Tag Archives: networks

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.

You kids had one job: to make everything amazing

In between me starting to learn to ‘computer science’ and stopping writing compiled code in about 1985/6, the world of information systems moved from punched-cards and teletypes to on-line editing and batch-processing to full screen editing then windows and code management and source-code level debugging. I moved from mainframes that made you choose between upper-case letters or maths, to super-minis and graphical workstations. I didn’t move to PCs because they were so obviously THE WRONG WAY to go. This took less than 10 years.

Shortly after I stopped coding, I became aware that the portability of C and Unix wasn’t just snake-oil, and of the availability of relational databases, network filing systems, the object model and parallel computing: Hoare’s Communicating Sequential Processes.

Later, lost in server-land I became a ‘user’ of hypertext and browsers for documentation, a little later of the Internet. I use ‘social’ tools and believe that they are an enabling tool for a new society based on networks rather than hierarchy. What a pity they’re so clunky.

Inspired to make things better, I decided to learn to code again. It must all be so great by now!
What do you mean, “Do I want to be a front-end or a back-end developer?”
Well, since you ask, I want to be both and sideways and up and down, virtually travelling freely through multi-dimensional networks, working with 3D graphical representations of algorithms and business objects moving in object pipelines, using standardised Free tools in the Cloud, with the display and persistence mechanisms abstracted away, out of sight as implementation details to worry about later, but with automated parallelism and fault tolerance.

What? What’s THIS? Why am I expected to work with a tagging language designed for sequential documents? Seriously, you want me to specify a font? I have to write different code for web browsers or phones?! And where is my hover-board? What the hell have you people been doing?
Did Microsoft lead you into the woods to see their unicorn foals? Were they goats in a dunce’s cap?

Are we all back now? Hold someone’s hand. We can get through this if we all stay together and look out for the traps. Don’t get too close to the googles. They seem friendly but they’ll pick your packets.

A Gravitational Map of Cities

I recently made a light-hearted comment that Birmingham exerts a gravitational pull on its surrounding area. The same would be true to an even greater extent for London and that extends nationwide and beyond. This caused me to  remember reading a few months ago an economic observation that the average income of people in a city tends to increase with size because the number of paths for individuals to network and cooperate grows exponentially. This leads economists to extrapolate to a future in which most of the human population of Earth lives in densely populated mega-cities.

In contrast to this, for several years, I’ve been observing the gradual breakdown of hierarchy in companies, creative ‘industries’ and local politics (and yes, the star architecture of a city is a tree, drawn from above/below; a hierarchy. Hello, London outer-zone low-life.) Yet, the high-flying city worker’s dream is often to retire to a country cottage, away from the madness.

So why live in cities? The Internet has made it possible for us to belong to several distributed tribes, to “network” in a geography-free way, and yet… I’ve recently felt drawn by the culture of a place. I’ve joined Birmingham.io, a network of “hipsters, hackers & hustlers”, in and around Brum’s thriving ‘digital startup scene’. This netizen is feeling confused.

When I don’t know what I think, I draw pictures. When I don’t yet have an image in my head, I talk to people or get software to draw the picture for me. This time, I didn’t even know what software to use. I asked my local(ish) community if anyone knew of software that drew gravitational maps. I wasn’t sure what the question meant at the time, either: https://talk.birmingham.io/t/a-gravitational-map-of-uk-cities/1201

I think my mental image is becoming a bit clearer now: I imagine a map of the UK showing a circle for each of the n largest cities, proportional to it’s size (population / area, since the definition of city limits are fairly arbitrary. Cities will need to be broken down further, perhaps into post-codes, electoral wards or boroughs. I think employment opportunities, incomes and living costs will become relevant at a later stage, to fully explain population movement but let’s keep the model as simple as possible, for now. Represent these circles by a number, analogous to the mass of a planet or star then ‘do physics’. Clearly these celestial bodies are unusual because they have fixed relative positions but their populations feel the pull of other cities, just as the oceans of Earth experience the forces which lead to tidal movements.

How hard can it be to turn this into a software model? Maybe I’ve found an itch I can  scratch with code <cleans cobwebs off skillz>.

Living in The Future (but not as you knew it, in 1991)

I’ve been going through some press cuttings from 1991. In a single column from UK professional publiucation ‘Computing’, 7 November:

“Connecting information systems is emerging as an alternative to corporate acquisition or merger. The beauty of this approach is it allows two companies to combine resources without the need for amalgamation.” Predicting the networked society?

Except: “The first step towards information sharing outside the company is electronic data interchange” Remember EDI?

“some organisations are finding that their customer data is a source of considerable income if shared with a third party. American Airlines learnt this almost by accident when it implemented its computer reservation system. Sales of its customer information now generate higher profit margins than sales of flight tickets.” Google improved the model by giving the product away and only renting their customers out by the hit.

“Ultimately this will lead to a global information infrastructure, where datacom lines are as important as the roads and railways to the health of the economy”


“Professor John Larmouth, director of the IT institute at Salford University, suffers from technological schitzophrenia – he sees two futures for office computing in the next decade.

‘It is arguable that everyone will have a notebook PC that fits into their briefcase. They will use it wherever they are and perhaps just have a VDU on their office desk.’ He describes a future where first-class rail carriages have telephone links, where executives are entirely independent of the IS department. ‘But,’ he says, ‘that rather goes against the X-terminals approach.’

This is Larmouth’s second scenario: no processors on the desktop but a pool of CPUs held at a central point and accessed via a terminal on the local area network. Certain CPUs would be dedicated to particular users so they don’t have to wait for processor time. That brings control back to the IS department.”

“‘That’s just an extension of what we have now,’ says Mayon-White at Cranfield Institute of Technology, ‘though people are right to point to it. If this is the tail-end of the PC and network age, then the next is parallelism” He and Andy Bytheway of Cranfield go on to describe nanotechnology, “the next steps during this decade” and biological intelligence, where “an inventor can translate his design into an electronic signal, transmit it over a telephone line straight into a bucket of this universal matter. The matter would, of it’s own accord, then take the form of this design. And that’s where the economy shifts from one based on information to one based on biology.”

Close but no cigar? They didn’t even predict the smoking ban.