Category Archives: Information Revolution

Where is ‘Midland’?

I’ve been involved in a number of heated debates recently about the creation of the https://westmidlandscombinedauthority.org.uk/ and the original attempt to call it “Greater Birmingham. As my neighbours in the Black Country define themselves primarily by the fact that they “ay a Brummie”, this proposal from the Birmingham council seemed extremely culturally insensitive to many of us.

The recent Silicon Canal Whitepaper has once more dug up the dead parrot so I’ve continued to try to come up with suggestions that might be more acceptable to everyone. I’ve been imagining the existence of a new area with Birmingham at its heart, though not necessarily at it’s centre. To the North and East, the A51 and Watling Street / A5 mark an ancient boundary between regions.  I don’t believe the people who live around Stoke on Trent, Derby, Nottingham, Leicester or Northampton feel much association with Brum but to the North and West, its influence extends out to Cannock,  Telford, Bridgenorth, Kidderminster, Redditch, completely enclosing Wolverhampton and the Black Country. It extends further South to Stratford and Leamington then back up to  Coventry, Nuneaton and the Mercian capital Tamwoth and the cathedral city of Lichfield. The boundaries are fuzzy but I think they look a bit like the map below.

I think this “Midland”, within The Midlands and towards the East of the West Midlands is a phenomenon that works by the magnetic attraction of people towards the culture of cities. Unlike the East Midlands’ proud independence, the whole of the West Midlands seems to have adopted  Birmingham as its commercial capital. That doesn’t mean they own us or we’ll do as we’re told. We’re Midlanders – fiercely free thinking and creators of new ideas. I give you ‘Birmingham & Midland’, crudely spray-painted onto https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Midlands. Those of us on the edges want a better deal from Birmingham than we get from London, if you want our co-operatation. We respect you too, East Midlands and we know you started the Industrial Revolution really. It’s all about networking amongst equals.

1280px-Midlands_councils

As a double-check, I also plotted the towns I mentioned above, along with a few extras, onto a Google Map of the Birmingham & Midlands border towns. I felt I had to stretch the borders a little to include ‘Ironbridge and Telford’, for making Brum’s iron and steel, Leamington for making a start on digging the silicon canal with a games controller and Stratford-upon-Avon, for the world’s most famous person who probably had a Brummie accent. The knot garden at the head of this blog is also in the grounds of the Arden Hotel, opposite the Globe Theatre. I think I now see an approximate ellipse with 2 bulges.

Screenshot from 2016-06-13 14-57-43crop

 

Advertisements

Talking Trees

I ‘done a speak’ at Ignite Brum recently.

I have a rational fear of public speaking to large audiences. I decided to face it. At ‘Staffs Web Meetup’ I gave a fairly techie 10(/20) minute talk about Ted Nelson’s concept of intertwingularity. When I saw a plea on birmingham.io for speakers at Ignite Brum to replace others who had dropped out, I imagined my usual cluster of geeks in the upstairs room of a pub, not the lights/action/movie comedy glamour of the stage at The Glee Club. I’m all for a bit of clubbing but I was well outside my comfort zone.

‘All I had to do’ was reduce my talk by 75%, simplify by about the same, for a general audience and produce exactly 20 slides that would auto-advance every 15 seconds. It was described by someone on the night as “Powerpoint as an extreme sport”. That was a true story. I recommend the challenge as an exercise for the reader. It is hard work in preparation and frantic in execution but it doesn’t give you much time to panic about the faces looking up at you; anyway, you’re blinded by the spotlights.

Watch as I drop behind the pace set by the projector. My best joke and some local politics was lost in the bunching on the corners but I present ‘Everything is Deeply Intertwingled (Smash the Hierarchy!)’

Thanks to @iamsteadman for allowing me to try this and making the video available (I’d never have agreed if I’d known that,) the other speakers and the people who made us all feel welcome: @probablydrunk, @carolinebeavon, @grunt121 and the audience.

We broke social

I discovered something alarming yesterday: social media is losing to messaging.

There must be a drift back, from open collaboration to closed channels, from thinking in the open to “Can I have a word in my office, please?”. It isn’t healthy for anyone to be in control of The Message, or for conclusions to have been agreed before meetings begin.

Everything I have done in the last couple of years has led me towards networks, away from the control mechanisms of hierarchy. Please let us not give up now, just because being more open is harder work for dishonest people. If good team players are better, imagine what the awesome creative power of players in multiple teams with overlapping goals could achieve.

Lean or Agile? Pick any two.

I still see many people writing about adopting Lean and/or Agile software development. I can remember how difficult it was for my team to work out what ‘Agile’ was and I think it has got harder since, as growing popularity has drawn charlatans into the area. I see two main types of useful articles.

  1. What (theory) : “It’s a philosophy” articles which usually point first towards the different values of agile and lean practitioners. But you can’t “do” a philosophy, so we get:
  2. What (practice) : Methodology – the study of methods that embody the philosophies. Many will say that Lean & Agile are not processes but I disagree; I think they are ‘software development process’ change processes.

I’d like to try something different: WHY?

The old ways of planning engineering projects, used for building a tower block, didn’t work for software. We don’t know enough, with sufficient certainty at the beginning of development to design top-down and are rarely sufficiently constrained by physics to be forced to build bottom-up.

Unusually for computing, the words ‘lean’ and ‘agile’ have useful meanings.

Lean is about ‘travelling light’, by avoiding waste in your software development process. It uses observation and incremental changes of your current process, while you incrementally deliver business value via working software.

Agile is about doing only valuable work, being nimble and able to change direction, in response to changed requirements or better understanding. It recognises that there are very few completely stable business processes, so software developers need to identify changes that will have impact on the software under development and apply effort in a new direction.

I recommend that you consider both approaches, as they are complementary. Neither removes the need for appropriate engineering practices. We’re only throwing out hard-engineering stuff we packed but didn’t prove useful on a software journey. We throw out what we don’t need, to prevent the weight of unecessary baggage holding us back.

Managing a Post-Hierarchical World

[ This post is a version of my reply on LinkedIn to a post by Euan Semple,
‘A Plague of Managers’ (upon your WikiHouses?).

See: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/plague-managers-euan-semple ]

There’s an interview with Jimmy Wales of WikiP in CMI’s ‘Professional Manager’, Winter 2016. He says a manager has five functions: planning, organisation, co-ordinating, commanding and controlling. Wales would like to change the last two functions to: inspiring and coaching.

The ‘Agile movement’ is pushing the remaining three functions towards fluid planning and self-organised, networked teams rather than hierarchical power-structures. That suggests to me that the only function left is picking sufficiently inspirational strategies to keep the attention of your teams and to meet their coaching needs. It seems an environment in which teams should be appointing their managers.

If I was a manager, with no remaining knowledge of ‘how things are done now’ myself, I’d be fighting against all this modern nonsense and trying to maintain the status quo; lashing myself in position at the top of a tree made of single-points of failure for information flow, so that I could cut off any branches as threats emerged.

Ah… I see!

Do you need a WiWi?

There have been HiFi, WiFi and Wiki. I demand WIWI (yes, wee wee.)

Ignoring the truth, that Wiki means “quick” in Hawaiian, and believing the later redefinition that it stands for the self-documenting “What I Know Is”, why can’t we have “What I Want Is”s?

There seems to be a huge disconnect between people who think of good product ideas and people who can build them. Imagine a system where noone had to take the credit for an idea and better things got built by software and hardware hackers, simply giving credit to the person who thought of it.

Money would be nice, obviously, but that demonstrates how silly any idea of “Intellectual Property” that doesn’t include ‘ideas’ is, in an information economy.

This idea has been: ‘a WiWi’ by Woo.

I’d like this to be a Free software reference implementation with a distributed system and open interfaces but if I’m stupid enough to give away ideas for the common good…

Sub-atomic Idea Collider – too much WIP

Long-time readers of this blog may remember when I build the SIC out of recycled Internet meme-pipes and any random noise I had lying around. The basic engineering principle was that creativity happens when ideas collide, so by maximising the number of streams, then crossing them, I could get the Internet to super-charge my creative process. In no time at all I had started three different books.

Lean practice puts a maximum limit on Work-In-Progress. The less you do, the faster you will achieve, the quicker you will deliver value.

The Bad News:

  • You can either be creative or efficient.
  • You can be really competitive or really care about quality.
  • You can be decisive or know about the details.

Compromise is balance. It’s a Yin and Yang thang.

I shall probably continue to oscillate between the two, attempting to optimise cadence. I may come back to cadence when I feel I really understand what it is.