Is it time to get back to typing?

What we seem to have learned from the recent disclosures is what we mostly suspected. The online world is monitored and things of potential interest to governments are investigated where practical. Some of the recent debate seems to have included government officials explaining that they know best – how could a journalist or a civilian know best when it comes to matters of (potential) national security?

So here I am – an independent consultant – using the web to promote myself. I comment on a range of matters – from risk management to cloud technology to social media to reviews of novels I have read. I seek to draw attention to myself as someone who may be able to assist a company/ individual in solving a problem or exploiting an opportunity, because of my skills. I use the web to assist me in my research, in developing networks and, to some extent, in uncovering potential opportunities. I also use the web for personal purposes – planning holidays, buying online, staying in touch with friends (via email and social media), etc.

Does the fact that governments, who may claim to know best, can analyse all of this online data about me cause me a problem? Not sure – it does give me some cause for concern. The problem with anyone having a lot of access is what do they choose to do with it. But what’s the choice?

What if I were to withdraw from the online world? No email, no file storage, no mobile communications. Would I give up using a phone? Say I were to revert to a typewriter and post. Even potentially a standalone PC (with wordprocessing capability) to produce hardcopy documents for physical delivery (in person or by post/ courier). No access to online booking of flights, online banking, online revenue returns. And so on.

Could I do this and be an independent consultant advising people/ businesses on how to operate so as to meet the expectations of their investors and/or regulators? Possibly, so long as there were people/ businesses willing to engage me in this low/no tech way and who were interested in applying some of these concepts in their own circumstances. Not a lot of upside in this it would seem to me.

No – I do not think typewriting is the way forward. But it seems to me that we have created a new world without thinking through the implications and the required safeguards. Spying and surveillance have their place – in securing national interests. But in the absence of safeguards there will be abuses – in fact even when safeguards are in place there will be abuses. However none of this excuses not making an effort to agree frameworks of appropriate behaviour with real sanctions for operating outside the framework. Clearly we have sanctions in place for soldiers who share information with Wikileaks. But do we have appropriate sanctions in place for those who claim to know best but abuse their positions? I think not. And the general sense of unease in the public mind, arising as a result of recent developments, would indicate that whatever is in place is not sufficiently reassuring for the general public.

It would appear that technology companies have had to come to arrangements with governments to provide access when governments believe they know best and access is required. And I can relate to this. I do not want terrorist organisations using technology to enable them to bypass government security. But of course the challenge is to manage the all-powerful government agencies after you grant them this access.

Perhaps we are headed for smaller networks – on local and/or n national levels. This seems to fly in the face of globalisation and our 24*365 society. Of course the ultimate in this is withdraw from networks, internet etc completely. However seems to me quite logical that citizens of one country will seek not to be subject to surveillance by governments of other countries if they can avoid it – unless they can be satisfied about the bona fides of the activities of the other governments. Locking people up for 35 years is obviously designed to send a message – to potential divulgers of government data and processes. But it does not serve to address the concerns of ordinary citizens around the world that Big Brother is Watching You all the time. This is the challenge to government – sinning the confidence of users of Information Technology.

Does Detroit municipality declaring bankruptcy have any relevance for Ireland?

At first reading in today’s FT my take seems to be politicians saying ‘enough is enough’.  It would seem to be a case of saying ‘we cannot pay our bills’ and ‘we have cut our services enough – if not too much’.  Detroit is no longer capable of honouring its bond commitments, paying pensions and paying to run the minimum services required in the municipality.  And it has always been easy in the past to make commitments which have to be met out of future revenue raising activities.  But this seems to have come unstuck.

In Ireland we have maintained that we will pay back all our debt – by taking the pain (the AUSTERITY). Seems like this has left us with over 450,000 out of work, reduced (and failing) social services and, for now, some very generous pension commitments (all of which were contracted in previous times).  And the view from government (support by EU) has been – we must pay our way.  And not surprisingly, EU (Germany in particular) would like us to continue to pay our way.  All against a threat that whatever support/ relief we have obtained might come under pressure were we not to play ball.

Will be interesting to see how Detroit is bailed out in the US.  Obviously while there are some similarities there are many differences.





2011 reflections on IT

Another year has whizzed bye.  Maybe it’s something to do with running your own consulting business, having a very active family and having a curious mind.

So what sticks in my mind in terms of technology – looking back on 2011?

What have I really liked?

I have been very happy with my Android phone – Samsung II.  Great phone, easy to use, great camera, easy integration with lots of social networks etc.  Would be lost without a smartphone.

Have found myself leaning much more towards Twitter than Facebook.  Have really found Twitter useful in terms of work related research, staying in contact with other professionals, developing my own profile.  Notwithstanding this Facebook is a daily platform for me – and has lured me into  Typically have one or two chess games on the go (48 hours to move).

I have stuck with FourSquare.  Most of my acquaintances run a mile from FourSquare – why would you want to share your location?  I think this type of location based software has a long way to run.

Have enjoyed listening in to TWIT.TV (Leo Laporte’s This Week in Technology).  I tend to download the podcast and listen to it on one of my walks.  He has had some great guests during the year and some great debates – even last week with regard to restrictions on software copying.

Leo Laporte has got me to sign up to tow of his sponsors: www.Audible.Co.UK and Carbonite.  Audible I sue to download books which I listen to when walking, taking public transport, even at home rather than reading the physical book (nice break for the eyes).  I am using Carbonite to back up my data.

I have implemented encryption using TrueCrypt – seems to work very well.  And seems to be gaining in popularity wherever I go.

And EverNote – what a great application.  Increasingly I find myself using Evernote to capture meeting notes.  And it’s available on my Android phone when I need to access a note.

Finally – Google+.  I definitely like it.  And it looks like it has traction.  But then Google has some influence!  And I should say I have had a great year with Google Apps – has not let me down.  The world needs Google and Microsoft competing – at least you can now shop and compare between the two cloud offerings.

What have been my other observations?

Lots of disillusioned IT teams in corporate world.  Lots of them working with reduced budgets, smaller teams but many of the same challenges.  Many of their users have lots more technology available to them at home or on their phones – real challenges in providing stimulating corporate IT environments to end users.

Understanding the economics of the cloud is challenging.  If I have 100 Offce/ Exchange users does it make sense to sign up to Office 365 (or Google Apps)? Do the price points make sense?  Green field site v. established business.  Many people unconvinced about the economics.  Many people committed to cloud approach.  Debate is vigorous.

Regardless, operating from Ireland, with its current economic challenges, web based technologies are being embraced and lots of entrepreneurs emerging with ideas which exploit these technologies.





The Challenge of Change – Brendan Drumm

Just finished reading Brendan Drumm’s account of his experience of leading change in Public Health in Ireland – as head of the HSE from 2005 to 2010: ‘The Challenge of Change – Putting Patients before Providers‘.

Interesting book on a number of counts: good discussion of a major change project, public health is of interest to all of us, provides an insight into implementing change in public sector and poses some interesting questions about the role of politics and politicians and their impact on provision of public services.

He is very forthright on a number of points:

  • Patients (ie the public) need to demand change
  • Practitioners need to lead the change
  • Primary care is at the centre of any effective solution
  • We do not need more beds
  • Rationalisation of A&E services across the country was the only option – backed up by significantly improved ambulance services
  • HSE (and therfore the public) was paying too much for drugs
  • The revised consultant contract (80/20 split of public/private) work is the way forward
Was somewhat surprised not to see some more coverage of potential role of technology in enabling and sustaining change e.g. potential benefits of electronic patient records.

Clearly be believes that he has mapped out a way forward for public healthcare, that we have made significant progress during the last five years and that if the curent incumbents stay on message we will see real changes and benefits for patients in years to come.

It will be interesting to see how a number of changes play out:

  • Ongoing discussions re consultant contracts e.g. reimbursement; changing role in context of 80/20 arrangements
  • Further consolidation of A&E facilities across the country
  • Further role out of integrated services
  • How will the current Minister for Health drive forward the changes?




Every dog has its day – Glastonbury 2011

Time moves on for rock bands

GLASTONBURY, ENGLAND - JUNE 24:  Bono and The ...
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Watched U2 last night.  They were great – and it was like a trip down memory lane.  But there was no convincing my kids that they were relevant or great.  Watched Coldplay tonight – what a difference.  Relevant and exciting.  And my nine year  old was kind in making her allowances for U2 last night – and my identification with them.

I’ve grown up with U2, Bono, the Edge etc.  They are a phenomenon.  And they pack in the stadia with people who want to see the phenomenon.  Fantastic songs such as ‘Where the streets have no name‘ and fantastic renditions of same.  But…tempus fugit.

And the same will happen Coldplay.

Enjoy the moment.  By all means relive the moment.  But don’t be confused.


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‘When Irish Eyes are crying’ – Michael Lewis, Vanity Fair

Michael Lewis reports on the background to Ireland’s current economic mess.

Map of Ireland's population density (people pe...
Image via Wikipedia

For those of us who are real stakeholders in Ireland this article is tough medicine.  This, or something like it, is what our kids are going to read about what we did to our country.  And it’s nothing to be proud of.  Think 20 years from now with many of our kids by then permanently living overseas, with no real expectation of returning home, bringing up their families overseas and coming home intermittently so that the grandparents can see the grandkids, etc.

I’ve read other similar pieces by Michael Lewis in the past  – they are written in a particular style.  The piece includes plenty of fact and sufficient colour to help you remember the juicy bits.

We are currently in the middle of an election – one in which many of the current government have declined to participate.  Having been in power for 13 years, led the country into this disastrous financial mess, many of them, including the Taoiseach, have decided to step out of public office.  Perhaps they are only avoiding a running certainty in the forthcoming election?

Lewis seems to be firmly of the opinion that the government should have limited its guarantees to deposit holders and let the bondholders sink.  This position has been consistently argued for by a a number of established economists and commentators; this position has also been consistently dismissed by the Minister for Finance (Brian Lenihan) and his Government.  And, for now, we would appear to be stuck with a level of debt which we will not be able to service.

This background to the election has the competing parties waffling to no end about what they may or may not do in terms of renegotiating the terms of ‘the bailout’ – or to use the vernacular, ‘de bailout’.  And the various powers in Europe remind us that a deal is a deal, while hinting that there may be some scope for change (perhaps in exchange for harmonisation of tax rules across the EU).

As a country I think the sooner we face up to balancing our books on an annual basis the sooner we can sit down and negotiate with those from whom we have borrowed.  Moving in that direction in the last 18 months has seen huge cuts and serious drop in net take home packages for workers.  There is an argument that we need to tackle unemployment levels of c. 450K rather than continue to cut.  Unfortunately it looks like the resolution of the unemployment issue will have more to do with mass emigration than anything else for the forseeable future.

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Reflecting on 2010 – in Dublin, Ireland

Reflecting on 2101 – real challenges for Ireland, some interesting technologies, the need for creative genius

Dublin by night
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It’s been a pretty frightening year on the economic front, here in Dublin, Ireland.  Finally, despite all the protestations of the Government the EU and IMF rode into town.  A deal has been done – premised on significant growth it might be doable…if the growth does not materialise – then eventually some debt will have to be written off.

On the technology front – for me personally the smartphone wins out (currently favouring the Android platform): greater access and availability wherever you are (wherever I am).  Seems to me the Cloud has matured into something that is not going away – in fact that looks like it will win out.  I think the objections will be addressed and moved aside. On the semantic web front – lots of activity from various providers of tools/ solutions using semantic technology. Disappointing, given the presence of DERI in Ireland, that we do not see more publicity/ traction within our own smart economy.  And we trail other countries dismally on initiatives to push publication of data (using linked open data standards)  by government departments.

Snow in the suburbs
A whole new world

The last few weeks have been challenging on the weather front – in particular on the East Coast.  It would have to be said that our local government/admin/ transport has failed miserably and consistently in addressing the weather challenges.  To see major roads not being cleared each night is pretty depressing – be it shortage of money to pay the overtime, trucks to clear the snow/slush,salt to treat the roads or poor planning/management and execution.  But there is a real cost – most likely including loss of life – because of this repeated failure.

Katie Taylor, Graeme McDowell, Tipperary hurlers, U23 cross country runners and many more – great memories and inspiration in a difficult year and looking forward to challenging years.

There was my short break with my wife in Budapest – what a marvellous city and such hospitable people.  But then we had the fun courtesy of Volcanic Ash – our four day trip home was quite luxurious by comparison with the hardship experienced by others.

Best book I read was the 10th anniversary edition of The Cluetrain Manifesto.  Also often found myself returning to ideas from The Power of Pull.

And Wikileaks has caught the imagination as the year closes out.  I was not very positively disposed to Mr Assange when this began – but the overreaction from certain quarters is not doing much to reinforce my doubts.  I think we all need to reflect a little on this. Some of the ideas referenced by Clay Shirky in Here Comes Everybody and by Don Tapscott in Macrwikinomics are playing out in front of us.

All in all looking forward to the break – a chance to enjoy some of the best things in Ireland – company, craic, ceol, food, literature, scenery, catching up with the visiting diaspora…and time to do some dreaming.  Because we all need to use our imaginations and our creativity in order to ensure that we do beat our targets next year – be that winning a major, winning a football championship, keeping a job, hiring a new employee, starting a new business, teaching a student, helping someone.

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Change of UK government not slowing down initiative

Linked open data needs a push in Ireland

Interesting to read Shadbolt’s take on the change of government in the UK, in the context of Linked Open Data:

This is another area in which Berners-Lee and Shadbolt are highly influential, having overseen the design and implementation of the UK’s open data portal, “The continuity of thinking on open data as we’ve transitioned between governments has been remarkable,” says Shadbolt. “In a parliamentary democracy, it’s very difficult to argue that the public doesn’t have a right to government data,” he adds.
Perhaps the next Irish Government may be able to apply some pressure to increase publication of DATA which belongs to you and me in a format in which we can actually do something useful with it.

Mind you I am reminded of previous discussion about the need for a government CIO and/or CTO in Ireland.

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2010: Big year for semantics

Real initiatives in semantics announced in the first month of the year.

Interesting to read Palisano’s (head of IBM) comments:

“We are amassing an unimaginable amount of data in the world. In just three years, [internet] traffic is expected to total more than half a zettabyte. That’s a trillion gigabytes – or a one followed by 21 zeroes,” he tells industry, academic and political leaders.

“Where we once inferred, we now know. Where we once interpolated and extrapolated, we can now determine. The historical is giving way to the real-time and it’s not just about volume and velocity. The nature of the data we are collecting and analysing is changing, too.

“All this data is far more real-time than ever before. Most of us today, as leaders and as individuals, make decisions based on information that is backward-looking and limited in scope. That’s the best we had, but that is quickly changing.”

This just reinforces my previous blog of June 2009: here.

And this week we had the official launch in the UK of its government linked open data site.

We’ve seen the debate – back and forth – about linked open data.  We’ve seen the debate about top down v. bottom up approaches to semantics.  We’ve seen the arguments about the merits of RDF as against other frameworks.  But the volumes of data continue to increase – as does participation in social networks.

On a daily basis we see announcement about new products.  Nova Spivack tells us that the days of ‘Search’ are running out – we need ‘Help’ not ‘Search’.  We eagerly await his Twine 2.0.  We have seen significant product advancements announced this month in products such as Open Calais and Open Amplify.  One other product which caught my eye last week is Kngine.

Products such as Amplify aim to deal with the ‘tricky’ content – e.g. the ‘opinions’ implicit in content of social networks.   And this is a key element of what we are looking for: context for the content.  I am more interested in information on a particular subject when I understand the context, the perspective of the provider of the information.  I also want the richness of analysis possible through the combination of wider sources of data – including data compiled by government agencies which should be available to me.  Linked open data initiatives are required in all countries.  For Ireland – the sooner the better, if we consider ourselves a smart economy or a knowledge society.

Ireland serious about research

Universities to the fore in R&D

Dr Diarmuid O’Brien, executive director of the SFI-funded Crann CSET, makes the case in The Irish Times for the continued ongoing investment in R&D, coordinated between Irish Universities and Irish and multinational industry.

Dr O’Brien rightly distinguishes between the concrete benefits in terms of successful  projects and the benefit of encouraging the more generic culture of research and entrepreneurship.

Article includes several interesting examples of recent initiatives.