Today is always a strange day.

| | Comments (15) | TrackBacks (0)

There aren't many days that you can remember exactly where you were 8 years previously.  Today is one of those days. Most of the day is an unremembered blur.  But about 9pm in the evening there was a knock on the door. It was Noreen, one of my mum’s best friends who lived close to us in Rathfarnham. With a message to ring my mum urgently. Mum had desperately been trying to get through to me on the landline, but I was online – laptop modem hooked into the internet and the phone was ringing engaged.

 

I rang home. Dad had been rushed to hospital. Dad who’d hardly been sick a day in his life.  It was a few minutes later amidst a flurry of phone calls that my uncle Michael broke the news that I feared and that my Mum was probably getting her head around. “He’s gone, boy”.  I can still see the spot where I was on the stairs when I heard the news. I can still see myself sitting on the sofa, extension cable for the modem wrapped at my feet when Noreen arrived.  The memories are clear like shards of glass with gaps or blurs in between. Packing our six-week-old son in the car and driving through the night to Clonmel.  I remember little of the drive.  I remember walking into the hospital. Holding onto my wife.  Seeing dad.

 

So much has changed in the 8 years since. Yet today remains a strange day. 

Testing Google Maps

| | Comments (14) | TrackBacks (0)
See google map display
View Larger Map

Goodbye Gigi

| | Comments (10) | TrackBacks (0)

Goodbye Gigi

Mrs Geasley died on the 4th of April 2010. Two years to the day since she moved into the nursing home. She was 89. 

 

We weren’t related except by love. In my heart she was my other Granny.  She lived two houses away from us while I was growing up.  My mum says she didn’t really understand what a good neighbour was until she met Mrs Geasley. She talks about the time when she was recovering from an operation ,when I was about 2 and Mrs Geasley would follow me around the house, one of her hands cupped out a few inches in front of my head to make sure that I wouldn’t smack my head into any of the sharp corners of the house.

 

As a child I never thought too deeply about Gigi.  Gigi was the closest that I could come to saying Geasley as a boy learning to talk, and it was always Gigi or Mrs Geasley after that.  She would walk up the hill everyday to the spring that was about 100 yards up the road from my parents house, and walk back down with one or two buckets of water.

 

I always think of Sheila, her dog with her.  Sheila walking up the hill with her and in later years lying curled up in front of the fire.  It was only at her funeral that I was reminded that Sheila wasn’t originally her dog. It belonged to Paddy Gray, an old bachelor who lived in a hovel at the top of the hill. When he died Sheila moved in with Mrs Geasley.  She knew Gigi’s love for animals. And for children. It seemed the cruelest irony that Gigi never had children of her own because she loved kids.  And she was wonderful with them. There was many an afternoon I spent in her front room with a glass of milk and a biscuit chatting with Gigi.

 

One of my funniest memories was of the horse she had a for a few days.  I can’t have been much more than 7 or 8 at the time. Mad about Cowboys and Science Fiction. I opened her narrow gate and walked the short path around to the side door only to see a grey horse in her lower field. Someone had asked her to mind the horse, which I christened Dobbin.  And for a few days I got to sit on the back of a horse.

 

For years she had the most wonderful vegetable garden, row after row of potatoes, carrots, cabbages, lettuce, onions and other veg growing year after year in the garden, harvested and held in the shed and feeding her for months.

 

She was the most generous of women,  minding us as kids, presents every birthday and Christmas and Chocolate Eggs at Easter. And I will forever associate choc mallows at Christmas with Mrs Geasley. That first cuppa tea after midnight mass, when mass was at midnight, and the cold glistened outside and opening the box of mallows that would invariably have come from Mrs Geasley.  

 

Even the first children’s mobile we bought when Ben was born was from a gift from Gigi. She was stunned like the rest of us when my Dad died. It was a strange introducing her to my six-week-old son just before Dads funeral.  It was nice to be able to pop in with the boys on a few occasions to see Gigi and to see her delight in the next generation.  Sitting in the same chair I had sat in as a child. There was invariably biscuits and some juice. And the boys overcame their reluctance to the house when they realised that Mrs Geasley had cats, and they wanted to chase them around the house.  And she didn’t mind.


She didn’t complain about much.  She did think we needed a benign dictator to sort things out back in the 1980s.  And in later years the arthritis in her hands bothered her.  She lived on her own for 28 years after her husband died.  She walked or cycled everywhere. Talking her “high Nellie” on regular trips out to her cousins the Brennans.  She was bright and full of life. Before I heard of the hygiene hypothesis Mrs Geasley told me that kids need a little bit of dirt under their fingernails.  

She understood us, and she loved us. And we loved you.

Goodbye Gigi.

The email when it came was brief and to the point.
"I would like to invite you to attend an important meeting this afternoon with myself at 1.30pm in Le Pole House, 4th Floor Boardroom"

The trigger was being pulled. After over 12 years and various roles in GE redundancy loomed. Not unexpected. Not surprising. Briefly shocking all the same. It had been coming for quite a while. Two rounds of large scale redundancies over the past 18 months. This was round three. Time to active the contingency plan. (Small bit of advice for the government when you suspect the shit is going to hit the fan then prepare a plan in advance. During a crisis is no time to start planning). So there was a plan. It involved taking time out full time to complete my PhD, adding to my lecturing and starting my own consultancy business to keep the cashflow running.

In many ways the impending redundancy came as a relief. Anyone who's connected to me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or elsewhere knows that I don't talk about the day job. Despite what Mark Zuckerberg says privacy ain't dead. Briefly breaking a habit. Working in GE has for the most part been great. As a techie I've gotten to work on many great pieces of technology, run a lot of projects and worked with some outstanding people. Even when I disagree with the corporate machine there is always something to learn. And I've worked with some stunning people in GE. @clareconway is one example of what I'm talking about. I've had exposure to some of the highest levels in the business, had an MBA sponsored by the company, developed strategy, built systems that generated muliple millions in income, built systems that saved multiple millions in costs and had some fun along the way.

The past 18 months or so have been hard. Talking to a friend whose business is having things rough I compared it to the difference between being on an Atlantic convoy during World War 2 and being on the Titanic. In the former its tough, you're under heavy fire and there is hope of a good outcome, in the latter its a question of wondering if you'll go down with the ship or not. And its hard. Hard on those who have left the company, hard on those staying behind.

Shortly before news of my impending doom I came a cross the following 5 lines in a screenshot by  @rowan_manahan 

  • Follow your passion
  • Find playmates smarter than you are
  • Solve the important problems
  • Share your toys
  • Build tools
  • Make magic

It resonated with me. Sufficiently for me to print it out and stick it to on my desk. And a number of things I've done over the past few months - talking at Ignite, talking at Business Camp have been about those principles.  And so has twitter.

I actively started using twitter about 15 months ago. My stats say 8697 tweets, 1021 followers, 693 friends, 349 favourites & 531 DMs. A lot of chat.  I intended to write a blogpost called "the year of twittering furiously". Consider this a substitute. Twitter in that time has provided conversation, entertainment, enhanced TV viewing, real information, challenged my thinking, opportunity and fun. There's been @Tupp_Ed and live blogging TV.  My twitter stats say over 250 of those followers I've had conversations with. (I hate the word follower can we just replace it with mate or something else).

Anyway on 7th November last picked up this tweet. I dropped Mark an email. Long story short I'll be working with Mark fulltime on the Global News project as COO/CTO starting tomorrow.  There has been some planning and discussions over the past few weeks and tomorrow the big adventure begins

In case anyone has been in hibernation for the past few months the background to what I'm saying is here.






Last night on twitter I said "My last day in GE tomorrow after lots of years. My really big adventure begins Tuesday. You're all invited, 'cause you're all involved"  I had replies from @conoro @PaulSweeney
@helentreacy @tnteacherTim @niamhyb @Mediaflash @stephencredmond @LaurenFisher @aquigley @maoiliosak @  @BrianHonan @donkearns all within a few minutes wishing me well. And a number of DMs to boot. So when I said you're all involved I was serious, hell you're partly reponsible.
And this is the blogpost that explains what I was tweeting about.

So here's to the blue skys ahead. The audio track to video to this explains my current mood.
The last few lines of dialogue are important too.



And to answer a question before its asked, I'm not planning on tweeting, blogging or facebooking the new role any more than I did the last.

On Depression

| | Comments (16) | TrackBacks (0)
I hadn't planned this to be my first blog post of 2010 however Twitter kinda prompted this...

On Depression

I have a fascination with the mind and how it works. And I've dug fairly deeply on this from a research review perspective a few times. It's prompted by experience. A mentor and friend of mine in University has Manic Depression ( More commonly known now as bipolar disorder). I've know a few people with depression. And I've know a few people who've committed suicide.

There is nothing simple in a discussion of depression and won't attempt to simplify it by trying to discuss it. And not having had it I suspect that I'm as well qualified to describe it as I am to describe the experience of pregnancy - that is not at all.

I get some sense of what its like from people like Andrew Soloman who wrote "The Noonday Demon" and Kay Redfield Jamison who wrote "An Unquiet Mind" which details her experience with severe mania and depression, and "Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide".  And a book I keep returning too for very many reasons "Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" which illustrates the fragility and power of the Human Mind.

On the treatment side the best books I've read are "Doctoring the Mind" by Richard P Bentall and Ivor Brownes autobiography "Music and Madness". ( RTE have a program on their Website on Ivor Browne which covers much of the core of the book at http://www.rte.ie/tv/wouldyoubelieve/ivorbrowne.html )

These work for me because they don't suggest any simple answers. Because there are no simple answers.  There aren't even simple questions.

Why I spend €50 on Outvesting

| | Comments (13) | TrackBacks (0)
A question was asked by omgtbh on twitter on why anyone would give €50 to Outvesting with no sense of return.

The questions specifcally were
"I don't understand #outvesting nonsense. Why would you give money to a business and expect nothing back? "

Brief background to what Outvesting is
Outvesting was largely inspired by the IQ Prize and the conversation around two blog posts, by Pat Phelan and Joe Drumgoole. While lots of figures were bandied about throughout the discussions the sum of €5,000 kept coming up as a baseline figure that a bootstrapping startup could do something useful with. It’s also the amount of funding received by Level 1 awardees at Social Entrepreneurs Ireland.
So why?  I tweeted twice on this

"We can either moan about the darkness or light some candles. This is lighting a small candle"
&
"with a smart person like @eirepreneur giving a lot more than €50 in terms of time it didn't seem too much"

Is that it? Well yes and no. There is an element of social responsibility, mixed with curiousity mixed with experimentation going on here as well.

I'm serious about the lighting a candle v's cursing the Darkness piece. My Dad was a founder of the Carrick-on-Suir Credit Union many decades ago. Their motto was (and is) "for people not for profit or for charity". It was about bootstrapping a community through small savings and loans. Did it fix all the problems? No. Did it make a significance difference to the community, absolutely.

I'm also curious. I saw some of the twitter chat that started it so when James started the whole thing my thought was. "That is a great idea. And the cost isn't too much. Yeah lets give it a go"

I'm also interested to see if this will work. Its an experiment and it could be amazing or it could be an abject failure.  Who knows. We'll learn from the experiment though. Ideally it'll lead to something else. What else might that be? I don't know. There is only one way to find out.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” - Charles Darwin

As I complete work for an elective lots of things are happening to illustrate the importance of this course. It's why I think this area is both Urgent & Important. This isn't about technology, it's about shifting power structures and an altering working landscape that will continue to take shape for decades to come.

I think the smartest thoughts I've read on this are Ze Frank who commented on
 "the inevitability of an uneven distribution of resources. I look at the events of recent years not as a flattening, but as a shuffling of places on the curve. certain things transition from luxuries to commodities, but new luxuries take their place"
The question for most people is where will they be in that shuffling. The course I'm running is about giving student an edge. That few inches that makes the difference.

Enterprise2.jpgA brief glance shows some of what's going on. Mark Little  is crowdsourcing ideas for his new Enterprise on Twitter, as Rupert Murdoch is talking about shutting Google out of his sites. 1.1Million Irish people are on Facebook and 200,000 are joining a Fanpage complaining about the "Hand of Henri".  Salesforce is validating Enterprise use of Social Software with new Chatter tools. At the same time Andrew McAfee published his excellent new book that has defined the idea.

So we'll combine ideas & frameworks. We'll work out how to be more innovative and how to save time, money and resources in this brave new world.  We'll have guest lecturers, new ideas and new ways of working.  My definition of success - this should be the highest impact course you take and should resonante with you for decades to come.

As a background it helps to have read this post first.

Why I spent some time plaing around with Niall Harbisons diagram

There is a real danger of this turning into a mutual backscratching society Niall says nice things about me, I say nice things about Niall and so on ad infinitum. Behind that is something more important.

To understand why I'd spend time redrawing someones diagram I need to tell a few stories. I have been online in one form or another for quite a while (does undergrad years in UCD when I was using Vax terminals to browse Usenet groups and getting help on my final year project on Neural Networks from some of the luminaries in the field date me - yeah thought so). The air now feels similar to the air then, or maybe its how I'm more active now than I've been in quite a while. It doesn't matter something is resonating.

When I started in my first job (ESB or "the board" as its also known) I felt like someone has chopped off one of my senses without Internet access. So I set off to persuade the powers to be to get Internet access (I need it ergo the company should need it). Along my way I discovered a few important things.  I started by getting some time in the office of the head of Planning & Technology section of the IT Dept. This gentleman was tasked with envisioning the future use of technology within  "the board".

I described for him what the Internet was and how it worked. He was incredelous - people online answer questions for each other FOR FREE and don't even expect to be paid for it. He could not comprehend it.  Not so much a gap in understanding but a yawning chasm. He said he'd have a think about it if I costed it and gave a demonstration to him. I set off to do that. It was in the process of costing it that I found out we already had a connection to the internet. It wasn't widely advertised and I found out who looked after it and persuaded them to grant me access. So my missing sense was restored. In the course of a couple of days I learned about generation gaps, culture differences and that clever people will sometimes just go ahead and do things and figure out the consequeces later. I also learned a lot about large organisations and how they work.

Over my few years in the ESB access to the Internet, along with cobbled together CompuServe access and access to some Irish bulletin boards was a great source of advice, programming tips and technical support as we build some cutting edge software. It was great fun.  The unwritten rule was you give and you get. Give and take. Apparantly a lot of this is build into us in the nature of reciprocity around how our species works. The proper way the species works.

So how does this lead to changing Nialls diagram. Well I've been following Niall on Twitter for about a year now. I watched the development of Look & Taste, wondered where the hell he got the time to run with so many different initiatives (be honest Niall its like "The Prestige" there are two of you running around sharing the same name).  In observing I've learned lots. From his blog posts, free content, attending one of the events his business partner Lauren ran for free etc. (Not to mention the flowers for Valentines that I won for posting a comment on Look & Taste. )

So I've gained a lot from Niall. When I saw the diagram I was intrigued. Yet something about it grated like a pebble in a shoe, something I couldn't put my finger on grated. So I talked to Niall and asked if he'd be OK with me having a go improving it. He sent me the link to Google docs. I messed around with it, then printed it out to play around with. I even took the approach of my kids in school and cut out all the pieces and moved them around on the page. It gave me a slightly different perspective on how these tools relate together. To be honest I only thought it a slight improvement on Nialls original document. Rather than waste time on a nice neat diagram I roughed it up with Sharpie and paper before emailing it to Niall. I didn't expect it to end up on the front page of the Simply Zesty blog.

Niall summed it up as "He just wanted to make something better for others to gain knowledge from." which is true. I have a ferocious need and desire to learn I enjoy learning & teaching. It was also about saying thank you and contributing to the pool. I also clearly have too much free time with 1.5 jobs, a PhD underway and 3 small kids. Its still important to contribute, to help others. That was the key lesson of my fathers life.

Over the past year as the country has walked off a financial cliff one shining beacon of hope is the online community in Ireland. I came across the following list that Rowan Manahan blogged about from the first TEDx in Dublin that goes to the heart of this (and I've probably been annoying lots of people with the list). It reads

* Follow your passion
* Find playmates smarter than you
* Solve the important problems
* Share your toys
* Build tools
* Make Magic


This is whats going on withing Twitter and other places in Ireland. Here people, often people who don't have or shouldn't have the time are there to talk to and give advice to and support those who are trying to do things and to build a better country. Over the past few months examples such as Outvesting, BizCamp, and many other shine a very positive light on what we can do when we want to. There are so many smart and helpful people around. It worth reaching out and contributing. You give and you get. Give and take. 

Paging Ned Ludd

| | Comments (19) | TrackBacks (0)
Sergi Brin concludes his Google  founders letter with the words

When I was a child, researching anything involved a long trip to the local library and good deal of luck that one of the books there would be about the subject of interest. I could not have imagined that today anyone would be able to research any topic in seconds. The dark clouds currently looming over the world economy are a hardship for us all, but by the time today's children grow up, this recession will be a footnote in history. Yet the technologies that we create between now and then will define their way of life.

Think deeply on that last line - "the technologies that we create between now and then will define their way of life."

There is a lot of rubbish spouted about technology, that Facebook is making us less social, that Twitter is dangerous because its impluse based way of signalling interfers with our empathic brain which takes longer to process signals than social media allows. These are worse than nonsence, reporters picking information from scientific press releases and weaving a pretty tale out of air. Either way these stories are for the most part rubbish.
The very clever Lauren Fisher of Simply Zesty has written a post warning that "Social media is not your marketing strategy".

So what says you? Thats obvious. Course it is. Everything smart is obvious when pointed out. Trouble is people often don't stop to think about the obvious. And what's obvious to one isn't necessarily obvious to all.  The comment that at a social media conference "...and there were quite a few who had never heard of Google analytics, alerts or adwords" reinforces this. A bit like a fish not recognising that its swimming in water, sometimes the obvious isn't and needs pointing out.

The most important bit of the whole post is close to the end

To successfully become a consumer-centric agency you need to move away from ‘campaign’ thinking. This is a hard step to take, it is essentially what marketing has always been built on. But there is no point thinking in terms of campaign timings, when what you’re hopefully creating is a loyal community online. That community is not there to receive your your campaign messages when you’re ready to throw them. You have to keep the conversation going and, most importantly, be responsive to what’s happening.

The money quote bears repeating
That community is not there to receive your your campaign messages when you’re ready to throw them.
Kinda a summary of the Cluetrain  now 10 years old and the nature of conversations.  Bears repeating. And will need repeating.