Teeth Cleaning Application for the Micro:Bit

This will be my first application for the Micro:Bit and my first Internet of Things type application from idea to delivery.

The problem

Simple. I get bored easily. While doing the bedtime ritual I am not sure that I or the small person I am cajoling to bed are actually spending enough time brushing our teeth. We could simply put a clock in the bathroom but better still we can make a device that counts down 3 minutes and reminds us what we should be brushing?

Set up 

I had a micro:bit left over from my Hack Day’s and just needed to decide how to code the device. As I was waiting for jury service I tried connecting with using my iPhone which worked great. However, I found the Microsoft Touch Develop a little too difficult to navigate. Once I was back at home I played with the various other IDE’s. I toyed with the idea of using mbed a platform and operating system for Internet-connected devices based on 32-bit ARM Cortex-M microcontroller. Screen Shot 2017-02-12 at 12.39.20 PM

However, I settled for the Microsoft Touch Developer as is code (rather than drag and drop based) and has a nice debug visual of the micro:bit.


My dentist would have been an ideal person to ask but as she wasn’t around I used a paste manufacturer to define the intervals of what should be brushed.

Trial and Error  

I had a few attempts at creating the code. Setting a variable for the count down and then showing a message at certain points. The logic was sound but the code circular and unwieldy. Until I discovered the Games functions.

Game Functions

There are two that we need.

  • Game start countdown. You can set a value in milliseconds to determine the duration of the game. In this case 3 minutes if teeth brushing equals 180000 milliseconds. .
  • Game is running. This returns a boolean value of yes or no.

Using these the applicaton worked a treat and was about two lines of code. So gergeous.


Update :  In the end I joined the Micro:Bit Educational Foundation as an Advisor and on my first the CEO’s daughter decided to take on the challenge for me



ADS-B receiver – Want Better Results ? Give away technology. 

A raspberry pi I bought in a NYC vending machine and left in cupboard in Faridabad, India found it’s way to Los Angles, USA in 2016. I was a little surprised, as I have also left a unopened bottle of Bombay Sapphire which was untouched.

The Raspberry Pi is a single-board computer about the size of a credit card.  My very clever cousin, Ankush, an avid aeronautical enthusiast turned the device into a ADS–B. I had to look it up too. Apparently ADS–B determines an aircraft position via satellite navigation. He told me that to buy a commercial device it would have cost him about $800-$1000 or more. This one cost him around $140 and it included dual band, weather and traffic reports.  On the ground trials produced traffic reports for a 60 kms radius but he is hoping to track 150+ when he finally gets the device on a plane.

He told me “It wasn’t a big deal. An hour. Just assembly and some tweaking. Need better spanners “!

CoreCic Raise the Volume – FundRaiser July 2016

On Thursday, 28 July we held Raise the Volume a secret charity gig at the Round Chapel. I say we I mean Duncan and Danny the founders of CoreCic (where I am a Trustee). The event was superbly hosted by Dana Alexander (nominated for “Best Comic” and “Best International Act” from Chortle and Black Comedy Awards).

The line-up included electro-swing ska band Molatov Jukebox and Lisa Hannigan , fronted by lead singer Natalia Tena. Food was provided by Papi’s Pickles, an award-winning social enterprise that I met at Nesta New Radicals earlier this month. They work with unemployed women from India and Sri Lanka. Local Hackney bar, The Bonneville Tavern, donated their time making the most incredible tasty signature cocktails.

CoreCIC is a charitable organisation set up to provide reduced cost and free osteopathic treatment to those who normally wouldn’t be able to afford it. As well as helping to alleviate chronic pain, a principle aim of the clinic is to research the best and most effective non-pharmaceutical treatments for persistent pain and eventually help determine NHS protocols for various conditions. The charity will also be looking at the use of preventative treatment in vulnerable patient groups such as the elderly to hopefully reduce the personal burden and fiscal costs of living with chronic pain. Alarmingly women suffer from chronic pain three times as much as men yet little medical research is directed towards this and so this evening heard from incredible women who have suffered through pain.

If you are inspired please pledge some money at crowdfunder.co.uk/corecic

CoreCic Fundraiser

Practical Steps – Avoiding the Internet Echo Chamber

How on earth do I break out of my online echo chamber ? So widely discussed that this concept even has its own wiki entry and yet I can’t find any adequate answers on how to find the chamber door. I get it. We gravitate to like-minded people both offline and online.  Articles on ditching toxic friends encourages us to construct perfect social communities. Read something vile or toxic online, the unfollow button is a click away.  Then a close friend unfriended me from Facebook. I don’t normally notice such things except I really value his conservative perspective and was seeking out his opinion.  Not only trapped, the walls are now closing in on my echo chamber.

So can you keep you sanity and friendships but not live in an online echo chamber ?  Well here is my template;

  1. Decide your topics
  2. Find the topics sourced. The people, brands, events which produce the content on your topic
  3. Create a place to collect good secondary sources on your topic
  4. Experiment with your favourite ‘Live’ source for the topic
  5. Create specific times for consuming your topic and for the sake of sanity keep media out of reach till then

The following explains how I apply this template to my current media landscape, (Twitter, Broadcasters and a tiny bit of Facebook)….

Why focus on Topic ?

I have worked with enough recommendations algorithms to know it is based on rules and topic taxonomy. Facebook are monitoring your reaction to a politics post relative to share of a baby photo. Facebook then serve you up more of the same letting advertisers know at the same time. Not only that, various apps such as Tinder use your preferences to provide you with human contact.

My suggestion is that we actively choose our topics. My usual topics are technology and tennis which align to work and play. For this analysis we shall add UK politics (now known as Brexit) as this is what brought my friendship into question.

Go To The Source

Now we have out topics we need to shed the noise. What is the point of reading an article that simply tells me about a tweet? Why not read the tweet itself ? The same goes for a press release or live statement rather than reading an opinion heavy version of the same thing from a journalist. Where possible I have actively stopped consuming anything that is second-hand trying to read the original material without the extra spin.

On twitter I follow tennis players and competition organisers. I follow people I support as well as all the tennis players that annoy me. This is true of MP’s in UK politics. I often find the source statement from a politician sounds balanced compared to the way it is reported. As nothing is official unless it is said in parliament really the best source would be to watch live parliamentary debates.  In technology this is easier as I get to go to conferences and directly talk with the people who make the news.

Follow any and all source regardless of their sentiments.

Long Form Sources

At this point you are probably saying “but I need the expert view of what is happening”. Well at least this is what Owen said when I explained my approach. I agree. Lets face it I am not going to be able to piece together why a tennis player has picked a certain training regime or why a senior politician is disliked for something they said before I was born. So super long narrative content such as books, documentaries or podcasts all come in play.

For this I have organised a screen on my iPhone where I have grouped my media apps. Things like Tivo, Channel4, BBC iPlayers and NPR.  I use it when I set aside time to consume. I use the Tivo app to store TV recommendation and Amazon for anything else including books. Others use Pintrest and Trello in the same way.

Yes, I am advocating books over newspapers and documentaries over news. I admit I can’t resist news articles that pop up on my twitter feed. In addition I let myself read article friends or co-workers recommend directly for me, as I hope they act as a good filter and we can have a real conversation. For these I open a tab on browser and read it when I block time for the activity. Owen uses an app and Steve has reverted to a print newspaper. Steve told me that he did not need all the news immediately and he can allocate a Sunday to finishing the paper. Lets face it I won’t finish reading the Internet anytime soon.


We know that different languages and local culture gives genuinely different perspective. I noticed a long time back that a Hindi language tennis source actually talk about South Asian players often never mentioned in English newspapers.  I follow international newspapers such as Bilt, TV5,  NDTV and for an alternative to Silicon Valley stories MyStory.  Using pictures as my guide I use the translation service to check what is going on in the headlines which gives me enough of a clue to make the effort to translate.  In addition a lot of countries provide English language version of their content.

Live and Crisis Reporting

Diversity of sources is great while you have the time. It is another matter when you need to consume something live. In terms of tennis I turn to the broadcaster who holds the exclusive rights. If I have a choice of commentators then absolutely I gravitate to my preferred source which for Tennis is the BBC or Greg on ESPN. I also turn to the BBC for live news reports. I understand that people feel it’s biased but as a licence payer I work on the basis that they work for me. In a terror crisis they are slow only broadcasting verified facts or images but I know that and can compensate. Asides from a few places they are also available easily globally. I know people who watch NDTV, CNN or are hooked to NPR. Which is all great – in a crisis you need to know who you trust and that for me, is NOT Fox News.

I also know I reach for social media to check friends in a location are ok. It is human nature but for my closest friends I now email or text or even discuss in person. Post Brexit I ended up speaking in person to everyone that voted differently to me. I did this after I realised I had been unfriended. My unfriended friend came over and after watching a bit of Wimbledon we talked into the early hours about our post Brexit world. He left me with many articles to read that simply don’t feature in my social media feeds.

Safe spaces

So now we need to create safe times and places so that these topics don’t seep into our work and play. I do this in a few ways.

Firstly I have turned off all notifications on all devices. No breaking news. No Facebook updates.  The only notifications I get are from my diary. In my diary  block out specific times to tackle these topics (or watch tennis or go to a tech conference).

It is important to protect myself from certain topics at certain time. As I wake up or go to sleep or during a busy work day I must not consume news but tennis news is fine (well it was till Maria Sharapova failed her drugs test). On twitter I have set up a separate list for UK politics and I dip into these. An alternative might be hitting a content aggregated page.  Back on twitter I have unintentionally created myself a tennis account. So I flip to this Twitter account before bed knowing that I am unlikely to see anything but tennis news which is ideal for a snooze.

On Facebook I use dedicated browser on my desktop. It this stop Facebook tracking everything else I other websites. I always logout to stop myself sitting on the platform. While doing this I realise not of my topics are covered in Facebook. Instead Facebook is a marketing or gloating tool. For sharing things like visiting  Wimbledon. I do this by getting someone else to post for me in good humble brag tradition. I will then have to login and allow it on my timeline (as my settings are restrictive). While there I will allow myself to check notifications but if I can, I avoid scrolling the news feed. I have grouped all my Facebook friends into friends, family and acquaintances and people from my sports club. I unfollow anyone I can’t remember but I don’t unfriend them. So Facebook is an echo chamber of friends. I haven’t told Facebook where I live so it serves me friends content based on which location I have logged in from.  I don’t worry being liberal with my likes. It is changing the feed algorithm but as I try not read the news timeline and instead read specific friends or event pages I hope I might be preserved a little from the echo chamber.

Finally I am fine tuning newsletters I get. I am a member of the BCS, Fabians and British LTA so I read these but unless I am paying good money I try to unsubscribe from newsletters.

The Troll

So we know our topics, the primary sources, the great secondary sources and time boxed it into sections of our lives dedicated to consuming knowledge. Yet somehow terrible injustices of news seep through and people negatively engage with us. Now that we have reset everything we no longer need to hit the block button.  Specifically in UK politics following Brexit I have created a list called Health Warning where I place people who tweet with a frequency that fills my feeds about things that frankly disgust me. Half truths, accusations and dead body images. For the purpose of the echo chamber I read what is being said occasionally but it also shifts the search function on twitter to include their tweets on a topic I am searching.

If I see anyone who crosses the line of the Twitter’s policy I report them. I don’t block but do mute people.

The Template and New Platforms

Many years ago I wrote about how transient social media platforms were. While the magic user number has gone from 3million to 1Billion I don’t think that the transient nature of social media platforms has changed and another platform will emerge. Fingers crossed the following template will work regardless

  1. Determine your topics
  2. Find the source content producers (people, brands, events) on your topic (create a troll sub list if required)
  3. Create a place to collect good secondary sources on your topic (make it multilingual)
  4. Experiment with your favourite ‘Live’ source for the topic
  5. Create specific times for consuming your topic and for the sake of sanity keep media out of reach till then

And finally reiterate. A month after Brexit and inside my world of Technology I find I only care about certain sub topics (namely PR and Robots)  although in Tennis there is never enough new material. So now I shall follow the template again and reorganise my social media and hopefully stop living in an online echo chamber.

The Radical Technologists on the European superstate doorstop – Life Post Brexit

The lovely adorable people of my birth nation have voted to leave the European Union. This debate has been going on so long that when I was really very little I imagined that Britain might be developing terraforming technologies to move itself to the falklands, but back then I thought only women or Hollywood stars were elected to run countries. A week after the referendum it appears our politicians are indeed reenacting a scary science fiction film.

In my pre-referendum blog post I had said that the “British people will muddle through. While complaining.” I also said if we voted out of the European Union I see ourselves “As radical technologists breaking down democratic borders and capitalist structures sat just on the doorstep of a [European] superstate”.

Now is certainly the time to explain my vision. Before I do we need a little a film style back story.

Last February I  had an ephipany. Like all good ephipanys it happened while watching the BBC. Politicians, Adam Curtis explains, used to “tell us stories that made sense of the chaos of world events. But now there are no big stories and politicians react randomly to every new crisis – leaving us bewildered and disorientated”. You probably thought the referendum campaign and it’s aftermath was written for satirists instead it is random chaos from which Adam will create his next documentary.

The European Superstate 

Jonathan Roach coins the phrase “chaos syndrome” and advocates an re-elevation of the political class. Smoke-filled rooms Jonathan says “were good for brokering complex compromises in which nothing was settled until everything was settled”. Watching the MEP’s more closely (my referendum pledge) we find a strong call for more Europe from different European states for very different reasons.  I find this view echoed by remaining citizens and my co-workers. Although I voted Remain betting on continued untreated chaos syndrome, my guess now is that while they strap individual nation states to the operating table stable for treatment a chaos free European Superstate will emerge.

The Capitalist Structure – Broken

One has to assume Screen Shot 2016-07-02 at 11.27.49 AMthat this European Superstate will continue to reside on our current economy models. At this point I ask you to read Paul Mason who thinks  “The End of the Capitalism Has Began”. By all means consume it with a large pitch of salt as  Steve Denning did in a Forbes response piece. We will still find ourselves agreeing that our parents way of running businesses are dying as a result of technology. New ways of working are emerging and this change goes beyond technology. It is this middle ground not bashing old capitalist structures but not expecting them to advocate changes in the new economy where I want to focus my energy in a post European Union Britain.

Democratic Borders – Transcended 

Sir Martin Sorrel threw up a slide that read Local, Regional, Global. By each word was an arrow. Regional was down. Local and Global were up. Pre-referendum I couldn’t define my ideal democratic (sovereign) region. Camden London, England, Britain, UK ?  The rest of UK is just as confused as I am, but it has an impact on the vision. A poll conducted by Lord Ashcroft suggested that if you were English not British you voted to leave. British not English then Remain. In Scotland, remainers (55%) were more likely than leavers (46%) to see themselves as “Scottish not British” or “more Scottish than British”.

The debate about what is local will get much louder in the coming years. Scottish Independence ? Welsh Independence ?  For London Independence sign here. All of this reminds me of Taiye Selasi TedGlobal Talk echoing my own history. How can a human come from a concept ?  In our life time nations have been born, disappeared or failed.   Taiye argues that you could be local in multiple locations.  Although I thought that meant Global.

Globalisation for me is a given. We simply can’t in the age of the Internet stop the flow of information across borders and I certainly don’t want to loose access to tropical fruits in the local grocers .  So my point is this, the projects I advocate post brexit need to serve the global while being hyper sensitive to the local.

The Agenda – Education and Research 

Higher education are about to negotiate what happens to their €8.8b of EU funding and access to important science projects such as European Space Agency or CERN. The British Computing Society has promised to help negotiate and ensure teaching standards don’t drop. In the mean time universities have to rethink the tension between  teaching and research aspirations. I would like to see institution completely open up and benefit their entire ‘local’ community.

We need to continue injecting technology learning in school. I am cheering on the BBC Micro:Bit giving every 7 year old technology to play with. BCS along with funding from the DfE will run the CAS Network of Teaching Excellence for another two years, which means computing teachers across England. However all teaching resources should be at everyone’s disposal regardless of age and location.

I urge you to go attend events at a university or run a hack day at your local school. Start the process and help inspire others by writing up what you learn for our global community.

The Technologist Agenda – Nurturing Innovation  

Earlier this year a report by the government’s British Business Bank said what anyone creating a start-up  already knew. Besides the skills shortage, the sector lacks funding.  in the telegraph says that it is “dragging down the UK economy“. Their conclusion; help firms grow their staff numbers beyond 10 people.

Post brexit we need to help these businesses become multinational if they wish. However it is also time to support the micro-business with the single developer, the boot-strapped business, the SEIS qualifying business as well as the business looking for Series A funding. Each is different but needs supporting. Changing the regulator framework to keep pace with the European Superstate, Silicon Valley, India’s Made In India and China is paramount.

We need to lead the way on technology projects that are not commercial or not commercial for long periods of time. In our Charity services we need to make it easier to set up and harder for people to fritter away the cash.

Go make your current technology business work. Make sure your voice is heard. Lobby for the regulatory framework that makes sense. Don’t leave it to others.

The Radical Technologist Agenda – Protecting Sovereignty   

On the horizon is The EU General Data Protection Regulation, designed to replace the very different national data regimes and give new powers to data regulators. Businesses will have to obtain clear consent before processing citizens’ information, disclose when data breaches occur, and could be fined for global revenues for abuse of the regime. Couple this with the Draft Communications Data Bill debate. Most people think we shall simply comply by default. A BCS survey asked how does the UK develops personal data regulation to ensure it works for everyone ?

When both the Green party and UKIP call for the same thing it is time to listen. They both want Proportional Representation voting and so do I. Voting in a general election should matter.

The stunningly beautiful Utrecht’s is running a Basic Income experiment in research with their local university. What happens when everyone is enough cash to eat and place to sleep ? Do they become more or less productive ?

Once we have decoupled wages from work what if all the software and science research in the UK was delivered exclusively through open source licences ? Flooding the EU with great products that compete with the flood of  products made available under Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

If we everything is available on a open source licence should each house have a 3d-printer ? Then we can print everything we need and not have to buy anything from our Superstate neighbours ?

Or could we just turn the Tax system into a reality TV show ?

Are these ideas you can campaign for ? At what point are these ideas just plain crazy ? Come tell me, I shall be at Argos buying my 3d printer

Let’s decide together

Back to work. Long before the referendum my ephipany has resulted in me pivoting my work to ensure all humans are educated to the upper limit of humanities collective ability and that they can pursue their goals as equally as the next human.

Brexit or not, hard soft or fuzzy, I don’t intend to stop working.

In – Out – Shake it all about. European Union vs The Globe

As I sit to write this I am genuinely undecided. What should I have for lunch, where shall I call home, who shall I vote for in the European Referendum ?

The question is set out as

A ddylai’r Deyrnas Unedig aros yn aelod o’r Undeb Ewropeaidd neu adael yr Undeb Ewropeaidd?
Aros yn aelod o’r Undeb Ewropeaidd
Gadael yr Undeb Ewropeaidd

Oh! You you need it in English

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?
Remain a member of the European Union
Leave the European Union

There are no third way, no lets just be friends for the sake of the kids here. Which makes the speculation of the future even tougher.

Ruth says they have learnt a lot from the Scottish independence referendum which is applicable to the European referendum. Phrases such as

  • “Well both sides are just as bad as each other, really.”Me by Eric
  • “At the end of the day, I can’t see it making a real difference.”
  • “I tell you, I’ll be glad when the whole thing is over.”

Perfect. I  don’t have to worry about reading the endless analysis which doesn’t actually deal with the fundamental issues of how should humans self organise themselves. Should the advantages of a nation state be London, England, Britain, UK, Europe or the Globe ?

Forget about ripping the political parties apart, it is tearing me up. I could explain using  listicals where number x is so unbelievable you would have to share this post. We could even debate factors more relevant to a technology blog, but  lets consider the one that has driven the agenda. Who chooses which people we allow on our temperate green island ?  Strictly come dancers, footballers or directly relevant to this blog, technologists ? Voting Out might mean we get to choose in a balanced way between an Italian or Indian coder for your latest project. Vote In and it means no additional paperwork to get your technology team staffed by those Italians, as my friend Ross has been doing for his eCommerce venture in London.  Dr Andreas Dengel from DFKI, which is a German research centre for artificial intelligence speaking to Wired Magazine saying he wants open scientific borders for all, it is “something we shouldn’t underestimate”, arguing that allowing Pakistanis to come and work in Germany is just as important as ensuring free movement for Poles.

Immigration, Economy, Trade, Education, Health, Working Directive rights for Robots or visa free access to Ski slopes. If we had the opportunity to really organise a larger more global system than just Europe, out it is. As it is with no clear next chapter there is just a lot of doom and gloom. Stay in and we are subjected to a European project that is unwieldy, complex, difficult to influence or comprehend. European partners who didn’t want Britain to join in the first place and still hasn’t allowed Turkey to join. Staying In also means continued Daily Mail hysteria.  Go out and we set off on a completely unknown path with no hope of ever winning Eurovision again.

Either way I know that British people will muddle through. While complaining. Perhaps as an integral money laundering lenders in the heart of Europe with a thriving fintech sector or as radical technologists breaking down democratic borders and capitalist structures sat just on the doorstep of a Europe superstate.  A technologist can dream can’t she ?

I know what I am having for lunch (chicken tikka masala ) and that London will always be home, but in or out ?  As long as we shake the European Union all about, we shall be making progress.

Mayor for London 2016 – The choice.

This week Londoners are being asked to vote. No, not for the The Voice or for a garden bridge but for a new Mayor. When it comes to politics I don’t do tribes. The war paint doesn’t suit me.  So I find myself having to decide on merit from the full list on my postal ballot paper and the list is VERY long.

Creating a Short List

Before reading manifesto’s lets whittle it down a bit. Out goes any party that has a religion in their name. A brilliant tactic for European elections a rubbish one for 2016 Mayor Candidates. Which is probably why I live here. Next ensure that each candidate has bothered to create a coherent online strategy. This means picking out the candidates website from the top 10 Google results on their name. We could use Duck Duck Go but confusing the data junkies with false information trails on the internet is half the fun.Screen Shot 2016-05-01 at 6.37.14 PM

As you would expect in 2016 everyone has a dedicated web presence with decent SEO. All except Paul Golding (Britain First – Putting Britain people first) and David Furness (British National Party). Perhaps they only appear on a British search engine ? Oh wait. David Furness brought up David Furnish and I got super distracted by the gossip columns.

Back to the list and I decided to leave Sophie Walker (Women’s Equality Party) , Ankit Love (One Love Party) and Lee Eli Harris (Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol) on the list even though their websites were really about their day job’s; author, film maker and cannabis campaigner respectively.

Zac Goldsmith (Conservative) nearly didn’t make the short list when his website failed to load instantaneously. Maybe he has forgotten to feed money in the meter  ?

In reverse alphabetical order we are left with the following ten website.

  • http://www.zylinski.london/
  • http://www.peterwhittle.london/
  • http://www.authorsophiewalker.com/
  • http://www.carolinepidgeon.org/
  • http://ankitlove.com/
  • http://www.sadiq.london/
  • http://cista.org/
  • https://backzac2016.com/
  • http://www.georgegalloway.net/
  • http://www.sianberry.london/

More shortlisting – Equality and Education

At my finger spaced reading speed the election day will have gone past before I have assessed all ten candidates. More short listing. This time using a keywords search to scan the manifesto section of each website to understand if the candidates care about equality and education. The two things I care passionately about.

Going alphabetically this time my heart sinks Sian Berry (Green) manifesto is clear and sign posted. Providing sub manifesto’s for LGBT and BAME. The LGBT manifesto even talks about equal education rights. If everyone is this coherent  I will be reading every word of every manifesto.

Thankfully George Galloway has no real manifesto – off the list. Peter Whittle also has no real manifesto but the algorithm search highlights he has a think tank and has lived in America – gone.  Ankit Love doesn’t mention equality or education but does want 6 new bridges for east London – off the list.  Finally Prince Zylinski fails to mention equality or education and his manifesto is translated by Ewa Lewak-Steed. We just don’t have time to find out why – off the list.

Sophie Walker also has no manifesto on her day job related website. She doesn’t even mention her candidacy.  So off to the party website and then it dawn’s on me Women’s Equality Party has equality in their name and cake in their campaign video. So on this occasion they are staying in but they do need to get their web presence together and I think I even offered to help at their party launch event.

Finally we are left with two tricky decisions. Zac Goldsmith (Conservative) doesn’t mention equality or education on the manifesto part of his website. Downloading his 91 page pdf manifesto he does mention equality – once. On the other hand, Lee Haris mentions education and equality in regard  to consuming cannabis. I could leave both on the list, but I am not going to. I have to say I am disappointed I have been intrigued by Zac Goldsmith and had expected more, much more  from his campaign. My younger self would be equally disappointed in me for not considering a party that clearly stands up for drug choice.

Disappointment quickly turns to delight as there are now only 4 candidates left on my list Greens, Labour, Lib Dems and Womens Equality Party. As I have 4 votes to cast in this ballot it is time for a little dance around the living room. Except first we need to decide which order. Oh and perhaps I should find out a bit more about what these candidates have said on the campaign trail.

Therefore the next stage is determine how they stack up on ensuring that humans…

Manage the Robots before they control us

It is important to me that all humans control the algorithms that control our everyday lives. In my opinion we have worked very hard to ensure London is at the heart of algorithms control. We compete with California and no longer have to drive out to the M4 corridor for work. It is important to me and my work that we retain this position and we don’t find ourself forced into finding opportunities elsewhere. For all the positives in London, we lack accessible funding avenues, skilled programmers, cost effecting housing  and the cost of travel means most teams work remotely. It means retaining our position isn’t as slick as the technology we are producing.

Reading each of the manifestos  with this in mind a few things jump out. The Womens Equality Party  focused on promoting Women Entrepreneurship and cheap child care. Each of the Liberal Democrats policy areas would directly help the technology industry.  Labour is more aspirational then me as they think “London can become a world-leading tech hub” so by implication isn’t there yet. Unlike Women’s Equality Party they want gender blind education. The Greens have technology embedded in her policies but not factored out separately like Labour.

The Winner…

Is this the cleverest way to decide which way to vote. No. Was it fun. Absolutely. Did it successfully avoid reading any newspaper article on the subject. Yes. Can I hold my own in a pub debate. Try me.

With Labour having the only clear technology strategy in my short list Sadiq Khan is getting my mayor vote. The rest will be slotted in based on what ballot they are standing on and in line with our complicated but excellent counting process.

If there was a box for “none of the above” this would be a much longer post.


BITS Pilani TEDx

925_935120493210109_822083995775189572_nBITS Pilani a well established private university in the Rajasthan dessert held a TedX this week and in their wisdom invited me to speak.

I have to say I didn’t really believe the email, when it arrived back in August last year, but I replied anyway and was surprised to get a quick response.

bits2The first challenge was picking a topic. The email said that the theme set was Bread and Butter. Later I learnt that the key sponsor was Amul. As the deadline for a talk theme loomed I was in the depths of writing my first book and after a few weeks of brain freeze I tentatively asked if Work and Happiness was a good topic, I was surprised when I got an incredibly enthusiastic reply.

By the end of year, with the book completed, I was wondering why I hadn’t picked my favorite topic of Humans and Robots.

The car collected me from Jaipur and my guide was a talented well read economist undergraduate who made me question my topic again. This charming ambitious student questions started by asking my views on the current low oil prices. My talk needed to be clever. A chai break, a temple tour and 6 hours of questioning later we arrived. I hurried over the new auditorium to rehearse. I was struck by how much hard work had gone into this event and how well organised the team of undergraduates had undertaken the brief. TED’s and TedX seems to me much more about the ability of organisers to put together a great event and pick an exciting audience.  In this case 40 organisers and 60 ticket holders made up the 100 audience allowance set by the Ted licence. Each one writing a detailed application to be allocated their spot. No pressure then.

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Kavita on stage

In addition TedXPilani 2016 had 4 female speakers out of the 9 who were able to make it in person. This is a far cry from the stats June Cohen a Executive Producer of TED Media in 2013 a workshop says that only about 20% of the short-listed TEDx talks that come to her for consideration on TED.com are by women. I really want to change my topic – something more unique.

Life on a campus set in a remote desert is very different to the universities I attended set in big cities where the drinking age was younger than I was at the time. After the event the students with talk of their incredible start up ideas were kind enough to show me around campus while explaining how they had fun. From my perspective they seem to work really hard and for the most part seemed very happy (and maybe didn’t need my talk after all).

As I continued to worry that my talk idea wasn’t unique or terribly deep or globally relevant an audience member approached me and said my talk really connected with him. Finally I realised Tedx is about the local connection whatever the idea.

The Hack Manifesto – Strictly Come Taxes

We know that money is required to run a nation state. It’s kind of nice to live in a country with roads and I suppose government workers need tea stations. After all we are British. Yet since the introduction of the Poor Tax in 1597 it feels as if we haven’t yet had a fair distribute of wealth. We have been living with Pitt the Younger income tax and its variations for some time but much energy is spent in managing the system and not embracing the system. We should be embracing taxes in a big hug. If there is anything that Brit’s are good at then it’s devising a good system and then celebrating it. Think Wimbledon tickets or Strictly Come Dancing. Taxes should be no different. So here is our proposal – Strictly Come Taxes
Continue reading “The Hack Manifesto – Strictly Come Taxes”

Big Cats

Tad obsessed after watching the first episode of the the recent BBC documentary on lions. I didn’t know that lions could count or that they roamed most of the earth some 32 thousand years ago.

I think of Big Cats as fundamental to India. However I was painfully made aware that this is not longer the case. Once on a trip to Jim Corbett’s park I didn’t see a single tiger not even a paw print. Elephant rides desecrated swaths of the so called jungle which was more like a home counties forest found on the edge of a nice cricket field hosting picnickers with their Pimms. Not a vibrant colourful place full of creatures.

The decline of the big cat in the wild makes me sad.

Wild big cats should be preserved and their are countless great campaigns to help. Virgin Airlines are currently showing a documentary on their flights that explores the forest of Burma. The idea is to create a corridor between isolated South Asian tiger communities. In effect creating a highway allowing these amazing creatures to mingle, date and maybe create beautiful cubs.

I have to do my bit. If you have a birthday coming up don’t be surprised if your gift is a Tiger. Adopt a Tiger from the WWF.

The next Axial Age ?

I think we might be starting the next Axial Age.

German philosopher Karl Jaspers coined the term Axial Age to describe similar revolutionary thinking which appeared in China, India and what we now call the middle east. My understanding of the period running from 800 BCE to 200 BCE is shaped entirely by Karen Armstrong‘s incredible book The Great Transformation. As I read Armstrong’s book Buddhism I wonder if we could be at the start of another Axial Age bolstered and supported by the Internet and other forms of technology.

Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Small Change Why the revolution will not be tweeted’ article shows that revolutionary thinking isn’t a product of the Internet and he of course is right. Platonism, Buddhism, Confucianism were all revolutionary and all formed key stones of the Axial Age. However Gladwell concludes that a “networked, weak-tie world” will mean “more of the same”.

I disagree.

There are non religious ideas and human organisation that arose through the Axial Age and as these break down with the advent of the Internet it will be anything but the same going forward.  Technology has already pummeled, shaped and reinvented key systems of human and idea management. Many of which were created well after the Axial Age ended. We, humanity, are rethinking books, libraries, agriculture, banking, music, news dissemination, film and television to name a few. However it is the things that have been left unscathed so far that worry, scare and excite me. These were the bedrock of the Axial Age and if these change, we may see a complete change in the direction of humanity. Evolution perhaps ?  I am thinking about such diverse trends as story telling, trade and governance.

Let me take trade as an example (not least because e-commerce is currently my stock in trade). Trade can be traced back to prehistory. Hammond in his book Smart Retail explains simply, that once man has taken care of his family and community, and had surplus produce, he would then embark on trading what was left. From this activity markets and merchants were born. Producers sold what they produced and peddlers “a chancery bunch’  would purchase goods that they could resell at a profit. Markets become permanent shops. By the end of the Axial Age shop chains were formed. A lack of trusted workers and long-distance travel maintained the shape of this kind of retail till the 19th century. However excellently simple Hammond’s history of retail, his statement that “the Internet is just a development of catalogue-based mail order and don’t kid yourself that it isn’t” is hilarious. Websites that allow customers to search product catalogs might indeed make Hammond’s point. Companies that provide markets online such as eBay and Amazon have done really well. Virtual worlds that copy real world practice have also done well. However this surely is just a starting point. The Economist explained how Robert Jensen a development economist at Harvard University surveyed the price of sardines along Kerala’s coast before and after the introduction of the mobile phone. Free flowing information about price and availability from the market out to sea allowed the fishing community to meet supply and demand more effectively raising their profits but reducing the cost to the consumer.

Could the future of the Internet be the development of transparent and fair market places ? Certainly it will become more than products in database. If so, is that revolutionary thinking in itself ? Or will that lead to more revolutionary thinking which will change the way we organise ourselves ?  If is difficult to know, this is just a single blog piece and we are very much inside the eye of the storm. Well maybe to the left of center of the storm.  Also Armstrong introduction in The Great Transformation should give this dreamy question a realistic kick. “Perhaps every generation believes that it has reached a turning point in history”.

Perhaps. However we are in a transformative age. That maybe this transformative age may mimic the original Axial Age.


I love train rides. Probably my favorite way to travel.

In the US I have been from North Carolina via a stop in DC to NYC. Met some amazing people making ends meet migrating from state to state to work.

In Europe one elbows business people traveling from London to Cannes Film Festival or long trips across Switzerland and Austria for ones ski fix. Watching out the window is simply uplifting. I spend a lot of time covering the UK by train especially cherished is the 6 hours to Scotland.

In Asia I have spent a lot of time in Indian trains. Down right crazy but fantastic food. Last year on an overnight train I got a eye infection that left me slightly blind for three days. But don’t let that put you off. In Japan I did an overnight train from Kyoto to Amori (a tiny place in the north on the main island famed for its cherry blossom). I am just back from staying with American Airforce friends in Korea where I spent the best part of the day on a train through rice padies on the way to the beach and a ferry ride with locals. However the oddest Asian train journey was 17th hours to the birth place of Kung Fu (China) and 15 hours away from it. Ridiculous. We couldn’t fly or buy a sleeper carriage fare, so were in chairs. Everyone smoked  and ate smelly sticky chicken so toxic, they ate it with plastic bags. I was proposed to three times in the first hour. We tried to buy six seats to Xian so that we had room for bags and a bit of air but found the seats where across a gangway.

But seriously do not let me put you off. Get on a train and spread out in a way you can’t do on any plane. Watch out the window for the changing landscapes. Meet people on their short trips. Observe commuters in the morning and kids trek home from school in the afternoon. I have read some the most cherished books on a long train journey, laid my best plans and done my best work.

Marketing and the TCK

The World Cup is on. As a TCK this should be easy I live in England and my parents birth country didn’t qualify. However as I am visiting South Korea I want my host nation to do well. Even more gut wrenching NYC my preferred second home means USA is high on my list and will be riding higher that England in their shared group based on the first game performance. Complicated as this is for the  TCK squared it is also a huge opportunity for people with a product to sell.

TCK’s group have an interesting demographic. They come from well educated semi affluent backgrounds because TCK’s  parents are often on secondment to the new countries for work knowing they would go back home eventually (See wikki).  And I am guessing that due to the travel TCK’s are early adopters of communication devices such as Skype and international text messaging. I know from experience that unlike business travelers TCK’s engaged with the local culture consuming media and products from several nations. However the definition of TCK is that they are close to other TCK’s picking up ideas and products from each other.

My suggestion is to consider this a excellent test market for new communication technologies and internationalisation of your current product. Once upon a time I observed that my Indian and Hong Kong Chinese TCK friends would be passing stacks of M&S shirts to their families where M&S hadn’t arrived. Is it any wonder M&S have had real success in India when they finally opened a local store.

Republic have range of World Cup T’shirts for a variety of nations. As a TCK I won’t be able to buy one to represent my mixed up support unless of course I can give up and  get a Brazil shirt just for the nice colours.

TCK Squared.

I write this blog from an American Airbase in Korea while on vacation. Wait, I mean holiday.

While I am taking a break from business and technology things observing 3rd Culture Kids (TCK) up close means I am not taking a break from ideas.

TCK was coined back in the 60’s for children raised in another culture than there parents. By grouping themselves with other local based children from other different parents they form a new third culture. Like the kids here on base or my own upbringing. In the 1990’s I called my TCK friends Internationals. However when I saw TCK used for the first term (a joke passed on from my “North America/Indian TCK but now holding a UK passport” friend) the term had warped to mean adults who lived in culture that wasn’t their parents and were raised in a 3rd culture entirely. Lets call them TCK Squared.


After four months of working with Rupert Murdoch’s News International (The Times and The Sun) this sketch from Yes Minister explains it all.

Disha’s Cocktail Book

Disha's Cocktail Book
Disha's Cocktail Book

I was invited (nay demanded) to create the cocktail list for Disha’s wedding reception.

Thus here is the book of cocktails that shall be on offer should you be able to stand still and actually enjoy them… or translate the request into Hindi. Gutted not to be there to enjoy it.

With Thanks to;

Amit’s mate Darren Sprague
facebook profile for everyones else
Amit for disha’s engagement photos
Geoff for his recipe