Ben Nevis and the Carn Mor Dearg Arete

My thoughts on Scotland

  • I support self determination of the people of Scotland.
  • I think it’s great that we can have an open and democratic conversation about it, in a civilised and peaceful manner.
  • I’m delighted by the level of engagement and thoughts people have on it, north and south of the border
  • If Scotland does become independence, I’m fearful about relations between the UK and Scotland. I hope these fears are unfounded, and I hope that, were it to happen, it would not become a source of conflict. I’m fearful because:
    • It’s really hard to separate without bad feeling:
      • was this deal negotiated in favour of one side or the other? (both will likely say the other)
      • did someone not play fair? (both sides will likely say the other)
      • it’s a very easy political manoeuvre to blame tough times, on another country – both sides may face those in the future
    • Very few countries have separated without violence, especially with a smaller unit devolving from a larger entity. Arguable the best example in recent history would be the Velvet Divorce of Czechoslovakia. I hope in the event of independence we can outdo them in peacefulness
    • I’m only afraid of bad feeling, aggressive posturing and violence. I’m hopeful that we enough shared respect and understanding for each other that this is not such an issue.
  • I’m excited by the referendum, because no matter what the result, it will have shaken up politics and engaged people in issues they care about.
    • I hope the interest and political engagement can continue to shake things up
    • I hope that each political group focus on positive ways to engage the people who are apathetic to the political system
    • I hope the quality of life in the whole of the British Isles continues to improve as fast as it has since the mid 20th century.

Really the referendum isn’t about you or me, it’s about how our children play together. I hope they’re free to play and enjoy a better life than the one we have.

Looking for the answers in a teacup

Embrace and Drive Change

This is a post from my My 20-day Zappos + Buffer Values Challenge

“Embrace and Drive Change”

When it’s change you want – change you asked for, it’s easy to talk about embracing and driving change, but that’s only part of it.

It’s different when it’s unexpected change. Suddenly you have to do things differently (when you didn’t ask for it), suddenly things are different around you, and you realise you don’t know how to do things you previously were an expert at.

I think it’s really useful to choose a value about choosing Positivity and Happiness – that way you can take an optimistic approach to all change – which makes it a lot easier.

If you’re thinking, “this environment has changed since I first came into it, but maybe this change will help it in great ways that I don’t yet understand“, then you’re likely to be able to accept and drive the change much more easily, than if you were worried about the negative consequences.

I’m struggling quite hard to think of times that I’ve embraced change when I’ve not been one of the drivers – I guess it’s quite important for me to feel that I have a stake in the change – otherwise I don’t class it as “change to be embraced” – just “things that happened”.

Looking for the answers in a teacup
Looking for the answers in a teacup

So changes to my role at work, were embraced and driven because they directly involved me. Changes to the way software and processes worked were critically evaluated, but embraced.

I’m not sure, but I feel I don’t have enough life experience to talk much about how I’ve embraced change. I probably have done so – the tech industry has changed, I’ve changed, my friends have changed – but I can’t see examples in front of me.

I guess attempts at politics and activism reflect my desire to drive change, but I feel that the best I can come up with in the embracing bit is “sure, I embrace new technology, I use Uber“.

My feeling is that it may be that I just enjoy a constant state of change – I enjoy diversity in things I do, I enjoy hearing about positive changes to UK law, working on different projects, climbing different mountains, and going to different places.

Despite my uncertainty about whether I can say I apply it, I think this is really important and clever value to have in a business – a self-updating module in anything is always wise, as human organisations go through many changes, incarnations and phases – just like software. A value like this helps ease the organisation through those hoops and hurdles and makes the path much smoother and clearer.

What do you think?

Listen to the users. If they want chalk, let them draw.

Listen First, Then Listen More

This is a post from my My 20-day Zappos + Buffer Values Challenge

“Listen First, Then Listen More”

Everyday we hear things, TV, people talking to us, but how much do we listen?

Sometimes, it’s quite easy to talk – if someone tells you about their recent holiday, sometimes it’s tempting to talk to them about your recent holiday the moment you get a chance. But that’s not always what you should do.

Lots of people, starved of good listeners, find actually actively being listened to a very powerful thing. You can gain respect, make friends,  simply by listening to people.

When I tried to do politics, and stood in the 2010 general election for the Pirate Party, we learnt this the hard way.

If you ever get involved in a political campaign in the UK, you’ll find that the best way of engaging with voters, is knocking on their door. This is kind of scary the first 2-300 times, but to some degree the fear subsides.

What we came to learn was that it was much easier, and much more effective to knock on people’s door and ask them what problems they had in the neighbourhood, than knock on the door and try and get them to vote Pirate.

A couple of weeks ago, I read How to Win Friends and Influence People which pretty much codifies, and expands upon what we learnt on the streets: people like being listened to.

During a council election campaign, there was this one council house that we knocked on, and asked if they had any problems with the council. At first they said “nope, we have no problems here”, and then “well there is just one thing” and showed us an uncollected recycling bin, and then “oh well there is one more thing”, and showed a half-smashed window, and another bit where the council hadn’t made a correct modification to accommodate one disabled resident, and a string of other things. When we got back to our base, we had huge wad of issues we knew we could help them with, and we knew their life stories.

In contrast, I remember a lovely lady, I once tried to persuade to vote for me. She’d lived in the area for ~30 years, and I’d lived there for ~2, and in the nicest possible way, she batted questions at me to try and get me to justify myself. I suspect I talked myself out of her vote, simply by answering honestly. It was around then, that I decided that trying to influence politics was less enjoyable than I’d hoped, even at the best of times.

My girlfriend once described me as an extroverted introvert, and I sort of agree:

When you first meet new people, sparing using your words, and encouraging them to do the talking can help you to understand where they’re coming from and how to help them relate to you.

It’s easier this way too – you don’t have to say much, and can get a feel for what they’re interested in, and how best to respond to them.

It can even help over email.

One theoretical problem I’ve often thought about is, “if you meet someone very well known, who you respect the work of, but have little to say to, what should you say?”  What should you say if you met Tom Cruise, or Katy Perry or David Beckham or someone?

It’s complicated, but, my feeling is that relying on pieces of wisdom like these can help:

“Wise men speak because they have something to say. Fools speak because they have to say something.”


“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

-Abraham Lincoln

When it comes to customers, and business, encouraging customers to talk about things that they care about can make a great deal of difference. I like rock climbing, and I was looking over this customer’s website, and I noticed the person I was talking to was also a climber, so I asked them where they’d been recently. It was as if I’d opened a floodgate – suddenly they were recommending me places to go to develop my climbing, and suddenly it felt like we were communicating on a friend-to-friend basis, rather than a business-to-business.

Another memorable moment is once when I went to a customer site to work out how we could help them. Talking about the tech they were building, where they were, where they were going, what their challenges were made a real impression on them. I thought I was just sort of gathering information, somehow, by being interested and asking them questions about how they planned to do things, they were delighted to have someone to explain it to. They took me through these details, those plans – and by the time we left, I understood a great deal about their system. The customer was so happy, they broadcasted on social media about it, and still remembered it a few years afterwards.

I think it’s also relevant if someone has some criticism aimed at you, or something you’re in control of. Going and giving them your full attention, and saying “you’re absolutely right, this does sound serious – thanks for bringing it to my attention – I’d like you to tell me all about it”, can make someone feel a lot more valued, and pacified. Do that with enough passion, and it’s completely possible to turn their relationship with your business from frustration to love.

Listening is more difficult than it sounds, but you can learn to do it, and it makes people happy. :)

Listen to the users. If they want chalk, let them draw.
Listen to the users. If they want chalk, let them draw.
Star paths in Kyrgyzstan!

Do the right thing

This is a post from my My 20-day Zappos + Buffer Values Challenge

“Do the right thing”

This is quite a difficult value to blog about, because if you try to do the right thing, it’s possible you might not even know you’re doing it.

I guess the point to give you confidence that specifically in circumstances where there might be a conflict of interest, you should do the right thing.

In the context of an organisation, this might be a bit like something that happened this morning.

A cost-concious customer was explaining some new requirements and was interested in how we could help. It wasn’t something we could help with easily – they’d have to take out a year contract, when all they wanted was this thing. The customer mentioned that they other competitors had given them a price they couldn’t afford, and they were considering doing it in house.

At this point, some sales people would say that I should have push the services on them, even knowing that the costs were 10x what they could manage. Instead, I told them them upfront that we wouldn’t be able to do it, it’d be way too expensive, and they should do it inhouse if they had the ability to do so. At the end of the conversation, the customer thanked me for being direct with him – he was happy to have saved both of us time and energy faffing over things that wouldn’t work out.

One of the reasons that I dislike DRM is because, in the real world, DRM can cause 10 year old girls to cry – it feels like it catches out all the wrong people and so fails to do the right thing.

A desire for things to be done “right”, specifically in relation to laws that affect the way the internet works, is one of the reasons that I got involved in politics. Of course, “right” is subjective, but for me, supporting the future of the internet was a very compelling “right thing” to put myself behind – the one that drove me to stand for parliament, run an election campaign, and go into politics when sane people might choose not to!

Doing the right thing, is also what leads my support of mySociety – the charity behind lots of the best e-democracy sites – theyworkforyou, writetothem, fixmystreet.

When I found my parents didn’t understand really what their son did for a living, it seemed sort of natural for me to take a day of holiday, bring them into the office, and explain it all to them. They may not have been kickass sysadmins afterwards, but they knew what a client-server relationship was, and they understood web pages weren’t like TV.

Doing the right thing, is why several times, I’ve taken time to mentor young people – to give back to the community, and to pay forward the support I was given. In 2010, I remember taking a week out of my holiday allowance to mentor Young Rewired State 2010 (I guess I’d sort of helped co-ordinate some of the northern contingent of Young Rewired State 2009 so it was a natural progression?), in any case, whilst taking the time off work was definitely “the right thing”, I don’t really think about it like that. The friendships forged during that week have lasted a long time, and I expect will last decades longer – that in itself is worth it!

I think I’d go back to what I originally said – this value is used to give people confidence to do things for good, and not for evil – and to empower them to let them figure out what that means themselves. I like this. :)

Understanding Julian Huppert MP’s support of Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill

Of all the things I might say about Julian Huppert MP, stupid is not one of them – he’s consistently informed, reasoned and principled. Pretty good qualities of an MP, as I think you’d agree.

This makes his support of the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill… surprising.

It seems to be a broadly unpopular stance, which (appears) inconsistent with what one might expect from him. I’m pretty sure we won’t change his mind, but I’m interested to try and understand it from his point of view.

My feeling is that he’s making this decision based on data that is privileged to him which he can’t share with us.

His major contribution to the bill, which legalises wholescale spying (including you Facebook, Gmail) in the UK and expands it to include non-UK citizens, is to make it expire in 2016, after the next General Election.

I think this article in the Guardian goes some way to explaining his point of view, and yet skirts the big questions like “but clause 5 and 6 massively change the scope of the bill” to target people outside the UK.

I feel like I’m going /r/conspiracy, and suggesting that lizards in the rotary club control the world, but one hypothesis for the bill seems less outlandish given the backdrop of Edward Snowden’s revelations about GCHQ and our knowledge that multiple foreign ISPs are suing GCHQ in a UK jurisdiction for spying on them.

My suspicion would be that:

  • Julian has been told this bill will be pushed through whether he opposes it or not
  • He’s been given an opportunity to insert some clauses into it, so long as they don’t alter the ones about interception
  • He may or may not have been told semi-directly by a bunch of security types about how GCHQ is in a precarious legal position which the establishment want to shore up

If we took those things as given, then if you look at his approach from his point of view, it kind of makes sense. I don’t support it. But it makes sense.

I guess we might find out after the next General Election when he can talk freely.

DRIP drip… a legislative stitch up: My letter to Lucy Powell MP

Hi Lucy,

Tim Dobson
Tim Dobson

Thanks for your recent replies on Twitter. I really do appreciate your agility in responding – it does help to get an almost immediate link to you. Thanks also for keeping me updated about the situation in several committees.

I’m concerned about the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers (DRIP) Bill that’s being rushed through Parliament on Monday.

As your colleague Tom Watson (MP West Bromwich East) has said, it’s a “stitch up”. I feel Tom has a great deal of integrity, and when he feels something isn’t being done right… well, it’s worth looking at twice.

I find it frustrating because I feel Her Majesty’s Opposition’s job is to ensure robust debate and due process, and I’m saddened to find the Labour leadership don’t seem to want that here.
You moved to the frontbenches to make a difference and have more of a say in things, so I’m hoping you’ll look at this bit in more detail.

The draft has been published here:

In particular, I’m interested in how clauses 4 and 5 are:

(a) not substantial amendments to RIPA
(b) things that require emergency legislation.

Expanding RIPA’s scope to include people outside the UK is a massive expansion, and equally I’m not sure why the definition of “communications” counts as small revision, in such a loaded context.

I work for Bytemark, an internet company based in Manchester and York that is based on due process being a key tenet of our society. It feels to us that the way in which this legislation is being enacted is further eroding the trust we have in those processes and we encourage you to do what you can to maintain that trust. This letter is posted on our blog.

Best regards,

Tim Dobson

Community Manager

<address withheld>

Originally published on

Due to more GCHQ idiocy, I’ve been compelled to write to my MP again. Your turn?

Due to more GCHQ idiocy and the harassment of Guardian Journalist, Glen Greenwald’s partner, I’ve been compelled to write to my MP again:

Letter to Lucy Powell
Letter to Lucy Powell

Why don’t you have a go?

It’s quick and easy via

The less it sounds like you copied and pasted something, the more of a personal response you’re likely to get.

Phone hacking was a big deal. Is Internet interception ok?

A private investigator hacked a schoolgirl and a few celebs’ voicemails, and it caused a public inquiry, it brought a media mogul (previously considered “untouchable”) to be summoned to parliament and forced a historic Sunday newspaper to shutdown.

Tempora: snooping anyone with an internet connection
Tempora: snooping anyone with an internet connection

All because of a few private investigators listening to a few voicemails.

We’ve learned since then, that GCHQ has, (partly sponsored by the NSA) has been intercepting any internet traffic, conversations, phone calls that leave/return the UK via submarine cables (Level3, BT, Vodafone & others have helped facilitate this) as part of a programme called Tempora.

As even a Facebook conversation with my girlfriend will probably go via Sweden, An email via Gmail will go via Irland, and a good deal of other communications will cross borders, we can assume that details of most people’s daily communications are being captured.

The response from the UK Government has been for William Hague to call for the public to have “confidence” in GCHQ and to state that “law-biding members of the public had ‘nothing to fear’“.

They also released a D-notice (effectively about Tempora) which, though voluntary, means that many UK news outlets won’t report on the Tempora. The Guardian clearly is the main exception.

Interestingly, as lots of EU traffic flows through the UK on the way to the US, a lot of European countries, Germany in particular, are less than pleased about their citizens being snooped on – Germany recently nuked a cold war era collaboration pact with the US in protest.

The Federal Commissioner for Data Protection in Germany has called for the former U.S. intelligence employee Edward Snowden to be given asylum in Germany so he can assist with ongoing investigations.. Imagine if the Information Commissioner of the UK said that?!

The striking thing about the story is not the revelations, or the implications, or the speculation of what these tools could/are being used for, the striking thing about the story is how little the public seem engaged in it.

Since the phone hacking scandal caused a public inquiry, and took down a historic newspaper, why is mass interception of everyone’s email, not an issue?

The story needs to be communicated better to the public and we need to work out how we can make people relate to it.

How can we communicate what Tempora means to the masses?

A few of my thoughts:

  • Can the Tempora story be personified? Who has it been used to snoop on? What has it been used for?
  • What is it used for? Who has access to it? Who chooses targets?
  • Can stunts be deployed as a medium of raising the profile of the system? Can airtime and media attention be ‘bought’ by peaceful and legal activist actions?
  • Would street protests help start a movement and help people supporters meet and rally each other on?
  • Would a coalition of NGO’s signing a public letter with several demands or questions help get the media try to answer those questions?
  • How can we make people feel like something can and must be done to stop this?
How can we communicate what Tempora means to the masses?
How can we communicate what Tempora means to the masses?