Category Archives: digital

Making Christmas Cards, 2014.

This years cards are all about place, taking the rough with the smooth, and de-cluttering.

The last one is the easiest to explain. When moved house this year, we moved a lot of stuff. And this was after throwing out a lot of stuff. It seems that The Sidster and I are both inclined to hold onto things *in case they come in handy* (he likes to think it’s just me, but dear friends, I proffer you our garage, aka man-cave, in evidence to the contrary!). So the challenge was set, could I make this year’s cards out of stuff we have already. Yep, I could. I have *that* many card blanks, fancy papers and, it turns out, six cans of spray mount.

But onto the inspiration. A sense of place. We moved house this year – from Ealing to Old Windsor. Not because I’ve fallen out of love with Ealing, or particularly love the Queen (I’m a committed republican), but because we figured to cash in our London housing market chips to finish our chalet in France (we’ve been lucky rather than wise). And it’s been an interesting journey.

By moving off the TfL network and into train territory, it has solidified the feeling of moving out of London. Despite the fact that is actually only an extra 10 mins on the train to get to Southbank from the sticks than it was on the tube from W13. Being a Londoner has been (and still is) a massive part of my identity.  Sometimes I miss it so much I could weep. I knew every step of that 8 minute (oft inebriated) walk from Northfields tube to our house.

There are upside though – we see Red Kites circling the skies over the village, we hear (and smell) the cows, and take @DenistheDog for long walks on The Long Walk at Windsor Great Park.

So there’s the taking of the rough with with smooth. The Sidster had long fallen out of love with London (if he ever had been) and he loves the village. I miss the tube (train timetables are way to stressy for me) and London’s energy, but I love the village pubs.  Moreover we both love The Alps, and we will soon (eventually) have a home there. 2014 has been quite a year for our little oddball family.

So merry Christmas everyone. I hope you enjoy the cards as much as I enjoyed making them. Its been fun to turn the world’s norms on its head – instead of sending e-cards to people I see IRL, I have many friends I’ve met online and rarely get to see IRL – so its a delight to pop something in the post.  And any ideas on what to do with the other 20 out of date maps in my “might come in useful box” gratefully received.

photo 1

Christmas tree frames


Frames mounted on maps


Mounted on cards

Mounted on cards


All ready to go...

All ready to go…


2013 and onwards to 2014

Well, the annual reflection and planning time is upon us. This year I thought I’d actually blog about it, instead of intending to blog about it. So how was your 2013?

For me, a bit of a mixed bag tbh. It didn’t suck as bad as 2011 (that was officially the crappiest year this century), but it wasn’t as fab as 2007.

The high point was undoubtedly Sidster-related.  He got a serious sized chunk of his hearing restored in April. For 20-odd years, our relationship has been based on a solid foundation of mis-understanding and decoding what each other is saying. When we met in 1990, he had perfectly good hearing, but ropey English. Following a head injury in 1993, he gained a hearing impairment. Come the start of 2013, his English is perfectly good, but his hearing sure ain’t. But two stapedectomies later, its working well. No more hearing aids. No more confused Q&A exchanges where he answers a different question to the one I asked, no more TV volumes that can be heard by the neighbours, no more avoiding pubs with hard floors because they’re really loud. But plenty of conversations in the car (before the hearing aid amplified the sound of the car engine too), hearing the waterfall from our friends mountain balcony for the first time, and plenty of jokes with punchlines that don’t need to be repeated. Joy all round. And a plea to take care of your hearing folks. In the words of Joni Mitchell, you don’t what you’ve got till it gone….

The low point has been the frustration that we’ve not been able to move our French chalet build project on since this time last year. We’d hoped to at least get air and water-tight with windows and doors going in, but it wasn’t to be. The local French builders are sufficiently busy that they’re not interested in quoting on the job. C’est la vie en France. And I’ve been too bl**dy busy with the pesky business of earning a living to have looked hard enough for alternative solutions. I’ve let the impediments beat me for a bit. But that’s one to prioritise in 2014.

And what about the wider world in 2013? Observations and reflections in no particular order:

If your business model (or state for that matter) relies on people keeping secrets, you’re up shit creek. I offer you Edward Snowden, wikileaks, the NSA…

If you’re trying to keep secrets, you probably wanna spend more time addressing why its something you need to keep secret in the first place.

Android, mobile, tablets. Holy crap, the potential for the $100 tablet. Please can we do something good, like education, as well as all the pothole reporting apps and taxi-ordering apps. #firstworldproblems

Zero-hour contracts, low pay, companies that don’t share the value they create with the people who create it. I offer you Amazon. I’m trying to vote with my £ and not buy from them, but I’ll admit its hard to resist.

Foodbanks. Holy shit. In 2013 in the UK. This sucks. There but for the grace of god go any of us. Donate something. And lets see what else we can do to make them a thing of the past. I’m sure the Trussell Trust and others have a whole bunch of other good community projects they’d love to do when people aren’t hungry any more.

So to 2014. What’s in store? Each year I make a list. Usually its too long, and too detailed. A bit like KPIs (don’t you just love that we all forget what the K stands for…. 8 pages containing 42 KEY performance indicators anyone). So in the spirit of remembering that we can do ANYTHING, but we can’t do EVERYTHING…

  • Finish enough of the chalet in France so that we can spend next Christmas there.
  • Make the best use of my specialist skills at work and don’t get sucked into doing stuff that others can do better. Or that doesn’t add value.
  • Move more. The chair is this generations smoking. I’ve become a lard-arse through sitting still too much.
  • Take the time to enjoy things more. And don’t get sucked into other people’s grumpy vortii (I may have made up a new plural there).

Bonne Fetes from Haute Savoie.

The CV. Communicating Value

The CV.  The Curriculum Vitae.  The latin translation is more or less “the course of my life”.

Most of the ones I see are pretty regular layouts, ten point font on portrait A4.  Twelve point font if I’m lucky (note this if you’re writing one – the person reading it might not have youthful sight – 12 point trumps 10 point every time).  Sometimes some nice design work has gone in.  More often than not though, it hasn’t.  Its been an exercise in cramming in facts.

What strikes me more than anything though, is that CVs are backward facing.  Historical.  Telling us what the writer has done.  I’m beginning to wonder if they should come with one of those of financial services warnings attached.  You know, the ones that say “Past history is no guarantee of future performance”.

What would a CV be like if it was forward looking?  Communicating Value.

Maybe like this?

or this…?

Doing useful stuff with my data


I had a fleeting thought yesterday as the cashier swiped my nectar card at the Sainsbury’s checkout.  It would be great if Sainsbury’s would make an API available so I could could get a visualisation of my weekly shop.  It would be useful to see, over time, the fat / salt / fibre etc in our household’s groceries.  Like many folk, my weight tends to be a bit more than it should be, and as I get older, I’m conscious of eating well to maintain good health.  I’ve tried various “diet tracking” apps, but I’ve not got the time (or commitment level) to enter everything I eat each day.  But if a supermarket could give me that data, I’d see the headlines on where I’m straying from the path of virtue.  In fact, it might even be the reason I’d use that supermarket.  And heck, why stop there.  If we could have a nice open data standard, I’d scan the stuff I buy at the local grocery store too – I try to get as much stuff locally as possible.

Could the supermarket also tell me how much CO2 is embedded in my consumption?  Could amazon tell me how much CO2 is embedded in the goods I buy from them?  An API to hook up to a ‘life tracking’ app, so I start to get some utility from all the data they have on me.  As my last blog post covered, they’ve got pretty good data on most things I’ve bought in the last five years…

And how about my credit card?  Could I hook up my credit card to the same ‘life-tracker’ so I catch the other expenditure (and CO2).  Like my drinking habits, and fuel consumption.

Those big corporations know lots about me.  And I’m getting a bit ticked off that they may well know more about me than I know about myself.  I’d like them to share the data with me.  I’d like to know myself better, and this data would help.  I might make better choices if the data is staring me in the face.

I think I’d like to build the “life-tracking” app to do it.  That should keep me busy for a bit.

How local authorities are using social media

localbysocial-screen-shot-213x300I first read this pamphlet from IDeA and Nesta just over a year ago when it was first published.  Having just re-read it again this afternoon, it’s stood the test of time – a year in social media being a pretty long time.

There’s a wealth of examples of how local authorities are starting to use social media to engage with their communities.  And just as interestingly, some great examples about how local communities are organising themselves and engaging with their local authorities – that ground up approach rather appeals to my inner activist.  There are schools using twitter to keep parents up to date; enabling people to log details of problems which are piped directly to the relevant local authority for action, and many more.  It’s available as a download or read it online at .

It’s candid about some of the challenges involved in deploying such projects.  There are new and evolving skills needed to resource them, and the fear associated with trying something new in the public eye.  Though this quote from the intro pretty much sums it up for me…

The problem for councils though, is that not engaging now represents a far greater risk than engaging. Citizens will still use these networks to talk about you, whether you add your voice to the conversation or not.

I’m not going to summarise it further, as it deserves a full read.  The author (@gandy) makes it a breeze to work through 44 pages.  And I defy anyone to get to the end without thinking of something they could do in their organisation.

I haven’t come across a similar publication for the social housing sector yet.  I wonder if it exists but my google-fu is failing me?  Maybe it doesn’t exist yet?  Maybe we could crowd source writing it…?


Mindmeister: A SaaS mind mapping tool


I’m quite a visually-driven person and I really like using mind maps to sketch out ideas, take notes and plan things.  My daily notebook used to be full of ‘em.  In order to make them more useful (and legible) for other people, I started using some mind mapping software a few years back.  My favourite to date is mindmeister by a country mile.

Its a SaaS tool, which means there’s no software to install – just a few details to set up an account and you’re started straight away.

It’s intuitive and and easy to use, opening up with a large blank canvas.  You start by making your central node, and then add branches as you need them.  There’s everything you’d expect from a mind mapping tool…

  • lots of styling options
  • expand/collapse feature for big branches
  • auto-placing for optimum layout
  • embed icons, links, images, notes
  • export your map to a pdf

The fact that it’s SaaS also means…

  • mind maps stored online – you can access them from any computer connected to the internet
  • you can invite others to view or collaborate on your maps
  • mind maps can easily be embedded in a web page

There’s a iphone and ipad app for mindmeister, which, as a regular commuter, I love.  It means I get to make use of journey time to do a bit of work without the faff of getting the laptop out.

I’ve use mind maps for loads of things, but my favourite is taking notes during meetings, with can then be shared with everyone else for instant minutes.  I used to spend lots of time bothering about getting minutes neatly typed up, in numbered paragraphs with action points.  I’m much less bothered about the format these days.  By sending out the link to the mind map at the end of the meeting, folks can immediately review whilst things are fresh in the mind (and no-one misses the colour-highlighted action points).  The only downside I’ve found is we’re all used to people taking notes on paper during a meeting, but someone tapping at a computer seemed a bit rude, like they weren’t really paying attention.  I try to link the computer to a big screen during the meeting so folks can see what notes are being made – that seems to work quite well.

What is SaaS


Nothing to do with being sassy.  Everything to do with clouds.

SaaS is an acronym that stands for ‘Software AA Service’.  But I reckon that still doesn’t help much if you’re not a bit geeky.  Its not complicated though.

Instead of installing a piece of software on your computer (like you might do with say Microsoft Word), with SaaS, you simply use your browser to access software that’s been hosted in the cloud by the provider.  Software becomes a service that you use, rather than a piece of code that you install on your computer.

The last few years have seen a huge increase in the variety of software tools available on a SaaS basis, from simple desktop applications like wordprocessing and spreadsheets, through to enterprise software like CRM and HRM systems.

Payment for SaaS is often a monthly access fee, compared to a one-off purchase fee for traditional software.  There are often ‘freemium’ pricing models, where you can try out the basic service for free, and only pay for premium elements such as more features, storage or users.

I’ve been using SaaS tools more and more frequently over the past three years.  One of the key benefits I’ve experienced, is how they’ve enabled effective collaboration with colleagues.  Because they’re in the cloud and we’re sharing the same platform, they’ve  helped enormously with the real-time creation of documents by remote teams; and the tedium (or confusion) of managing change control.

SaaS tools can help deliver two elements which feature in many organisational ICT strategies – enabling collaboration and creative working within organisations; and reducing the overall cost of technology ownership.  They’ve already gained much traction in the private sector technology world, but are only just beginning to make an impact in organisations delivering public services.  I wonder if this is simply an awareness issue, or whether folks have experienced problems?

Over the coming months, I’m going to write about the various tools I’m already using, and new ones that appear.  I hope you find it useful.  Feel free to use the comments to raise any questions or share your experience of using different services.