Are pensioners the new revolutionaries?

I realise I’ve probably come to this a little late, but after reading the story of the chap in Bristol who chained himself to a lamppost in order to stop the council from taking it away who said “Retired people like me are going to lead the revolution”, it now seems obvious that this really is going to be the case in the future.

A sign saying 'Caution seniors'
Watch out old people!!
© Calamity Meg // CC

After all, people are living longer and birth rates are down, so we know that the population of pensioners is going to keep increasing while there are ever fewer employed people to sustain them. I think it’s fair to say that the UK sees political apathy on a massive scale, particularly amongst people under thirty, and with the two major parties so seemingly similar it only serves to drive up indifference. This means that we’ll have more than ever of what is normally considered the most politically motivated demographic (note: I can not find any statistics to back any of this up, the Electorial Commission seems to be lacking this kind of analysis) – and in particular those who have already retired will have the most time on their hands to wage whatever campaigns they see fit with no serious fear of reprisals (and it’s not as if they’ll have to take time off work).

Of course, there are some potential downsides:

  • retirement age is going to go up
  • cost of living will go up (a leverage point since the UK Government controls the state pension)
  • old people can’t get about as much or as easily – hopefully terminator-style bionics will fix this

Anyway, sounds good to me, viva la revolution! Now, where did I put my glasses?

An Adventure in Technology

Today saw (and in fact still sees, because I left early) An Adventure in Technology in central Bristol – an event for gathering interesting software, hardware and people together and sharing what they know.

Given that it was all organised by Ben Mankin in just four weeks the event came together really well, but had definite signs of haste, and Ben put out a plea for people to help with organisation, publicity, scheduling and, well, everything for next time! (that ‘next time’ will probably be in late Feb/early March 09 rather than a lovely summer’s Glastonbury weekend!)

An Adventure in Technology

Even though I only popped in for a couple of hours, I really enjoyed myself, seeing some great hardware, software and meeting some very interesting people – from hardware researchers to large-node cluster agencies to Red Hat employees and researchers from Edinburgh demo-ing the next-gen in motion capture (some short mobile-phone videos here and here).

I do, of course, have some suggestions for next time, in no particular order:

  • it really needs a schedule for the speakers, the events etc. – this will help people decide on whether to come and when, and hopefully shut people up whilst a presentation is on
  • either the presenter needs to be closer to the stage or needs a bigger/better laser pointer
  • just rename it to “Tech Adventure” – it’s easier to remember, tag, describe etc. and hey! it is the URL after all!
  • some better introduction for people arriving other than starting to aimlessly wander around; don’t know if this means someone on the door or a post-it note floor plan or what

Most crucially: give more than four weeks’ time for arranging the whole thing! In the end it all came together in terms of presenters and suchlike but it’s just not enough time for people to arrange to come. We need more notice in order to make preparations and book that day out.

The one thing that was very definitely lacking was the number of people attending – it’s not as if there’s not an audience for this kind of event, indeed people came from all around the country, but a longer run-up with more chance for advertising and providing at least a rough schedule would really encourage people to turn up (it also gives people a chance to decide what they want to bring and what they’re going to do with it!).

After all that though, I want to repeat that it was a very good, fun event that I was totally not expecting to happen but I’m extremely pleased that it did! Well done to all involved!

Bristol Wireless also have some good coverage, and I’ve uploaded my photos to Flickr

All BBC programmes have a QR code

Want an easy way to pass around a long and hard-to-remember URL for a BBC programme?bbc-qrcode

As of six months ago, and apparently unadvertised, the BBC started providing QR codes for every page in their /programmes section – just add /qrcode to any existing /programmes link.

The page for recent episodes of Doctor Who is and so the QR code is available on – the same holds true for individual episodes.

Members of the Future Media and Technology group have blogged about it here and here.

Symbian to go open source

Nokia have said that once they own the controlling stake (or all) of Symbian, they’ll make it open source within two years under the Eclipse license (see the white paper for more details, PDF).

To my naive and shallow mind, this just leaves games consoles as the major consumer device which doesn’t have an open source operating system on at least one of the major competitors in the market.

N95 on v20 firmware

I think this is an excellent move by Nokia and I look forward to the reaction from the other companies in the mobile device market. It has always seemed insane to me that almost all of the handsets run different operating systems, built from the ground up by the same company that produces the device itself (there are some exceptions around Windows Mobile and UIQ). This seems to be compounded by the fact that almost all the phones on sale compete not on the features of the operating system but on the physical features of the device such as a better camera, GPS, USB connection, build quality, keypad layout and so on. As far as I can tell, the operating systems on all the phones are at a rough parity, and the only thing keeping people locked in to a single vendor is the migration tool that each vendor supplies for moving your data from your old device to your new device. Vendors may like to call this “loyalty”, but I’d really like to see what could happen to the market if customers were no longer locked in by an arbitrary upgrade process and the OS features were equal amongst all phones but they suddenly had to compete by innovation in both hardware and user interface to those features.

I can’t wait for mobile user interfaces to improve, at the moment the devices are massively powerful but we’re constantly hampered by how difficult they are to use (yes, I’m including the iPhone); I don’t think there’s another type of regular HCI that is quite so difficult as that of using a mobile phone.

There’s also now a pretty big question about what they’re going to do with the GNOME-based Maemo platform and UIQ. Maemo will presumably get retired off in favour of the Symbian Touch OS, and with 200 employees of UIQ being laid off, I think we can safely say that that will die too.

I can hardly wait to see a better user interface on mobile phones, and I really hope that this is the kick up the bum the industry needs to see that we get it!

Being a good developer

In my last appraisal at work I got asked what I thought makes a good developer. I didn’t give a very good answer, mumbling something about keeping up with current developments, reading around the subject, always trying to improve themselves, comparing yourself to other people and so on.

It turns out that in the last few weeks some people have attempted to answer this question for me.

To start with, Alistair posted Developer Essentials listing the set of skills every developer should have in order to carry out their job. That is to say, all developers. No exceptions and no excuses. I agree with the list, despite failing on a couple which are either on the list of “things I’ve forgotten” or “things I hate” (although this is no excuse, and is in fact, a reason to know them).

More recently, Jeff Atwood has highlighted The Ultimate Code Kata which highlights some of Steve Yegge’s old advice about Practicing Programming and pointing to the Code Kata (which at some point in recent history I began but never completed).

The soundbite summary of Steve’s articles comes early on:

Contrary to what you might believe, merely doing your job every day doesn’t qualify as real practice. Going to meetings isn’t practicing your people skills, and replying to mail isn’t practicing your typing. You have to set aside some time once in a while and do focused practice in order to get better at something.

This seems spot on to me. If you’re not growing as a developer, you’re not a good developer. If you’re continually content to let your skills languish until someone comes and shows you how to be better, you’re not a good developer.

Preparing for Mashed08

Well, “preparing” might be overstating it, but this weekend I’ll be Mashed 08 so it’s nice to read posts like this from Ewan Spence giving us mere mortals some hints on how to survive. It’s also interesting to see Ewan’s notes on his project for Mashed, which he started two days ago – this certainly gives some context for how pre-planned some people’s “24 hour” hacks are, and makes me think I should do some prep for what I’d like to do (although hopefully someone I bump into will have a better idea which I can join in on!).

My wiki is a ghetto

Because it’s on the web so I never go there to actually look for stuff, and it’s not built into my normal search

Where’s the “search my shit” button that searches delicious and twitter and flickr and my wiki and my IM conversations for that one link I added or sent three months ago?

Practically, the reason Tomboy is so useful is because it’s so local. Local to my PC and local to my brain because it comes up with a simple key-combo and lets me either start typing, searching or opening notes. It’s the shizzle. Which is why it going cross-platform for 0.12 is awesome.

What do I do in the meantime? I really like the look and feel of Tudumo but I don’t really need a GTD app, my GTD is sorted by index cards, I just need somewhere to dump notes every now and again before my brain explodes.

It seems vaguely ironic, although possibly in an Alanis Morissette way, that as people become happier to use and more reliant on using the cloud (including me), my demands on my local applications have gone way, way up.

That is to say, the value of the cloud to me is the network (that is to say, the people), plus it has some vaguely nice tools, but where all that data is most useful to me is on my local PC.