Tread Softly

HAD I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

W.B. Yeats (1865–1939)

Mac-Sys is 9 years old

[The following is an advert for the best Apple Authorised Service Provider in the Country.]

From Mac-Sys

Mac-Sys was 9 years old in June. To say thank you to you, our customers, we’re going to be giving away something every month until our tenth birthday in June 2012. For this month, we put a code somewhere on our website. The first 100 to reply on Twitter to @MacSysLtd with the link to the code will get a chance to win an iPod Shuffle with Apple Care. This is the first of our tenth year giveaways! Happy Birthday to us!

To be honest, I can’t believe that it’s nine years since I started Mac-Sys. The company has weathered the economy, weathered the strains of competition and even managed to come up trumps against all-comers in the Apple Customer Satisfaction survey, beating even the Apple Store. This is based on extremely quick turn-around of parts and repairs. Dependent on parts availaibility, every repair received is performed the very next day and if it’s urgent that you keep hold of your machine, come and talk to them..

I originally started out doing Mac Support in Nortel and as Nortel began to phase out the Mac and bring in Windows, I found myself less interested in the day job and more interested in things outside it. Which is why I set up NiMUG. I spent a few years answering questions on the online forums and sometimes even doing house calls (though never for payments). Of the dozens of folk I helped a common theme was to ask why I wasn’t doing this as a day job. When the opportunity came to take voluntary redundancy from Nortel, I took it and the end result was Mac-Sys.

Mac-Sys Ltd is the only Apple Authorised Service Provider in Northern Ireland. If you need help with any product, be it your Mac, your iPad or even your iPod, then you’d be advised to bring the product to Mac-Sys or to the Apple Store. I’d be wary of others because they’ll void your warranty and maybe even damage your product further. I could tell you nightmare stories about MacBooks delivered to Mac-Sys in bits and pieces in a cardboard because the customer took their treasured laptop to a PC dealer who claimed to be able to fix it.

Mac-Sys will also come out to your business or home and fix your Mac in-situ. This is especially useful when it’s a design studio with large screens and massive PowerMacs or Mac Pros. Having had to carry a PowerMac G5 about a mile through the centre of Belfast, it’s much better to have the option of not having to disconnect it. The best way to think of it: Mac-Sys is your in-house IT department who works 24×7 and doesn’t take sick time or holidays.

The best way to manage costs is through their Service Buy product. It’s great value when you consider that all call-outs are free and you only pay for the hours that the technician is working on your Mac. And with a 8 hour service level agreement basic (although they’re proud to say every customer in the greater Belfast area gets a 2 hour response), you’re going to spend the minimum amount of downtime.

Pop along and talk to them.

30 Mallusk Enterprise Park
Mallusk Drive
BT36 4GN

t: 028 90832600
f: 028 90832601


You want to be taken seriously? Lob a brick.

Ed Simpson refers to the recent meeting between the FM and the “community leaders” behind the recent unrest in East Belfast.

I fancy a wee chat with the First Minister. Was going to email him but it seems it’s more effective to lob a brick at my neighbours.

This highlights a problem in Northern Ireland. Get 1000 people behind you and want to get something done by speaking to a minister (any minister) and it’s all “Speak to advisors, make appointments, collect your evidence, ask questions and when nothing is done then get in touch with the public accounts committee”.

On the other hand, get those 1000 people to damage public property, intimidate half the city, attack the civil police force, injure dozens of people and you get the First Minister beating a path to your door AND protecting your identity in the process.

In a real society there would be hundreds of arrests to justify the thousands of pounds of UK taxpayers money spent policing the situation and the thousands of pounds it took to clear the roads of debris and the thousands of pounds it’s going to take to repair the roads. And we’re still two weeks away from the Twelfth (the traditional time of year when half the population imposes their bigotry on the other half with wanton destruction of property). And when nothing is done, is it any wonder that dissidents become more active? ( I’m told there won’t be many arrests because Sammy in the PSNI won’t arrest the rioting, law-breaking violent thug of a son of Mervin because they’re both mates down the Lodge? What the fucking fuck? )

To my middle of the road, Union-supporting, raised-as-Catholic eyes, this situation is Drumcree all over again.

In The Aftermath

Following a couple of nights of civil unrest, I exercise my white, middle-class, male privilege to think about what’s going wrong in Northern Ireland:

In the aftermath: how disenfranchised and disengaged with the status quo must you be if rioting is more attractive than any other activity?

Steven replied:

@cimota Lower east, seems to still be reeling from loss of shipyard/shorts, real lack of something to aspire to.

My reply:

@playfordrants Yeah, of course I think that building leisure yachts would be a good solution.

Stevens last reply:

@cimota whether its wind turbines or whatever something needs done we have ceased to be a society that actually seems to make anything?

While I may focus on the “digital media” microcosm and it gets a decent amount of attention because it is seen as an easy win for global reach and income generation, it’s sobering to remember that we remain the minority.

We used to have a thriving linen industry. During the 18th Century, a fifth of the worlds linen was shipped from Belfast. We used to make ships and planes. In 1912, Harland and Wolff was the largest shipyard in the world and Shorts was the first aircraft manufacturing company in the world.

Since the 1970s, more than 100,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost from Belfast – a situation made worse by the escalation of “The Troubles”.

And no, I wasn’t joking about building leisure yachts. We used to be good at this stuff (East Belfast Sailing Club is still renowned as somewhere to build ferrocement hulls).

So, how would we get back into the swing of things? How do we move upwards in the value chain?

My friend George runs a little manufacturing company in County Down. He’s a craftsman himself:

So far I have resisted the temptation to invest in ‘lean manufacturing’ techniques (which include extensive use of computer controlled machines) and have instead, built a team of real craftsmen who build Lowden guitars by hand using Japanese chisels, planes, knives and spokeshaves. It would have been much more economical to make our guitars with assembly workers and machines, but our choice is to build skills and understanding of wood, and in so doing the guitars feel and sound like individual ‘works of art’”.

So why can’t we do this in other areas? I’m not sure we can create 100,000 new craftsman jobs in the three years that we’d be allotted under an official work programme but we need to have that vision. It’s not about creating low end jobs or even really high value jobs – it’s about the middle ground. How do we raise the level of the lower end jobs – and to my reckoning, it’s about skills.

I had a debate with my co-worker about how to achieve some of this. He says I’m a top down thinker and he’s a bottom up thinker. Whereas I want to start programmes, he reckons I need to raise aspirations and allow them to think for themselves. My response is simple: if it were that easy, it wouldn’t be needed. We need to give people something to aspire to. Spread the story of master craftsmen like George and his team. Bring in existing master craftsmen across multiple industries and engage them in doing stuff. We have all of this empty space in Titanic Quarter and beside it on the old Sirocco works site – just beside where the unrest happened. I do not believe this to be coincidence.

And if it was me, I’d want to be involved in building boats.

Hang a TIC: Technology and Innovation Centre possibilities in Northern Ireland

Ages ago I wrote some fluff about how Northern Ireland was well-positioned for a Technology and Innovation Centre investment from the Technology Strategy Board. We have certain areas of expertise combined with a desire to excel and, in this area, we are not restricted by geography or telecommunications infrastructure.

We are, however, restricted by a sociopolitical landscape. This is from the Closing the Gap document published by the TSB.

The first confirmed technology and innovation centre is in high value manufacturing. … The partners are the Advanced Forming Research Centre (based in University of Strathclyde), the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (based in the University of Sheffield), the Centre for Process Innovation (located in Wilton and Sedgefield), the Manufacturing Technology Centre (sponsored by the universities of Birmingham, Loughborough and Nottingham, and TWI Ltd), the National Composites Centre (based in
the University of Bristol
), the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (sponsored by the universities of Manchester and Sheffield) and the Warwick Manufacturing Group (based in the University of Warwick).

With six of the seven partners in the High Value Manufacturing TIC being university-based, you can begin to see the politics of a TIC. In order to create a viable proposition, we need to work very closely together.

The second technology and innovation centre to be established will focus on cell therapies and advanced therapeutics.
The third centre will be in the area of offshore renewable energy.
The further priority areas that we are exploring as potential candidates for a centre, are:

  • complex systems
  • digital media/creative industries
  • future cities
  • future internet systems
  • photonics
  • resource efficiency
  • sensor systems
  • smart grids and distribution
  • space
  • transport systems and integration

There’s so much cross-over here that, I believe, an opportunity exists for Northern Ireland to create a TIC based around:

  • digital media / creative industries – because we have a heritage here and also a young and ambitious population. We may not be entirely competitive with the SE of England here (just due to population) but I’m seeing more exciting ideas coming out of Northern Ireland.
  • future cities – apart from the vision work being done on Future Belfast and City of Tomorrow, we have some very ambitious councils who have expressed interest here. Our own open data work has been focused on informing people (and machines) and digesting machine-generated content for consumer use.
  • future internet systems – this is about the disruptive effects that advanced technology could have on information flows through connected objects. Again, the core here is about machine-generated content. That’s the stuff we use every day when we check our weather apps or look at what trends on Twitter.
  • sensor systems – we already have some pioneering work being done at our local universities and extending / partnering these efforts would reap rewards. These technologies easily fit with future cities, future internet systems, smart grids, transport systems.
  • smart grids and distribution – we already have a collaborative network based on Smart Grid and two clusters around wind and ocean power. The smart grid concept is really about software – the ability to monitor and control the information and flow of power.
  • space – while we may not have anyone building rockets (legally), we do have a lot of businesses which are relevant to this sector. Any time anyone fires up Maps on their phone, they’re using GPS-assisted data, collected from satellites (more machine generated content). I’d like to see companies like Wrightbus and Bombardier get their teeth in here with local digital companies.
  • transport systems and integration – correct modelling of transport and the handling of the data flow can easily replace the need for expensive (and often redundant and environmentally damaging) road extensions. We don’t have traffic issues – we have timing and information issues.

The interesting thing is that we’re already doing stuff in these regions and the crossovers between them are already happening here – though it’s on a much smaller scale than a multi-million £ investment. This is why I think it needs a TIC approach. We need to centralise these efforts – invite in the various brothers and sisters in the networks, mix up our clusters and have a centralised place for them to network, post progress and plan for the future.


From Daring Fireball:

David Pogue:

Truth is, considering how stripped-down the Samsung is, you have to wonder why it’s as big, heavy and expensive as it is. You can find plenty of full-blown Windows laptops with the same price, weight and size.

Maybe the Chromebook concept would fly if it cost $180 instead of $500. Maybe it makes more sense if you rent it (students and corporations can lease Chromebooks for $20 to $30 a month). Maybe it will fly once this country gets free coast-to-coast 4G cellular Internet, which should be just after hell freezes over.

For now, though, you should praise Google for its noble experiment.

Really? Why? Would everyone have praised Apple for its “noble experiment” if the $500 iPad had been too big and heavy, felt like it was worth only $180, and was “a 3.3-pound paperweight” when offline? Fuck that. This is the big leagues. There is no credit for trying.

It’s a fair comment. Why do pundits hold Apple in a different category when it comes to reviews? Like their expectation is that Apple products have to change the world every time and then every other manufacturer is permitted, sometimes forgiven and even praised for releasing a product that performs poorly, wears software bugs proudly, flaunts its lack of a software ecosystem and looks worse both in software and hardware than the competing product. And, get this, when the Apple stuff is cheaper (like for example the instance with the Galaxy Tab and pretty much all of the first tier Android tablets out there). And if you’re not getting your tablet from a first tier manufacturer then you’re in for a world of hurt next time new malware is discovered.

Where is the universal scorn for Samsungs initial tablet offering which was more expensive in a 7″ model than the iPad with a 9.7″ screen? It didn’t happen – and that’s because Apple, beleaguered Apple, started to do something right. While their success has been like a freight-train due to holding their principles of hiding complexity away from the end user in software, in hardware and even in packaging, their competitors only seem to thrive among the markets where you gain kudos for being “not Apple”.

I’m sick and tired of the lies that competing companies spew out.

Vic Gundotra, Google VP Engineering said:

If we did not act, we faced a draconian future. Where one man, one company, one carrier was the future.

Stephen Elop, Nokia CEO

Nokia chief Stephen Elop during a speech at the Open Mobile Summit said iPhone had effectively been responsible for making Android. He argued that Apple had “created Android” or, at a minimum, had “created the conditions necessary to create Android.” Companies decided they couldn’t play along with Apple and had to do something else, leading to Android becoming the de facto standard.

Bollocks. Android was part of Google’s plan since they acquired Droid in 2005. iPhone wasn’t even released to the public until 2007. It’s like both Nokia and Google feel the need to justify their own questionable markets by trying to paint Apple as being the big bad company out to dominate everything. People are surprised when they realise that Apple is only a tiny percentage of the mobile phone market and only a tiny percentage of the smartphone market. But the problem is that both Elop and Gundotra know that Apple has something that neither of them do – customers who love them for who they are and not for who they are not.

A great example of that? Merlin Mann (@hotdogsladies) wrote:

Another salient difference:

Google: Thanks for looking at 100s of ads you hate.
Apple: Thanks for buying 100s of dollars of stuff you love.

Next time Elop or Gundotra spew out a lie to their worshipping hordes, you owe it to yourself to ask why. Is it because Nokia, a 800lb gorilla, has just jumped from the burning platform to a tiny life-raft that is too small to maintain it? Is it because there’s wisdom in repeating the “We’re open” mantra to people who Google can then sell to advertisers? Is it because Elop knows that Microsoft did well by telling everyone that the next product, only months away, would be kick-ass, if only you would wait and buy their new gizmo rather than plonking your cash down now for a competing product that works now.

Don’t give Google praise for selling you a stripped down laptop that requires a 4G data plan to even work. Don’t give Nokia praise for dooming themselves to nine months without a decent product release because their CEO couldn’t keep it in his pants.

Wanna see something scary?

I met my neighbour, Phil, in Harlem today. It’s also important to note that I met David Crozier, Darryl Collins, Mary McKenna, Sean Hunter, James Keenan, Alan Wilson (and at the side of the room though I didn’t get a chance to say Hi, I spotted Lyra McKee). So, yes, you could say it’s the startup hub in Belfast – at least until the real one comes along.

Phil is one of Belfasts ‘proddypreneurs’. He has a great ‘rant’ patch over at where he pokes fun at figures of authority and gets to call me one of the “vol-au-vent boys“. I recommend it as a read. He’s processing at 200mph and pretty much has love for everyone.

But isn’t it weird checking into Latitude and seeing someone 46 metres away?

Something a bit special

The last twenty four hours have been odd. Two people whom I respect and admire (and consider to be both friends and mentors) suggested that, at some point in the future, they’d like to work with me on something. The “something” was a little undefined which, to be honest, made it all the better.

Unashamedly, I am a domain hoarder. Only once has anyone ever contacted me to see if they could buy one of my domains and, of course, it happened to be the one domain that I’ve wanted to hang onto because I’m actually doing something in this space. But this one (below) is a bit special.

How can I mix consultancy with my other hobbies?

It’s essentially taken the place of ‘’ which I originally bought to act as my “consultancy” company identity when I left Nortel. I had intended to focus on removing the IT legacy from forward-thinking companies (something I had enjoyed doing in Nortel) but the opportunity to join someone else’s startup put that on hold. When that crashed and burned (long story), I took the technical team and started “Mac-Sys” (which just hit 9 years old and will be taking the next year to celebrate so watch this space!). is now my personal blogging domain and long it shall remain.

I’m now in the mood for something new. I got the Innovation Voucher I blogged about before and I’m still trying to find the time to get round to doing it. I’ve got a heap of uncertainty facing me in the next couple of months and I’m not really willing to rest on my laurels – nothing is harder on your laurels than resting on them.

So, any free time this weekend will be spent on my new Innovation Voucher-led project and I’ll work on everything else as I sleep.