Sunday, 16 July 2017

No News Is Good News?

I'm watching too much news these days and its depressing.

Mainstream news that is ... I'm not talking about sports, music, science and even technology news and things like that but news programs like News at Ten or Newsnight.

In the last few days I've been not bothered to watch or listen to mainstream news and even avoided it and I feel a lot better for it.

The problem with mainstream news is that its dominated by politics and those interested in power - its no wonder that its these very people who are so obsessed with news itself and the more extreme they are the more obsessed they are with the news and controlling it. Mainstream news is dominated by actions of the borderline or full on sociopaths in positions of authority ... the scheming manipulations of power and greed. Listening to so much if this on the mainstream news just leaves a bad impression of humanity and our future.

The other problem with mainstream news is that it seeks out the negative and so often exaggerates it ... I guess news editors know what we like as good news doesn't "sell" nearly as well as bad news. Watching the mainstream news leaves me feeling pessimistic about the future ... a future of just one bad thing after another.

When I was young I paid no attention to politics and mainstream news - I was full of hope and optimistic about the future .... to my older self my younger self was naive ... but he was very happy.

I'm thinking of getting back to the mindset of my younger self by avoiding politics and the mainstream news ... it might make me happier but is this responsible ... shouldn't we pay attention to the conniving of the rich and powerful ... wealth and power usually go together. The news has changed since I was young ... in free countries the news is no longer the platform and cheerleader of the rich and powerful ... its highly critical - they don't like this but we do.

I think the way mainstream news has become more critical over the years exposes the rich and powerful for what they are ... news isn't naive anymore and it's this that is behind what I see as depressing and negative.

"I haven't changed but I know I'm not the same" 

You open Pandora's box and take the red pill and there's no no going back.

We need mainstream news the way it is ... it holds those in power to account and there are those equipped to do something about it but for most of us mainstream news increases our awareness but as an act of voyeurism ... we can only watch but can we do anything? 

Mainstream news ... I'll take a more balanced diet spending more time doing other things and I'll see how this goes.

"You can't help getting older, but you don't have to get old." ~ George Burns

Monday, 29 May 2017

Memories Of My Mum

Mum's wedding photo with dad March 1952

A little while ago mum died. She had vascular dementia and had been exponentially declining over the last few years and especially the last months, weeks and days. We had been prepared for a long time but its different afterwards. I can never ask her about anything anymore - tell me about you and dad after the war? What did you dance to at your wedding? What was that place we went to on holiday in 1976? She can't answer these things anymore - she is gone forever. It sounds odd but memories help you remember and memories that are shared or made together in a sense help someone live on.

Even though my mum was very unwell and could remember little towards the end she could still make and share memories but now she's gone it's different ... she can't make or share memories anymore - I can only play back the memories she made and shared ... I can only remember, 

Here is how I remember my mum in the words of my dad "like a whippet" .. she couldn't settle and would always be doing something - cleaning, washing, gardening, walking and walking the dog. In her last weeks the nurses in the ward she was in recognised her as the "the lady who was always out with her dog and would stop and talk to everyone". She used to say that at school she liked sports and often told me the story of how she rode all the way from Dartford to Southend and back with a group of friends on her racing bike just managing to get back to Tilbury in time to get the last ferry across the Thames. I remember that racing bike laying next to dad's charismatic town bike in the shed ... mum's story gave that racer a sort of talismanic presence to me. It's only much later in life when she would have to sit down and even then she would be quite active listening the radio - up to date with the news and with a point of view.

"A worrier" ... another way I remember my mum in the words of my dad. Restless and not being able to settle mum would always be changing her mind - taking things back to the shops, having to redecorate ... dad having to move the furniture around, changing the wallpaper and carpet. Restless, worrying and not being able to settle but once she found what she liked she would settle and stick with it - she knew what she did and didn't like and liked what she knew. She didn't like me experimenting with new routes when driving her somewhere and wasn't one for trying exotic new food much - she would be quote happy with fish and chips anytime, anyplace. As a kid I always remember she liked a drop of Mackeson and in later life a drop (or more) of Baileys. In her earlier years she liked her holidays at Warners holiday camps, in later years the same resort in Malta year after year and she always loved the little seaside town of Minster. Mum would be thinking about a holiday months in advance ... buying little bits and packing them away throughout the year - mum would pack the suitcases for holidays weeks (if not months) in advance. And so with her final trip ... something she had "packed" for more than 15 years ago - she would often tell me about how dad and herself had paid for and booked their funeral and how I should do the same.

Mum had an impulsive, naughty, even rebellious side - you could see a gleam in her eye when she would say "I'm not supposed to but". She would often tell stories of how as a teenager she rode on the back of brother Roy's motorbike - going really fast and reckless through country lanes and saying how much she liked it.

My mum and dad were from a simpler time - there wasn't much money and life was what you made of it rather than what you bought with it. There were a lot of simple pleasures like sitting in the little"greenhouse" dad made at the bottom of the garden - mum and dad spent so many happy hours down there. When they eventually had a car they used to love driving down to the little seaside town of Minister at the weekend with sandwiches and a flask of tea and looking out over the sea together. I have fond memories of mum and dad and the the little seaside town of Minister, its where we took our first proper family holidays - it isn't far away but back in the early 1960s it was the furthest we had ever been - I had no idea where it was ... it was like another land ... a "holiday land", a holiday camp where everything was new, fresh and different. We stayed in little "chalets", we ate in a communal dinner hall where there were waiters, there was a dance hall and dedicated all day everyday stuff for kids - I felt like Charlie in the chocolate factory. We would go walking outside the camp .. pop into the tiny shop just outside, the cafe at the end of the road just before the beach and along the seafront to Sheerness and the penny arcades.

Dad was always a good swimmer - he would go straight in while mum paddled about with us ... feeling the cold - "its best to get your shoulders under" dad would always say to us. Mum had a big fear of letting go in the water - I never thought she would ever be able to swim but later in life - with dad's help she learned to swim and she loved it - she was so proud when she told me that she could swim a length of the pool. Every friday night mum and dad would walk down to Dartford swimming pool and on their way back have a treat of fish and chips from the chippy on east hill - a simple pleasure and they loved it.

Music evokes memories and reaches the parts that others can't - I saw this with mum towards the end when one of the nurses used a music program in her ward. Mum and dad used to like country music and you really could see mum's lights come on when they played music that was from the soundtrack of her life Elvis Presley, Jonny Cash, Glenn Campbell, Bread, Percy Sledge, Roberta Flack.

Mum and dad liked to dance - every Friday or saturday night they would go over to the tiny "Brent School Old boys social club" where they would dance. Sitting around the tiny round ables full of drinks and eyes stinging from the tobacco smoke I can remember my dad getting up putting out his hand and saying to mum "fancy a foxtrot". It seemed to me as a kid that they used to dance to everything - I'm sure I can remember my dad saying "fancy a jive", "fancy a quickstep" ... I think I can even remember "fancy the cha cha cha" :)

How do you remember someone and their life - it has to be a collage not a single image ... a set of video clips not a single frame. I have the stories of mum from before I was born .. being evacuated to the west country during the war, marrying the boy next door, riding on her brothers motorbike and cycling to Southend and back. I have the memories of mum that are part of my whole life until a little while ago.  

If I had to save just one memory of mum and dad that would be in the dance hall in at the Warner holiday camp in Minster upon sea - it must have been about 1963 when I was 5 and mum would have been about 30. The band started playing "Moon River" ... mum and dad got up and went on the dance floor and for some reason I followed and waltzed around with them. I remember this so fondly and I love this song and its the song my wife and I danced to at our wedding.

Moon River 

Mum and Dad together dancing later in life

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Running Lessons: Now Is The Time

If you are thinking about running or if you feel like running then now is the time ... don't put it off to another day ... "just do it".

"Strike while the iron is hot"

Sometimes it can be your body that feels like it ... if so "just do it" ... let your mind follow ... this is always the best way as at least your body seems OK and you can't do the run without your body:) Sometimes it can be your mind that feels like it .... if so "just do it" ... mind over matter ... let your body follow - it will catch up but be sure to listen to your body and take care. If both your mind and body feel like it then you are lucky - this is the best way to run .. mind and body in harmony and if you don't run too far or too hard then they will still be in harmony at the end of the run :)

"Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.”  Allen Saunders

If you have a pair of trainers and a pair of shorts and your feel like it then you have no excuse .. just put on an old T-shirt and you are ready. Make sure you have a pair of running trainers though - other sports trainers will be a a problem but cheap running trainers are just fine - mine cost £15 from Decathlon a few years ago and I've done nearly 1,000 miles in them!

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step."
 - Lao Tzu

You know yourself best so start with a short run you are comfortable with - round the block, to the park and back .. .it doesn't matter how far or how long it takes or if you walk or even stop for some of it - the most important thing is to make it enjoyable .. this isn't meant to be work or hard labour.

Start small and easy - its good if you have a circular route so that if you need to you have a plan B .. a short cut back to the start. When the time feels right go a bit further.

My first run was a sort of oval route out towards a local park - this meant I could cut off and run a shorter oval if I needed to.
This run was the slowest and most exhausting I had done ... believe me - it gets easier each time you run. I repeated this run each weekend a few times - then added a little bit more each week - adding laps round the park and then going through the park and beyond adding a bit more each time until I was running half marathon distances every weekend and with serious hills as well!

Running lessons ...  the things you learn in life can be applied to running and the things you learn from running can be applied to life .. maybe I should have called this series of blog posts on running "zen and the art of running" :)

Its important to make a start ... you can try to plan everything to the last detail and try to get everything right and go for a "big bang" but things change and you may end up in a sort of planning procrastination and never actually get started. Get started early with small steps and build up. Be flexible, experiment and learn and adapt over time rather than start late with a big bang. 

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Reflection Is For Life Not Just For Christmas

Christmas and the end of year is like an alternative reality - we put trees in our homes, eat parsnips and think about, talk about and do things we don't normally do.

Christmas and the end of year is full of reviews of the year and predictions for the year ahead it's fun and also a sort of annual catharsis - its just a pity we don't do this more often.

"How are you" ... busy is the socially acceptable response but what does this mean. Busy these days is all about objective personal productivity and behaviour - its as if we have internalised the workplace in our everyday life.

Thinking, let alone reflecting, isn't seen as being busy - we can't see it and we can't measure it - its not seen as productive behaviour, completed tasks are what count. In everyday life we are too "busy" to think .... personal productivity and busy behaviour is what matters - its like a cognitive heat sink "dissipating thinking that might otherwise have built up and caused society to overheat."

Thinking and reflection are crucial in learning but I'm not talking any form of SMART planning and analysis and ticking off goals and achievements in the way many institutions corrupted and appropriated reflective practice in appraisals as another means to control and oppress employees. I'm not talking about reflection for intelligence through objective behaviourist analysis of data to turn ourselves into robots - that's artificial and machines are better at this anyway. I'm not talking about reflection as a technical report technologised by devices and data to objectify, quantify and consume ourselves.

I am talking about reflection for sentience "the capacity to feel, perceive, or experience subjectively" through self-reflection "the capacity of humans to exercise introspection and the willingness to learn more about their fundamental nature, purpose and essence." I'm talking about reflection in the mind's eye "to see things with the mind", to let the mind wander and listen to your internal dialogue, emotional and mental life. I'm talking about reflection to enrich our lives through subjective self awareness by looking inside to find ourselves.

The information age is only just beginning - developments in artificial intelligence will raise great philosophical and even existential questions about what it means to be human. We share intelligence with machines but sentience makes us human and we should be human every day .... reflection is for life not just for christmas.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Closing Windows

Closing Windows

While Apple PCs are considerably more expensive than Windows PCs they can be easier to manage and use - I have found this - I switched from using Windows to Mac four years ago and "get it".  I also noticed that about 5 years ago most network engineers I came across seemed to be toting Macs instead of Windows laptops.

“Give employees the devices they want, manage those devices in a modern way, and drive self sufficiency in the environment .... we have to go out and manage the Mac environment 104 fewer times a year than PC”.  IBM are using Jamf to manage their Macs.

Now ... I can't imagine a large scale change to Macs in education but the options for PCs are becoming more diverse again (after nearly 30 years of Microsoft hegemony). 

I'm quite a fan of Google Chromebooks - they are even cheaper, easier to manage and secure than Macs and fit well with my web-cloud philosophy. Chromebooks are making quite an impression for student use a Chromebook a lot - especially when I want security.

Now ... while Linux is used widely in data centres its not made the same impression for end user PCs except on programmer and developer PCs. I'm wondering if we might see more Linux coming to PCs in the near future. Dell for example are still selling Linux laptops - from the affordable Inspiron 15 3000 at £169 + VAT to their high end developer XPS laptops.

Linux can breath new life into old Windows PCs and I'm quite a fan of this - refurbishing old PCs with Linux and using them as their own is great project for IT students - this story from a few years ago is a favourite of mine "Pennsylvania High School Rolls Out 1,700 Linux Laptops to Students" 

Linux is an example of what I call "Citizen Tech" - its cost effective technology that allows "creativity, re-mixing, invention, exploration and experimentation in the science of craft." One example of this is the eAmbassador Chromium project I ran where students installed Chromium OS onto old Windows PCs - it was amazing to watch students demonstrate how to install Chromium in less than 5 minutes and remix an old PC into something useful.

Talking about remixing ... Remix OS is an Android flavour of Linux with loads of Android Apps and support for PC style elements such as mice, keyboards, windowed interface, file manager, system bar, and a dock at the bottom of the screen for apps.

The current era is starting to remind me of the time before the PC was made politically correct by IBM and Microsoft - back then in the late 1970s and early 1980s there was tremendous innovation from the diversity of stuff that was around. Back then we had the BBC Micro ...... today we have the BBC BIT. Super cheap nano computers like BIT,  PI, Arduino and CHIP are another development with interesting potential for personal computing.

It could be that interesting times are coming -  the PC market is shrinking and at the same time new PC devices are becoming available for personal computing.  Smartphones have become mainstream and now .......  new options are emerging for what is comes next.

Its just over 3 years to 2020.  Every mid decade a new era in IT begins to go mainstream - in the mid 1970s it was PCs, in the mid 1980s it was LANs, in the mid 1990s it was the Internet, in the mid 2000s it was social & mobile (web squared) and now ...........

Note ... I'm using PC to refer to both desktop and laptop versions of "personal computers" whatever operating system they are running be that Windows, MacOS, Chrome, Chromium OS or the various flavours of Linux.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Cloud Thinking

Ready Steady Go .. design thinking from Oracle

The cloud is now a mature technology now and I am starting to question the value of conferences which are primarily about the cloud as if it is something new so I came along to speak at the Computing Cloud and Infrastructure Summit with some scepticism.

Technology has come to dominate thinking about information technology - we may as well write it with a little i and a capital T (iT) but there is a reason the i comes before the t - the technology is a tool .. a means of achieving an end with the information. Can we think about IT without the T ... this reminds me of a magazine I used to read a very long time ago called "Informatics" and the field of informatics is something Wikipedia describes as "not to be confused with information technology"

"The field considers the interaction between humans and information alongside the construction of interfaces, organisations, technologies and systems."

In the same way that technology has come to dominate thinking about IT so systems thinking has come to dominate our thinking about so many things such as organisations, processes and products.

While the cloud is a mature technology there are companies and suppliers which are late adopters and it these late adopters who might in fact gain the most. For late adopters it becomes a case of change or become irrelevant and literally left behind and left out as the world changes around them. It was refreshing to hear suppliers talk about the need not only to change their technology but to change their thinking and to use the cloud to shift from thinking about technology and systems to thinking about information and design.

Oracle's exhibition was a refreshing experience of design thinking to engage and interest people rather than systems thinking which is best suited to engaging machines. Oracle used an Anki Overdrive race track kit with three cars which people could drive using three tablets - this was attraction enough but Oracle connected telemetry from the cars to collect, store and analyse data and trigger events such as a drone taking off to attend if a car had an accident and spoke about connecting each car's data to individual Facebook chatbots which could have conversations about the car. with people. Oracle also gave a simple yet great demonstration of frictionless IT by having the driving tablets automatically read people's delegate badges so that names appeared magically on the scoreboard along with their lap times and ranking. 

With the cloud the network is our computer and at the Computing Cloud and Infrastructure Summit there was plenty of networking taking place - it was an enjoyable and relaxed event full of great conversations about how the cloud can facilitate new ways of thinking about what we do by helping us shift from technology and systems thinking to people and design thinking. 

Below are a couple of short ad-hoc videos I made with the Oracle team talking about design thinking, IoT, the cloud and their exhibition. 

"Bring design thinking into the technology space to bring out different possibilities"
~ Pin Patel of Oracle

Anki Overdrive, Data, Cloud, IoT, Raspberry Pi, Drones and Chatbots

My conversation with Stuart Sumner about the different reasons to use the cloud 

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Running Lessons

Learn to enjoy your run - enjoy the journey

Back in September 2007 I had an epiphany about measurement and wrote "Loneliness of the long distance educationalist". I realised that the reason I started running had been lost and replaced by measurement and analysis. 

We should be careful that the act of measuring an activity doesn’t become more important than the activity itself.

I started running to to get out in the open, get some exercise and see the area where I live. Trying to beat the clock on 2, 8 and 13 mile circuits meant I was deliberately "zoning out" to run through pain - disconnecting from my internal state and the environment I was running in.

Running against the clock - I might as well have been on a treadmill.

Measurement and performance analysis has its place in activities that involve competition, definition and repetition but I started running to explore my inner self and the outside world. Running against the clock - I might as well have been on a treadmill - this is the way some people like it but for me it wasn't the reason I was running outside. 

I realised that my experience of running with measurement is a lot like the experience in education with measurement - it changes the activity. Education cynically talks about the learning journey but in reality focuses tighter and tighter on (exam) results and the destination with ever greater levels of measurement and performance management.

Children  have a natural “thirst” for learning, experimentation and play but in so many this disappears and as they pass through the school system and like my running against the clock the purpose of education can be lost and spoilt by testing and measurement to such an extent that for many young people learning in school painful and alienating. The education system itself is possibly one of the causal factors in the problems we have with young people today.

The education system is configured and stuck in developing the workforce skills of the previous century

The education system is configured and stuck in developing the workforce skills of the previous century - what Harold Jarche calls ‘Labour’ - compliance, diligence, and intelligence for routine work and standardized jobs. Our education system has thunked down to measuring, testing and training routine and standardised skills on treadmills rather than education.

Our education systems need to change radically to focus on learning rather than labour.

Rapid changes in technology are causing life to become anything but routine and standardized. The information revolution is just getting started and there is the potential for radical change and uncertainty ahead  - our future generations will need the skills to adapt to the unknown and deal with uncertainty. Routine and standardised skills and work are expected to be dis-intermediated by new technology - learning is the key survival skill for an unknown and uncertain future and our education systems need to change radically to focus on learning rather than labour. 

For the sake of our future the education system needs to be able to learn and be able to change. The education system must find a way to accommodate and not just assimilate and it must accommodate curiosity, creativity and imagination as well as more easily tested and measured rational analytical behaviours.

I run to learn and I am still learning to run - I will be writing a short series of blog posts about this called "running lessons" - lessons for life and the world of education.

"connected curiosity" ~ Harold Jarche