Category Archives: People

Mistaken Identity – Creed, Country, Colour and Culture

Mistaken IdentityThe BBC’s Reith Lectures for 2016 are underway and this year they are presented by philosopher and cultural theorist Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah under the title of “Mistaken Identity”. At a time where identity is endlessly discussed and defined – Republican or Democrat, pro-EU or Brexit, gay or straight, the four lectures will cover aspects of identity; Creed, Country, Colour and Culture and show that identity isn’t a binary choice between one adjective or another.

Kwame Anthony Appiah says: “We live in a world where the language of identity pervades both our public and our private lives. We are Muslim and Christian, so we have religious identities. We are English and Scottish, so we have national identities. We are men and women, and so we have gender identities. And we are black and white, and so we have racial identities. There is much contention about the boundaries of all of these identities. Not everyone accepts that you have to be a man or a woman; or that you can’t be both an Englishman and a Scot. You can claim to be of no religion or gender or race or nation. Perhaps, in each case, someone will believe you. And that is one reason why the way we often talk about these identities can be misleading.

Two of the programmes have already been broadcast, Creed and Country, and are available online or as podcasts for download. I found both episodes interesting: Creed for its historical perspective on religions and how in the past religion was more of a verb than noun, and Country appealed to me as an individual who can legitimately claim some level of citizenship with four different countries (where my parents are from, where I was born, where I grew up and where I have lived the longest). Prof Appiah is an entertaining speaker and there’s a good deal of fun and wit in among the insights.

Put aside the tech news for an hour and consider something more profound than the latest product refresh from Apple.

Manage the Work-Life Balance with Concepter Soul

Concepter Soul LogoIf the work-life balance is something of a struggle and you find that you aren’t spending enough time nurturing your relationships, then the Concepter Soul might be for you. Nakia gets social with Tania Viezhys, Head of Communications.

Developed by the same team that created the iBlazer LED flash, the Concepter Soul measures the amount of time that you spend in close proximity to friends in the real world and gives you a summary of who you spent quality time with. Using Bluetooth, Soul combines a wearable, a key chain and an app to track who you are with during the day and reports on your top five “friends”. It may surprise you to see who takes the biggest chunk of your time.

Concepter Soul Keychain

The Concepter Soul will be available for US$29 when it comes out in early 2016.

Nakia Mann is a video producer at F5 Live: Refreshing Technology.

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Can We Work 9 to 5?

The Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook) story that has made the headlines the last few days has highlighted a long-standing issue with tech-industry workers, regardless of their job type or gender.  It’s not just about the early bird getting the worm.  It’s also about the night-owls getting the promotions.

As a tech worker, I have often felt compelled to work long hours, from the office and at home and even on vacation, just to “keep up.”  I think tech workers are some of the most harried out there: the perceived requirement for long hours, for being available even when you aren’t supposed to be available (at home, at a conference, in a meeting, at lunch, on vacation, on the bus during your commute), the expectation that you’ll always be connected and tethered (smart phone, tablet, laptop), and that you don’t know the proper use of the word “no.”  Yes, I make my living in technology.  But does this realistically mean that I should not have a life at all outside of my job in the tech industry?

This is the same question that should be asked of both men and women.  Why is the expectation that men who work in the tech industry have no lives, either, and that women, by virtue of the fact that they are women and possibly mothers and wives as well, are expected to have lives and therefore cannot perform at the same level as men. Ergo, women cannot be as successful as men.

And how much of this expectation is our own fault?

I thank Ms. Sandberg for finally speaking out about the reality of her job and her home life.  I wish she had done so sooner.  The tech world may be overwhelmingly male, but success is not always a result of how many hours you put in.  It is a matter of the quality of your work, being able to work SMARTER, not harder, as a former boss of mine put it.  I have long known that my ability to multitask, in addition to my skills and experience, means that I do not have to put in the same amount of hours as others to do in the same job.  In other words, I’m good at what I do. I’ve learned to work smarter, not harder. I also refused long ago to be tethered, to work more than a standard work week except in very rare circumstances, and have put a lot of effort into changing people’s expectations and perceptions along the way.  I have found that many “emergencies” that come up in my line of work are not emergencies, but poor or nonexistent planning on the part of the requester.  By reforming people’s expectations, I reduce the amount of panic and “emergency” production that I will have to face in any given week.  That means, in literal terms, that I can have a life, and that my life does not have to be 80% job and 20% sleep/shower/eat.

The truth is, by allowing ourselves to be tethered to our devices/job, by allowing ourselves to be bullied and pushed around, we have set the expectation that the only way to succeed in the tech world is to give up everything that is not related to our job, and to live for the company.  I refuse to be that person.  When I am on my deathbed, I don’t want to say, “I really regret not having taken my daughter to the park, or gone on that hiking trip to the mountains, or visited Japan.”  No one on their death bed ever says, “if I had only worked harder/longer…”

So, my fellow geeks.  Can you work smarter, not harder?  Can you cut back, little by little, on the amount of off-company time you are spending on the company?  Can you build a life that doesn’t require auto-syncing of your work email with your smartphone, and can you stop checking your work email before you go to bed and the minute you get up in the morning?  Can you mold expectations, by mere degrees, every day, every week, every month, to reduce the “emergencies” that keep you tethered to the company?  Can you get yourself into a 9-5 mold, instead of the one you’ve allowed to be built for you, that keeps you constantly under the threat of work?

I challenge you to do so.


Sococo Virtual Office Space

Sococo LogoSococo is a virtual office space for distributed teams, teleworkers and road-warriors that uses real-world metaphors to make them feel like they’re in the office. Andy gets face-to-face with CEO Chris Wheeler at CES 2012 Showstoppers.

Sococo Screenshot

As you can see from the screenshot above, Sococo creates a virtual world that is analogous to a workplace, with conference rooms, team rooms, personal offices, cubicles – I imagine there’s even a water cooler. Small avatars then represent colleagues and their activities, so if some of them are having an (online) meeting, they’ll be located in a conference room. If someone doesn’t want to be disturbed, they can close their office door, complete with sound effect!

Sococo has other collaboration tools, such as screen sharing, but even the simple office space representation makes people feel much more included and part of a team.

Interview by Andy McCaskey of SDR News and RV News Net.

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Depending on your point of view either strips the final layers of privacy from a narcisstic world or else provides a handy one-stop signposting to your Web 2.0 presence. As their tag line says, “It’s all about you.”

Like many people, your online life isn’t restricted to just one social media site. You have your friends on Facebook, your work colleagues on LinkedIn, random acquaintances on Twitter and family on Flickr. When it comes to pointing someone to “you” on-line, there’s no one place to go and this is where comes in. At, you can set up a cool picture and a biography, plus links to all of the social sites that you subscribe to.

To get an idea of what it’s like, here’s the page of one of the founders, Tony Conrad. Looks pretty cool doesn’t it? There are editing tools to setup your page just as you’d like and there are stock designs if you don’t have a good photograph to use. To further appeal to the cult of me, will provide statistics and graphics on who has been looking at your page.

It’s all very seductive, isn’t it. But let’s just have a little reality check here…this brings together your whole on-line life. Everything is linked to from one place, so if someone, say a prospective employer, wants to research you then it’s all there for them. They don’t even have to do any digging. Of course, you could have two profiles, one for your public persona and one for your private life… seems to be backed by AOL amongst other investors and you might recognise a few of their advisors too.

The landrush for good names is underway, but I think the site has only been up a couple of months so I was able to snag my name without any numbers. If you are interested, I’d pop over and grab your page just in case gets big.

What Makes A Tech Success?

It seems in the world of computers and the Internet there is always a steady stream of new things on the horizon, as well as a steady stream of new products and services. It’s been this way for many years at this point.

There are always winners and losers. Winners can win big, and losers at worst fail to make any marketplace splash or even a ripple and end up in the tech dustbin of obscurity with few people ever knowing that the product or service ever existed.

What is it that makes for a successful product? Why is it that some products and services that seem very similar to other products and services end up becoming household names, while others end up being cancelled domain name landing pages?

It’s obvious there are a variety of factors that come into play. If it were easy to predict these things, we would have a lot fewer losers. Why did Twitter become a household name, whereas similar services such as Plurk and Jaiku languish in the shadows? What enabled Facebook to steal most of the MySpace thunder?

New products and services that end up being successful frequently incorporate elements and principles of previously-existing successes, but package them in more compact and useful forms.

Initially when Twitter came along a couple of years ago, I heard people talking about it, but I was a bit resistant to sign up. I felt like I had plenty of ways to communicate with people, so why did I need to add yet another account to a service that would steal away time I already had filled, only to ultimately let yet another account go dormant? I finally signed up for Twitter, and after I began using it I began to understand the value of it. With a service like Twitter, the more people that are using it, the more valuable it becomes.

About the same time I signed up for a Twitter account, I also signed up for a Plurk account. After a few visits to the Plurk website over a period of a month or two, I haven’t been back to the site since.

I believe what is valuable about Twitter is that 140 character limit per Tweet, forcing people to be succinct with their wording. Twitter and Tweet are cute names. The site design is simple, the blue bird logo pleasing to the eye, and the developers kept the API and name open to other developers, allowing an entire ecosystem of ancillary products and services to develop around it at the same time it was rapidly increasing in popularity. Twitter is very much like chat, which was already well established, but it had the added value that it either could be in real time, or not, able to be accessed from a vast array of devices beyond the Twitter website. Twitter also allows you to subscribe to just the people you want, and ignore or even completely block the rest. Twitter also allows you to reach out and touch people, and it allows you to monitor what others are up to whose lives are at once very similar to your own, yet often radically different. You can spend as much or as little time as you wish interacting with the service. Another thing that turned out to be incredibly useful with twitter is the vast 24/7 real-time data stream that it generates. Real-time Twitter data mining has proved to be quite valuable to many people.

To be honest I have always thought that many MySpace pages were often monstrous, unbelievably cluttered messes that often took a long time to load. Nonetheless, MySpace became popular because it obviously served a need with a younger demographic.

I’ve always thought Facebook’s interface is somewhat confusing, though allowing for far less cluttered and confusing-looking profile pages. I still don’t quite understand what got Facebook to the level of critical popularity – perhaps the less-cluttered, faster-loading profile pages gave it the critical edge over MySpace.

It should also be noted that Facebook allowed for an open API, allowing a myriad of interesting and often useful applications to be plugged in to its interface.

However it did it, Facebook managed to get to a critical mass of users where it became THE thing to sign up for and THE place to be to stay connected with family, friends and business associates. Something interesting has happened with Facebook that has never happened before – everyday, non-geek people who had never built website profiles in all the years they had been doing email and web browsing were suddenly signing up for Facebook in unbelievable numbers. Mothers, dads, aunts, uncles, grandmothers, etc. were suddenly showing up on the same service with their kids, nieces, nephews and grandkids. Once the ball rolled, Facebook became an incredible success.

I started noticing a while back that many people were starting to use Twitter and Facebook to communicate with each other in lieu of email. At this point I find myself getting pulled into that trend myself. These services don’t offer the relative privacy of direct email, but they allow for easy, frequent public conversations and easy sharing of personal media such as photos between friends and family on a global scale.

What I take away from the success stories versus the less-successful competitors is that oftentimes the differences in design and implementation can be slight, but those slight differences can offer real, tangible advantages to the end user. If those often-slight advantages can somehow help get the product or service to a critical mass threshold, they can find themselves catapulted to the point of planetary awareness.

Alan Turing

Today is the 98th anniversary of the birth Alan Turing, one of most brilliant minds of the 20th Century.  Born on was born on 23rd June 1912 in London, England, he is known as one of the fathers of modern computing, though his ideas for programmable computers were ahead of their time.

He is widely know for the test which bears his name – the Turing Test – which Alan Turing designed to test for machine intelligence. In the test, a person communicates in natural language via keyboard and screen with two hidden respondents, one human, one computer.  If the person cannot tell which of the respondents is the machine, the computer is said to have passed the Turing test.  So far no computer has consistently passed the test.

Turing is also famous for his work during the Second World War at Bletchley Park and the breaking of the German naval Enigma code.  In collaboration with Gordon Welchman, he designed an electromechanical machine called a “bombe” that eliminated unworkable Enigma settings, leaving only a few to be investigated by analysts.  He went on to make a several further contributions to the war effort in different areas.

Regrettably, in 1952, Turing was arrested, tried and convicted for homosexuality which at that time was a criminal offence.  As result, and despite his wartime record, his security clearance to work for the government was revoked.  Sadly, in 7 June 1954, he committed suicide, eating an apple laced with cyanide.

Happy Birthday, Alan.