“I never let my schooling interfere with my education” was something Mark Twain once allegedly said. Well it certainly sounds like he had an easy ride!
Infrequent readers of this blog will know that my education and my schooling (clearly different things) have been recurring subjects of this blog since the start.
From bypassing content filters, to satirically moaning about institutional IT to rants about utterly useless courses and teachers and finally how I got first got hired, my schooling and education did not get off to a symbiotic relationship.
Recently I helped Richard Smedley with an article, which appeared in Linux User and Developer Magazine (issue 125, page 57), about my route into industry.
For me, the main thing that keeps hitting home is how little things had a big effect later on.
- I first got into the technology community through Manchester Free Software Group – Matthew Bloch from Bytemark Hosting was the first speaker I saw at the group. He’s now my boss. (Equally, other speakers I saw at the time are friends and/or customers).
- I first played with the Asterisk PBX software when I was ~14-15 or something. I never really got it to work. My first job was supporting it. (I’m still not sure I got it to work though! )
- At the first Barcamp I went to (Barcamp Manchester 1!), I met someone who’d later employ me as a contractor at a big corporation and for a period of time, be my first flatmate. In return, I may have saved his life.
- Several years ago I attended lots of technology community events to help myself learn stuff quickly. I still attend lots of events, but these days I can support the community, wearing my Bytemark hat.
- At one point I found myself supporting a cluster of Xen hypervisor VMs using the xm-tools package, later, I found myself working alongside the original author.
Of course, this isn’t all that surprising, nothing is stunning unlikely, and of course, one builds on previous achievements and contacts, but up until after it happened, I wasn’t even aware it was possible.
It is not an understatement of my naivety when I mention that I thought schooling and careers had a linear aspect – get good grades in this, to get a good degree in that, to get a good job there, and be happy(tm).
If you approach it like this, then you can start to understand threads like this: Those of you who did not do well in their GCSE’s, how did your life turn out?
with comments like:
I did alright in the mocks, got a mixture of A’s and B’s. I was wondering if they actually were important for after education seeming as my school is trying to convince me that if I get less than a B on my Biology test then I will be homeless.
One of the other arguments people used to persuade me I should go to university was that they themselves, made some really good friends at university – “the best friends of their lives”. This argument is relatively watertight, right up until the moment where you ask yourself whether people who didn’t go to university, really go through life with no friends at all… and then it unravels.
As it turns out, actually I’m a member of three university clubs or societies, across two geographically distinct, higher education establishments in different cities. Furthermore, I keep an eye on things that are going on in several other university’s clubs/societies. Hum, clearly no opportunities to meet people if you’re not at uni then!
It’s easy to say “Wow, Tim, you’ve done really well”, but this isn’t about me – it’s about the young people, stuck between by terror stories of university fees and threats that a “B in Biology” will make them homeless, making the right choices about what’s best for them.
I do various odd bits of mentoring but that makes a limited impact here – this is something that needs to be addressed at a higher level and as I’ve no idea how to effectively do that, I’ll just be sporadically blogging here as usual… unless anyone has other suggestions?
This Son of Dork song is a bit of an anthem for me:
In 2011, I went to the Western Isles of Scotland, to the Isle of Skye and Isle of Rasaay. I recently came across this amusing photo I took in Arnish, Rasaay, where I was camping for the night:
I had been trying to maintain an internet connection, via my Nokia N900 phone and Thinkpad x60s Laptop – but I couldn’t get the really slow, GPRS connection to hold, without an extra bit of elevation.
Fortunately, I handily had a Nikon D200 to hand, with a 55-200 f4, which happened to be just the right height…
You can watch my video blog from the trip here.
One thing that is challenging the free software movement is communication.
Communication skills are quite a “known skill” – persuading people is not really cutting edge – people have been persuading other people about $stuff since forever.
The question is, therefore, how we can be better at communicating free software, given we know how things, historically, have worked for others?
Example 1: The Open Data Movement.
The open data movement is not the same as the free software movement, but *is* much younger.The open data movement has had considerable success in various fields, and considering that in 2008, barely anyone had heard of it, has had a meteoric rise to popularity.
Why is that? What has it done that we can copy and emulate?
Example 2: Wikimedia Foundation.
Wikipedia is not, in essence, a free software project (it’s a free knowledge project) but it communicates better than the free software movement.
Find someway you’re happy with to watch their videos and tell me they don’t manage to communicate in powerful ways::
Children in Peru write their own history on Wikipedia
The free software movement has code that powers millions of servers, that runs in space, that has connected millions of people, that has underlined millions of businesses… but we don’t talk about it.
Perhaps we could start doing? How?
Example 3: Coding as standard for schools.
In the UK we’ve seen massive boosts in young people coding – there’s a massive push to get young people not just to be passive consumers but to be creators. This is the proverbial, “everyone plays games, but only a few people know how to make them” or “everyone uses apps on their phone, but how can you personally make one?”. With the rPi and all that that brings, we have free software, for the first time ever, being pushed into the hands of school children.
This is tremendous news – and a massive opportunity. How can we communicate better about this?
Find someway you’re happy to watch this:
It’s 2013. From that video, go back and look at how many people in that video, work for organisations that aren’t businesses primarily based around free software infrastructure. I count, two, arguably soon, one?
In 2013, to have a job, how can you afford for it not to be free software? how can we communicate that if you’re looking for work in today’s world, employers are crying out for experience with free software systems? I mean, really, seriously, ASP.net isn’t a threat, it’s a joke. How can we get that across to people?
Basically, I think better things could be done, and the people who do those things, are the ones that will choose which way the future goes.
The free software movement’s aims are noble and I’m happy to say I support them.
However, there are largely two ways of furthering the movement:
- Communication of the message
- Contributing to a software project
Largely, the ideological “free software advocates” are focused on the first point, with people who are doing the second point falling into a much larger and vaguer group of people who happen to find various things convenient.
The problem is that nothing remotely interesting has developed in the field of free software advocacy (point 1) in a long time – probably since the release of GPLv3. There have been no new approaches, no reaches out to the public, and no answers to the question of what happens next. Things just stagnated.
The Ubuntu project has done a good job of communication in the past, but it has never communicated the free software movement’s aims, and the free software movement has always stropped like a angsty child, or a peed off record company association. Make no mistake, Ubuntu has problems, but simply shouting “Ubuntu isn’t free” isn’t a clear and effective way to communicate the free software movement’s aims.
The problem, of course, is it is an activist movement of techies: outward communication is not a skill that comes naturally.
But outward communication *must* be the skill the movement is best at.
Communication and promotion of the free software movement has to be the primary skill of activists, and researching how to develop those skills must be the highest priority.
When I campaigned around Manchester for my political campaigns, we ran training workshops for activists, we helped everyone practice, we released videos and put them in places where people would see them, we picked up timely press issues and offered comment on them.
Not sure what you should do, or where to start? Read a book. There are loads on this sort of thing, and the advice within can make a really big difference.
In essence, I think the free software movement can do better. A lot better. And you, the person reading this, should be apart of the start.
Think this: how better can you communicate the free software movement’s message?
One thing about taking photos of people, is that there’s quite a lot to consider, and one of the most central is the feelings of the person you’re taking the photograph of. If the person being photographed doesn’t like the photo, posting it say, on this blog, might be a good way to make myself unpopular. As most of my photos are candid shots, rather than with models whom might be persuaded to sign release forms, you’ll almost never see me post portraits of people here.
Landscapes.. and Animals however, aren’t so lucky!
Bess, the awesome staffie that is also my family’s dog, who also happens to be a really good friend of mine, recently posed for this shot at Christmas. She doesn’t look too happy, but I thought the photo worked really well.
(In an ideal world, the background would be less cluttered)
Everywhere I go, people ask me, who I am, and where I come from, and I tell them:
I’m Tim and I’m from Manchester.
And if I’m not in the UK, the next thing they say is guaranteed to be related to football.
Sometimes the question is:
“So which is it? City or United?”
or more commonly where English is less well spoken:
What’s interesting is that really, Manchester has a worldwide reputation football, that no-other clearly Mancunian thing does.
Sure, various famous brands and things happened in Manchester, but no one has ever said
“You’re from Manchester – ah Umbro!”
“Manchester! Which do you prefer: Morrisey’s solo stuff or The Smiths!?”
The thing is, I’m not really a football fan. It’s just not my thing. I don’t really care about it, and even national competitions which we do well in get a good deal of disinterest. That’s not to say I’ve not been to Matches – I’ve even blogged about football games – but I just don’t really care.
What’s more, I’d struggle to name 5 members of the current United and City squads combined.
The difficult thing, is knowing how to react when I’m asked about football whilst travelling – obviously The Premier League is, to some degree, also a tourist export, just like the Royal Family is a tourist attraction amongst other things. Generally, I’m straight up and honest if we can communicate fluently, or will arbitrarily choose a side to support for that day otherwise, and smile and nod.
It does feel strange however that the first thing that people mention, whenever I mention where I’m from, is a sport that I am clueless about and very ambivalent of.
I’m considering a possible way to assist paramedics and emergency responders who are dealing with large incidents which might have multiple units attending, with a control structure.
The easiest example might be a multi-car collision on a motorway, or a derailment.
I’m not familiar with the ambulance/police’s communication systems, and if this suggestion is already redundant, I apologise.
Positional audio / 3D audio is frequently used by pilots to help them separate the source of the communication. They might have the control tower they’re approaching in the front right of their headset, their colleagues in the front left, whilst various audio warnings for various systems in the rear right.
It turns out the brain is pretty good at distinguishing the location on voices and applying context based on location. By having the alerts in different “locations”, the user can quickly tune in and out of channels/conversations – as they would at a dinner party – without having to manually touch equipment to switch between channels.
Whilst a few years ago, this type of technology would probably have been prohibitively expensive, things have changed vastly.
The open source audio conferencing system, known as Mumble, has a positional audio system, and can run on a multitude of mobile devices including the iPhone.
Whilst, I wouldn’t suggest this use in an operational environment without more thought, one could quickly put together prototype of this type of symbol using Mumble.
Using Mumble on mobile devices, and stereo headsets, one could combine various different communication channels and allow personnel to have a lot of communicative power whilst allowing them to do their job without them having to touch anything.
I imagine that in complex situations with their own command structure and multiple units, that communication within your unit can sometimes be hard to pick out due to lots of things happening at the same time.
Use Within Unit
One could set up a “transmit when the user says something” across their unit, this could then be presented in their unit as coming from the front-left. This would reduce the likelihood of personnel raising their voice simply to be heard as the unit would be able to clearly hear each other in the front-left channel.
Use Within Control Structure
One could set up a “push to transmit” system, on their headset, so to talk on their control frequency, with superiors/across all commanders. This channel could be presented in the front right of a headset so that it’d be audible if required, but personnel could also tune out of it.
One could put other audio channels in the back left and aback left as desired – personal hearing the control channel for another service’s operation at the incident could be helpful, alternatively, it could be a helicopter spotter team provider reconnaissance, or something else.
By making full use of psycho-audible effects and stereo hearing to create positional audio., I think that healthcare (and emergency services) personnel could communicate during complex incidents more effectively, in a natural feeling and easy to understand way.
I think the open source Mumble program, could easily be configured to prototype such a system, using headsets on mobile devices.
An example might be that my bank has a number “0845 123456″ for it’s lost credit card hotline. It also has the same number “0161 123456″. From mobile numbers and most landlines, calling the geographical number, will be much cheaper. As you can sometimes spend quite a long time on hold to people like this, being charged by the minute on an expensive 30p/minute line can get expensive.
SayNoto0870 let’s you type in the premium (strictly speaking “Lo-call”) rate number and see user submitted geographic numbers going to the same place. It works quite well.
The thing is, there’s not way to verify you’re actually connecting to the right people. Some numbers on their site are “verified” but what does that mean? That they’ve called it and got through to where they wanted to get through to? How do we know it’s an official organisation number?
How it works
If I (“Eve”) purchase an 0800 number, or even more cheaply, a geographic number, via a cheap online VoIP service (~£3/month) and then using a online VoIP service, I forward all call to my banks 0845 number, with the original caller-ID being sent. Everytime Alice phones up, she’ll be connected straight to Bob at the Bank. Bob at the Bank will also, receive a call appearing to come from their Alice, as the orignal caller-ID has been forwarded on.
However, as I, Eve, have the caller going through a number I control, I can intercept their communications – probably by simply illicitly recording the call between Alice and Bob and listening to it afterwards.
Telephone is usually regarded a relatively secure medium for communication, however if you were to intercept a sales line, or a bank line or something, many people may be giving away personal and financial information that could easily be exploited.
SayNoTo0870 is a great service, and I thoroughly support the aim. Sadly, it’s very ripe for a very nasty style of data-theft attack.
In my opinion, the only way to mitigate the attack is to ask companies and organisations not to use 0845 and 0870 numbers, that would encourage their users to see out untrusted alternate numbers.