facilitator, even if I don’t like you, I’ll still have to work with you. And that’s really the core of my role: I may not know, like or understand everything, but I’ll work to see things better for you in the sector anyway.

I met some folk for coffee a few days ago and the conversation came round to how people are perceived in the province: myself included. There are lots of positives and negatives around this and no-one can reasonably be expected to like everyone or be liked by everyone. But trust in itself is a different thing. I can pretend that some of the comments (second hand tales) didn’t frustrate me or in some cases offend and obviously I have felt the need to write this immense essay as some sort of catharsis but it upsets me when I am not trusted :- especially where there is injustice in the reasons for the mistrust (an accusation that I might be using ideas for my own benefit). It’s always easier to know who doesn’t like you because when they appear, as they invariably do, you can be retaliatory, conciliatory or just ignore them. I’m learning the latter approach when faced with my own personal Ahab but it’s not easy.

I live and breathe my work (a fact that frustrates my darling wife, Arlene) and I am passionate about the outcomes. I’m proud of my achievements but even more so I am proud that I get to work with some bright, talented and skilled people every day; people who have more talent in their little finger than I have in my whole body. I count them as friends and I know that they are giving me their trust when they turn up to the events I run, when they throw their efforts into the daft ideas I have and when they take time from work and family to help me build the future. I hope they get something out of it as well. You know who you are and I appreciate it, I really do.

And to those who, for some reason, mistrust? I cant help you. You have your reasons, I’m sure, real or imagined. But unless you talk to me I can’t tell you if your reasons are real or imagined and I’m sorry I’ve lost your faith and the benefit of your doubt.

I work with people but everyone is different and everyone will take a different way to work with.

RIM: Death-rattle?

Scott Olsen delivers a smackdown to the recent ‘social media is cool’ advertising by RIM:

Does this remind you of anything? Yes, the claw of the cryptkeeper Nokia and their death rattle marketing of the last 5 years. Namely: multi-cultural Europeans enjoying their exciting European bonhomie, enabled somehow, unseen off-stage, by the Nokia N97.

The article is very long but worth reading.

Use of OpenData: Icelandic Earthquakes

The last slide in this animation notes that this visualisation was made possible using Open Data. Code4Pizza is the industry-led innovation community focused on Open Data in Northern Ireland.

This visualization shows earthquake activity leading up to eruptions in Eyjafjallajökull in South-Iceland in March and April 2010.
Each bubble represents a measured earthquake and the size of the bubble represents its magnitude. Deeper earthquakes are represented with darker colrs while shallow earthquakes are brighter. An earthquake slowly fades out as time passes. Yellow stars indicate eruptions


Earthquakes and Eruptions in Iceland 2010 from hjalli on Vimeo.

Source: FlowingData

And again I’m inspired to design a game.

Why did you go to university?

(This is taken from a Twitter conversation but I want to remember it)

If you want to learn photoshop or PHP or whatever to land yourself a job, then go to College, not University.

If, on the other hand, you want to learn to think, to be creative, to lead, to grow – then go to university.

Sadly employers push the university to be a source of skills, not ideas, creativity, drive. And students come out of university thinking their degree paper includes a guaranteed job.

You’re not likely to get a shelf stacking job or a burger flipping job because the employer (rightly) believes that as soon as something better comes along, you’ll be off.

You NEED to create. You NEED to use your degree. You NEED to aim at the career you want not the quick fix.

Some of the smartest guys I know have amazing jobs and no degree. I don’t have a degree in Art or Music or Computer Science – but I have a love of design, of software, of user interface, of games.

When I was in university I was president of my society, convention director twice. I started a games convention, Q-CON, which is still running in QUB even now (too many years to even consider). I played games, I designed games and I studied Genetics. I hoped – dared to hope that there would be a career in games for me – but there was no industry, no jobs and if you think there’s no jobs in software or design in Northern Ireland, consider how many there are in Genetics.

You need to make yourself impossible to ignore.


Contribute. You’ve got plenty of free time so pick an open source project or log onto code4pizza and pick one of the projects and lead it. Write the web app for Translink. Learn to program an iPhone. Make something of your skills and show off your drive and talent. Keep learning. Keep striving. Keep busy.

How did the BBC miss Pocket Universe?

Peter Price at BBC Click wrote a fluff piece on an (at the time unreleased) astronomy app from the University of Oxford while ignoring a much more popular app from a local developer which has garnered much critical acclaim.

The app, Pocket Universe, has been immensely successful and was possibly the first Augmented Reality (AR) apps in the App Store using the GPS, compass (and most recently) the gyroscope to help align the built-in star map with the area of the sky you are looking at. The app has huge amounts of information in a friendly interface which allows relative novices like me to play with it (during the four days of the year we don’t have thick cloud cover) as well as providing detailed information to the prosumer who may have his telescope ready to capture the imminent arrival of the Perseids (which are currently appearing in night skies from tonight).

The app also made it to iPad very successfully. It is available in Universal and also an iPad only version.

I also know the developer involves himself fully in the community both online via Twitter and spends his spare time giving astronomy demos to kids.

Pocket Universe App Store statistics

  • Reached #1 in Education in most countries in the App Store
  • Has been in the US Education 25 since launch (the top 10 in the UK, and Ireland)
  • MacWorld 2009 Education App of the Year
  • Reached the Top 30 overall apps in the US / UK

So, how did the BBC miss the most popular astronomy app in the AppStore and give the limelight to a newcomer?

iPad ‘only’ reaches the converted.

Last week, Sarah Shearman wrote for Marketing Magazine (syndicated to BrandRepublic) about how the iPad is only reaching the “converted” (emphasis mine):

In the two months since the iPad launched in the UK, YouGov has found that 96% of the 713 iPad owners surveyed owned products such as an iPod, iPhone or Mac.
Russell Feldman, YouGov’s technology and telecoms research manager, said: ‘By Christmas this is expected to be a much more crowded marketplace, with a number of consumer goods brands providing alternatives to the iPad.’

This gives you the idea that the iPad marketplace is somehow limited, that it’s only appealing to those people who have been subjugated to worshipping at the golden throne at Cupertino.

But check the facts:

On 9 April 2007, it was announced that Apple had sold its one-hundred millionth iPod.
On 21 October 2008, Phil Schiller announced total cumulative sales of iPods exceeded 220 million. – Source: Wikipedia

So, in 18 months they sold 120 million iPods. And that was two years ago – all of it during the iPhone market – which I know has cannibalised the iPod market. Apple also announced that by the end of 2010 they will have shipped 100 million iOS (iPod touch, iPhone, iPad) devices. And then there’s the legions of Mac users over the years who may be new or old to the platform.

I foresee the market as growing exponentially. There are some folk who have given up and sold their iPads but I think it is probably down to two things.

  1. the relative immaturity of the iPad software market. It is still heavily biased towards consumption and the lack of multi-tasking on the device is frustrating for people who are heavier users. iPhone 4 does not have this issue.
  2. the need to tell everyone you’re selling your iPad. This is pretty much like every NMD who tells us all why they’re switching to $platform because of $whatever. We don’t care but it’s what people want to talk about. My household could easily manage four iPads.

I don’t know about the risks of being limited to a market that size. Especially one that’s growing so fast it has everyone else spooked.