Technology, regulations and innovations

Google has just released a video revealing their work on a drone delivery system, named Project Wing, which has been undergoing testing in Australia.

What struck me was that obviously Australia makes sense in terms of a testbed for large distances and potentially isolated customers, but also perhaps somewhere which isn’t tightening up regulations on drone flights as quickly as in the U.S and UK.

After all, in the U.S, the FAA has already banned the use of drones to deliver packages.

Meanwhile it’s likely Amazon will start actually delivering products via drones in India in the near future, according to reports.

Obviously there are safety implications in drone flights, along with other potential problems and hazards to overcome. But it seems that the response in the UK and U.S is rapidly becoming one in which governments and law enforcement agencies are undoubtedly increasing their drone usage all the time, but private companies and individuals are going to find themselves more and more restricted in what they can do.

That’s not only got implications for the innovation possible by those private concerns, but also how that feeds into advancements which governments might want to utilise. If India leads the way in drone deliveries, it’s going to lead the way in drone technology too.

In the meantime, I’ll be left waiting for a service which can deliver grilled steak tacos to my house every day for lunch.


Absolutely essential viewing: The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz

I finally got around to watching the documentary, “The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz’. It’s simply essential for anyone who cares about technology, the internet, access to information and the society of the future to watch. And it’s available to view for free on Youtube and other sites (embed below).

All the more tragic and inspiring to think of what he might have continued to achieve. And how the things he fought for are still so important to fight for now and in the future.


Sub £300 food 3D Printer looks interesting…

The Candy confectionery 3D Printer looks interesting. It’s still a Kickstarter project at the moment, but the proposed £299 ($499) price makes it well worth watching.


What’s interesting is that it has a nice and sleek design, which is quite a way from the existing Makerbot approach of ordering a kit and building it yourself to have a DIY industrial-style fabrication lab. That wouldn’t work as well in a kitchen environment, and it’s a sign that form is going to become an increasing partner to the function of a 3D Printer at the consumer level.

It’s being marketed as easy to use and simple, with a real focus on the benefits rather than the features. Again, that’s a sign of consumer marketing becoming part of 3D Printing, rather than it being cool simply because it’s cool tech.

And although consumer and pro-level 3D food printing is becoming relatively normal, the price is a lot less than existing products, at around half the price. At £299, it’s well within the range for a kitchen gadget for an enthusiastic cook or chef. That price is for backers, but even if you don’t get involved yet, it’ll retail at £359 ($599) assuming nothing changes by the 2015 shipping date.

Back in 2011, I got a little attention by claiming 2012 was the year of the 3D printer. And although I don’t think I was proved wildly wrong with regards to industrial use, examples in medicine and healthcare etc, as always when predicting mainstream technology adoption it’s easy to get caught up in early adopter enthusiasm and think ‘the mainstream’ will be right behind as quickly.

Having stumbled onto a 3D Printing area at the National Space Museum in Leicester last week, and listening to the variety of questions and various levels of familiarity, it’s definitely in the mainstream now, and it’s simply a case of 3D printer manufacturers showing the benefits rather than the features at these kinds of price points.


Nice Seth Godin talk from World Maker Faire

I don’t remember seeing this before, and it’s a typically inspirational talk from Seth Godin on ‘Art and Science and Making Things’ from the 2012 World Maker Faire.

Shame they didn’t have a microphone for people asking questions at the end, but well worth watching if you need a quick bit of encouragement to get making rather than recreating…


Treasure an age of individual beauty

Rather than mourning the loss of the classic canon of literature, music or film, we should be embracing an age where those interested can create and share their own ideals of beauty and art more easily.

Reading an article on the death of the novel by Will Self, followed by a reflection on Britpop and the anniversary of Blur’s Parklife, both seemed fueled by the end of gatekeepers rather than the end of great literature or music. It’s all too easy to mourn the loss of the past when you’re getting older.

The fact is that it’s never been easier or cheaper to immerse yourself in beautiful or thought-provoking art. Or to stumble across something thought provoking. And to find what speaks to you.

Although it’s best to look for yourself or get human recommendations rather than rely on the primitive suggestion attempts that big data is still providing. One day a data scientist will figure out that someone can like and loathe films by the same director or albums by the same band.


Book Snake by Alan Levine (Cogdog) on Flickr – CC License

Pinning Will Self’s term of a ‘serious novel’ down is difficult, but you could probably go by the standards of English teaching throughout the years. And while Jane Austen is justifiable as an example of a writer, I struggle to recall anything except boredom from studying her work.

Whereas George Orwell, Douglass Adams, Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller etc have stayed with me. And they’ve been joined by the likes of William Gibson. Re-reading some of his books recently (Pattern Recognition onwards), I still find myself utterly captivated by the way he weaves his otaku obsession with the detail of inanimate objects into his stories. He can open with the idea that jetlag means your soul isn’t capable of flight and is still traveling to catch up with you, and inspire an interest in researching Curta digital mechanical calculators.

At the same time, I also re-read Cory Doctorow’s Homeland. If the concepts of mass demonstrations, unlawful arrests and technology-based conspiracies doesn’t provoke some interesting thoughts, it also includes afterwords written by the likes of Aaron Swartz, and links to starting a Hackerspace, building 3D printers and more.

Given the current technological issues impacting on the world alongside economics and politics, there’s a ‘serious’ argument to be made. Or for those of a more historical bent, I remain fascinated with Hagakure – Book of the Samurai and Letters from a Stoic.

Not all novels, granted. But the breadth of mediums, formats and styles underlines my point. My serious reading comes from blogs, websites, eBooks, printed books, graphic novels, comics, cartoons and more.

Harp music in the library by Henk Kosters Flickr

Harp music in the library by Henk Kosters Flickr – CC License

But besides the delivery mechanism, what has changed is that it can be a completely individual and multifaceted canon. And one which I can explore and share. And by exploring, I can easily also find people who appreciate even just one of the same choices.

I’m still discovering music today from genres I loved, bought and obsessed about 20 years ago which I didn’t get to hear at the time due to the availability of American alternative music in Kent in the early 90s, or my limited budget to risk on metal bands I’d never get to sample on the radio. As much as friends could provide some recommendations, it’s amazing how much was shaped by watching specialist music shows on at 2am in the morning.

And I could never have had enough teenage friends to cope with my desire to listen to classic 60′s soul, 80′s hiphop, 90′s grunge and thrash metal, and a few folk and country songwriters, often in the space of an afternoon.

The internet hasn’t caused the end of mass youth trends. It’s simply accelerated the process started by television, radio and access to history which meant Britpop and Grunge in the UK largely led to questionable clothing and hairstyle choices rather than attempts to try and change the world. It also means I can create a playlist of songs that make me happy that includes Alphabeat, Jimmy Cliff and The Cure. And not only potentially meet other people that somehow arrived at a similar list, but even use it to find dates or love.

If the loss of mass consensus is the cost, I’m happy to pay it. And it”ll be interesting to see how that applies to politics, for example, as parties finally realise that for every one issue which I might align with, they have several that repel me. In the meantime, I’ll be exploring the history of pirates and vikings to share with my son, the latest marketing and technology news for work, and the most beautiful writing and music for myself.


UK smart heating alternative to Nest?

I probably ignore about 80% of the Kickstarter-based PR emails I get. Either they’re hugely irrelevant to any of the sites I run, or they’re ridiculously optimistic.

But I’ve been intrigued by Cosy. It’s a smart heating system which is controlled by an app, includes a thermostat/docking station which is portable, and has been developed just down the road from me in Cambridge.

It’s got a £20,000 goal to reach by April 14th, and so far more than £13,000 has been raised so there’s quite a way to go. It’ll be a shame if it doesn’t make it – almost every gadget I want or need is being produced in America, and is usually either unavailable in the UK or takes years to arrive.

I do wonder whether the relative lack of interest compared to earlier U.S based campaigns – is it a sign of the more jaded attitude people now have to Kickstarter campaigns, or is it a reflection on the fact it’s a UK based project? It’d be interesting to see Kickstarter campaign success/pledges by geography to see whether UK-based campaigns are at a disadvantage…


DPiP is back on April 10th, 2014

I’m pleased to say that Digital People in Peterborough has gone through a bit of a reboot, with the help of Jonathan and the wise move to ask Tia to volunteer in keeping us on track.

And to kick things off, we’ve got an event on Thursday, April 10th, 2014 at 7pm, at the Eco Innovation Centre on City Road in Peterborough, with Andy McGurk presenting plans for a new Digital Hub in Peterborough and asking for our input and feedback.


So if you’re in or around Peterborough, and have any involvement in the creative industries, development, design, blogging, eCommerce etc, or you want advice on how to start, come along and have a chat – we’re a pretty friendly and welcoming bunch…


The ultimate data ownership failure?

It seems that medical organisations on both sides of the Atlantic have been having major digital and data issues for some time, but given the constant questions over who owns our data (on social networks, mobile apps, internet usage etc), this sadly summed up the current situation for me.

To summarise, a government body handed over parts of my medical records to people I’ve never met, outside the NHS and medical research community, but it is refusing to tell me what it handed over, or who it gave it to, and the minister is now incorrectly claiming that it never happened anyway.

From Ben Goldacre writing for The Guardian.



Hurry up, Google Glass

I haven’t had my eyes tested for a while, but an existing condition means that glasses are an inevitability as I get older. So the fact that the Titanium Collection makes Google Glass more appealing by looking a lot less idiotic is making me wonder whether it’s wrong to hold off a visit to the opticians until more styles are available and the price starts to drop dramatically?

Being longsighted, the main times I’d need to use glasses would be when I’m reading etc, when access to additional information might be handy, and when I’m also generally somewhere private, avoiding the problem of looking like an idiot or scaring people who think I might be photographing or recording them.

It’s actually starting to get tempting…


Torn on Flickr…

Despite the plethora of photo sites that have existed over the years, I still use Flickr quite a bit. If anything it’s got worse for archiving and organising the photos I’ve taken, but it’s extremely familiar to me, having signed up originally in February 2006.

After 8 years, I’ve uploaded around 4,000 images, and around 2,000 of these are public, which have generated 47,867 views in that time. Back in 2008, I bought myself a Pro Account to allow (at the time) unlimited uploads – from memory it was while I was on holiday in Sweden and I had full memory cards to clear. It also followed shortly on from the birth of my son, which I assumed would mean I’d be taking a lot more photos I’d want to share with family and close friends in the future…

Apparently my Pro account is due to expire at the start of February 2014, right about my 8th anniversary of signing up, and 6 years after I originally started paying $24.95 a year.

That’s why I’m now torn. Because I have no problem in paying for services, but I do have a problem understanding what I’m now getting from Flickr, and why they should receive money for it?


Does Flickr have a business model?

Originally when I paid for a Pro account, I signed up for the main reason of unlimited uploads and storage, but it also enabled statistics on my account and an ad-free experience.

But now everyone gets one terabyte of free storage anyway (since May 2013), so I’m left with the choice of renewing my Pro account just for stats and avoiding advertising. I’m pretty sure I won’t be hitting the terabyte limit of more than 150,000 hi-res images anytime soon.

I’m assuming that if I allow it to lapse I’ll lose all my stats, along with the ad-free status – and to purchase a standard Ad Free account is now $49.99 per year.

While I’m happy that Pro account holders haven’t had a price increase, I’m still left wondering whether as a non-professional who uses Flickr partly as an archive, and sometimes to source Creative Commons licensed images, whether it’s worth it? Installing an ad-blocker in my browser and using one of a supply of other Creative Commons image sourcing solutions would avoid any payments. And as a non-professional photographer, does it really matter how many people have seen my photos, or which one has been most popular in the last 24 hours?

(For the record, it’s always this one)

And then it forces me to consider whether Flickr actually has a business model?

If it’s based on paid accounts, then boosting membership by making the free accounts comparable doesn’t work – eventually people do question why they’re paying.

And if it’s based on ad revenue, then the more content driving more page views is important. And being able to get a feedback loop on the pictures I upload is vital to encouraging me to upload more. That’s how almost every social site elicits a Pavlovian response to getting a Like, a Retweet or a comment of agreement. Losing stats that I do occasionally browse out of casual interest means Flickr becomes even more of an dusty archive into which copies of my Instagram and Facebook photos are sent but rarely seen.

It becomes even stranger when you look at the clarity of rival 500px. Free with 20 uploads, Plus for $25 to add stats and a Personal Store, and $75 for Awesome with themes, subdomains, portfolios etc.

Oddly you don’t actually get any more for the same price – Flickr has an easy option for licensing photos through Getty anyway, although it’s much less explicit, and separated off as a Getty responsibility. In fact to find the info, you have to hope a photographer has signed up for that scheme, or contact a member directly.


What should Flickr do?

It’s hard to solve Flickr’s issues without following the approach of 500px, although having just read about the closure of photo startup Everpix, it does seem like there is an approach and technology there which would give Flickr a much needed boost.

I’d suggest the Free account is pretty much fine, but I’d overhaul the way licensing is currently implemented to make Creative Commons and Getty licensing an intrinsic part of the package, and offer a SemiPro account for around $20. That’s not a huge expense if there’s a chance of selling a couple of photos a year, and you could offer some extra functionality.

For instance, Flickr has finally rolled out ‘Creations‘, a willfully obscure service for creating Photo Books which can be ordered as print albums. Which is currently US only. And just books – no calendars etc. Give me the options to create a range of products for the brands I run or manage, and there’s another justification for a paid account.

And finally, do a proper account for Professionals – even those with an expensive DSLR and a photography business aren’t necessarily going to have 200,000 images available. But they do want to be able to sell their work, accept commissions and probably lots of other things that wouldn’t occur to me as a non-professional. Certainly with photographer friends, they always seem to struggle with photo management on whichever CMS and web service they use to advertise their businesses and sell their images.

Then Flickr might become a viable asset for Yahoo, instead of feeling like a forgotten image archive in a dusty basement somewhere, filled with filing cabinets hidden behind an endlessly scrolling homepage which makes it harder to actually use.


Ironically, I couldn’t embed the above image from Flickr, because then WordPress wouldn’t pick up a Featured Image for the blog post. Another niggling technical annoyance which I’m sure could be solved somehow.


Update: On publication, I spotted the new Flickr embed now seems to allow you to scroll through a user’s images. That’s an annoyance if I’m embedding an image from another user to illustrate a blog post (Am I going to vet all their images in case a reader gets distracted?), as well as making me question whether I’ve set all personal family images to the right privacy setting, or if I can see them just because I’m logged into Flickr. Basically a reason to encourage people to download images, and then re-upload with the opportunity to forget to credit them.