Thursday, 28 February 2008

Content creators as criminals

It takes a good speaker to make copyright and IP interesting, but we were lucky to have one yesterday. Larry Lessig, Professor of Law at Stanford University and founder of Creative Commons, gave what had to be the best session of the conference. It was based on the premise that laws surrounding copyright, which were developed many, many years ago to deal with mainly the printed medium, are being applied to regulate the use of digital media, and it isn’t working. A good example he gave was a mother who posted a 29 second clip of her 18 month old son dancing on YouTube. In the background there was a a Prince track playing, and the artist’s distributors, Universal, asked YouTube to take the clip down, as it infringed their copyright - you can find lots of references to it on the internet, especially as the mother sued Universal and got her clip back!

There are many things you can do with a book which are unregulated – you can read it, give it away, even use it as a door stop. There are fair use agreements which mean you can copy parts of it, for example you want to review it. However, in terms of digital media, every use is considered to be equivalent to making a copy, for example every time someone views a web page, so every “use” has to be regulated and requires permission.

Creative Commons licences were created to allow content creators – who are often amateurs as opposed to professionals – to specify the rights they want to apply to their content.

He finished with the thought that either our kids will stop creating, or there will be a revolution and they will reject copyright law. It isn’t acceptable to build a world where the most creative are considered to be criminals.

Excellent speaker, and very thought provoking talk.

Boomer, Gen X and Millenials

An early start again – I’m not sure why, but all American conferences seem to start at 8am. I had had an early morning wake up call, when someone (who shall remain nameless but he knows who he is), texted me at 4am to tell me about the earthquake! I wasn’t impressed.

One of the first sessions this morning was about Generations, Technology and workstyles from Neil Howe. A very entertaining and interesting session about different generations, the things that have affected them and their attitude to technology and the workplace. The generations identified were:

The GI generation – born between 1901 and 1924, so today are aged 83 and over. Walt Disney. John Wayne. Ronald Reagan, John Kennedy, Maggie Thatcher, Ghandi. Protected by a huge wave of child protection laws, prohibition, free vitamins, drug act. The most uniformed generation. Went to moon. Optimistic. Identification with public purpose. Their children are the Boomer generation.
IT/innovation – vacuum tube, radio and TV networks, newsreels

The Silent Generation – born between 1925 and 1942, so today are aged between 65 and 82. Colin Powell, Martin Luther King, Elvis Presley, Gorbachev, Chirac.
The crisis generation – lived through many. Kept heads down in McCarthy era. Married and had kids earlier than any other generation. Fortunate. Upwardly mobile all lives. Conformed.
IT /innovation – mainframe, transistor, hi-fi, avant-garde media

Boomers – born between 1943 and 1960, so are aged between 47 and 64
Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Tony Blair, me!
Individualism – sense of self-sufficiency. Rejected establishment. Didn’t trust anyone over 30, now want to police anyone under 30. Took drugs to think outside the box, now give kids drugs to behave inside the box.
IT/innovation – integrated circuit, PC, VCR, cable TV, alternative and new journalism

Gen X- born between 1961 and 1981, so today are aged between 26 and 46
Barrack Obama, Kurt Cobain, Tiger Woods, David Cameron
Comfortable with winners and losers. Heard many negative predictions about themselves. Hate politics, don’t vote. Very few public figures, but a lot in business. Had “unwanted” childhoods. Divorce rate ramped up, schools no longer worked, fertility rate fell, didn’t seem to want kids. Culture turned anti child. Evil child movie era. Latch key kids. But, they revived the economy and are efficient and resilient.
IT/innovation – microchip, internet, digital media, cellphone, blog, web commerce

Millennial generation – born from 1982 onwards, so today are aged up to 25
Mark Zuckerberg, Hilary Duff.
New sense of protection of kids. Divorce rate went down, “baby on board” stickers appeared. Evil child movies stopped and cuddly baby movies produced. Which then became cuddly teen movies. Kids became protected. Child abuse hysteria. Child protection gadgets. Cycle helmets. Behavioural changes – reduction in violent crime by teenagers, reduction on risk taking.
Key IT/innovation – wimax, social networks, wiki, IM, mobile device, texting

Things to remember when dealing with them in the workplace or at college:
They’re special – want to be treated as VIPs, and you need to co-recruit the parents. Parents are all over them, even in their 20s. Biggest problem to teachers is parents. 4% even attend their kid’s job interviews!
They’ve been sheltered – pso need to provide a supervised environment. They love counselling.
They’re conventional – which is a surprise to most of their boomer parents. 40 to 50% live with parents. Cell phone has become the world’s longest umbilical cord
They plan– don’t offer them a temporary job.
They’re team oriented – make them part of the group. Use technology to create communities.
They’re active in the community – be active yourself. They volunteer. For Gen X kids, community service was a punishment! They vote and take an interest in social issues.

I haven’t done justice to the talk in my brief notes, but it was interesting afterwards talking to delegates about which generation we fitted into, and whether we could recognise the generalisations made about them. For the most part we could. I am definitely a Boomer, and my kids definitely Millenials! He finished with a nice slide illustrating the high achieving nature of the Millenials:

Wednesday, 27 February 2008


How unlucky/lucky can you be? I'm in San Francisco, and miss an earthquake in Sheffield!

Free beer, or free puppy?

Sun have just bought mySQL, the open source web database company, and one of the VPs was taking part in one of the sessions. He was great – very interesting, and gave a lot of insights into the world of open source, particularly into the commercial aspects. Obviously because of the theme of the conference he talked a lot about the community aspects of open source development. In his words, “if you operate transparently your users will tell you if you screw up”. Scale fast and fail fast – if something’s not working, find out why and do something differently.

We also had a session on some of Sun’s products for storage and HPC. This was a much more technical session, and one which I won’t go into in too much detail – lots of talk about teraflops (a great word). Also mentioned was project Blackbox – this is a datacentre in a shipping container. I saw one last year at this conference, and wanted one! A shipping container full of racks. Three plugs on the outside – power, data and chilled water. A datacentre that you could put in a car park, or a warehouse. You might not want to have Sun plastered all over it if you were going to put it in a car park though.

A panel session on open source in admin computing produced a good quote about open source not being free and needing a lot of support: “It’s not free beer, it’s a free puppy”.

Final sessions of the day were on energy and the environment. Sun have a VP for Eco Responsibility, and seem to be taking the issues seriously. In order to be sustainable, we’re going to have to be innovative – computing being part of the solution to how we do things differently but also part of the problem. I’ve quoted this before, but IT is responsible for as many carbon emissions as the airline industry. Although Sun are looking at many areas – they saved 99m sheets of paper for example by not printing their Annual Report – their main priority is energy efficiency of computers. Some facts:

Data centres cost $7.2billion to operate annually
Power consumption doubled between 2000 and 2005 and will probably double again by 2010
60% of data centres are running out of power, cooling and space
Utility grids are not keeping up with the demand for power.

He outlined a number of initiatives Sun are taking, including redesigning data centres, rolling out sunrays instead of PCs (they use about 1/20th of the power), looking at energy efficiency at every component level and designing for disassembly and recycling.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008


The conference opens, with a video introduction from Sun’s CEO Jonathan Schwartz. The theme of the conference is “The Power of Communities”, and the first session is from Joe Hartley, Sun VP for Global Government, Education and Healthcare
- he also bears a striking resemblance to Steve Martin and I keep expecting him to break into a stand up routine! He talks about communities and networking, and how some of the new technologies are facilitating the establishment of communities. Communities are only successful if they members of them have commitment to them, and can either provide or obtain value from them. He introduced some of Sun’s ideas of communities especially those surrounding open source software.

The second speaker was Barry Libert from Mzinga, and co author of a book entitled “We are Smarter Than Me”. Co-author normally means there’s one, or two others, but in this case there were 5,100 contributors. Barry used the concept that WE based organisations could be more successful then ME based ones – ie those that embraced the concept of community could gain a competitive advantage, and that the pervasiveness of the internet and the rise of Web 2.0 and social networking technologies was facilitating this. Some interesting statistics – 36% of Americans use Wikipedia, 112m people write blogs, and many millions more read them, there are more podcasts than radio programmes, there are 250m pieces of tagged social media on the internet, and 65m Facebook users.

Some examples of how this “WE” culture can be used in organisations:
To develop new products – the Dell Idea Storm
To support users – Apple support forums
To sell products – eBay (apparently there are more people making a living from eBay than are employed by Wal-Mart)
To provide finance for projects – and being two good examples
To do proprietary research – Innocentive
To write code – open source software development

Some of the links are worth looking at. OK, back to the conference (this is my lunch break...)

The world famous Bushman

Trip to the garlic restaurant was an experience - especially if you don't like garlic! We tried the garlic ice cream, but weren't impressed - it tasted very metallic. I much preferred the vanilla with chocolate sauce! Had a couple of drinks afterwards in one of my favourite San Francisco bars - The Saloon - just across the road. It's a great place, a bit of a dive but that's part of its charm. Live music every night - last night we heard Johnny Nitro and the Doorslammers - amazing saxophinist in the band. Only problem was the amount of Jack Daniels you get in a glass - I had three and probably drank half a bottle.....

This morning we had time to cross the bay on a ferry before the conference starts properly this afternoon - nice views of Alcatraz in sunshine because at last it's stopped raining! It looks quiet a nice place in the sun, but you wouldn't want to stay there! On the way back I saw one of the San Francisco characters - the Bush Man. He hides behind some shrubbery, and jumps out and scares people! I've been coming here for 11 years, and I've seen him every time. Wouldn't be the same without him!

Sunday, 24 February 2008

My Favourite City.....

So. San Francisco. One of my favourite cities. But - it's raining, and cold, and windy. Like Sheffield! Arrived last night (or early yesterday afternoon depending on what clock you're on) in a storm. It was the Chinese New Year Parade, and the chinese dragons had plastic bags over their heads! I felt sorry for the dancers who carried on despite the rain and the wind blowing everything away. Lots of great fireworks - including firecrackers being thrown towards the crowd - wouldn't get that in the UK!

Today the weather was a little better, and the sun came out at the Martin Luther King memorial - a wonderful waterfall that you walk behind and there are quotes from him in several different languages etched onto the stone wall.

Had to get a cable car to the Bay (it's compulsory when here) and say hello to the Sea Lions who laze on wooden pallettes off the Pier. They make me laugh - huge, lazy, noisy creatures who climb over each other and push each other into the water.

Off to the Stinking Rose tonight - a garlic restaurant. Everything has garlic in it. Even the ice cream!

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Exec Away Day

The executive team had an awayday yesterday and spent some time revisiting work we've being doing over the past year. We confirmed the departmental vision, and looked at aways of making changes to achieve it - the comments from the world cafe meetings were very helpful. We also discussed ways of communicating within the department - especially as were are now on 13 sites - and how to liaise with the University, at an operational level as well as strategic. We also had an interesting presentation on leadership and management, what makes a good leader and why is it different form management. Lots of discussion on delegation, and how it can sometimes be difficult to delegate if you feel people are already overloaded.

I'm at the Sun Microsystems Worldwide Education and Research Conference for the next few days, so expect a couple of pictures of San Francisco!

Thursday, 21 February 2008


The University's been doing a lot of work over the last few years on CRM (Customer Relationship Management), particularly for prospective students. We've developed a system in-house which brings together on one screen all interactions with prospective students, including what information they've been sent, what open days they've attended, what course they've applied for, what accommodation they've been allocated, any phone calls they've made or emails they've sent - a very popular system which has gone down very well with most of the departments who have used it. It also allows people to book places on open days through a web form. Now this pilot phase is being extended - imaginatively called CRM2 - and I'm on the Steering Group. As well as improving the current system, we will be extending the project to include all interactions with students - the virtual student file - by utilising technologies such as our document management system.

Part of the Steering Group's remit will also be looking at ways of improving the way prospective student enquiries are actually handled - guidelines have already been produced, and we've been running some training session on how to get the best out of our phone system - (how many people for example haven't set a personal voice mail message?)

Mystery shopping is being carried out - not just on academic departments, but on professional service departments as well - to see how calls are handled. We all have to realise that anyone who deals with an incoming phone call, or an email, or speaks to a visitor, is acting as an ambassador for the University and should deal with the enquiry professionally.

This is an exciting project, with implications for all of us - I'll keep you posted on developments.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Does a Second Life avatar use as much power as a Brazilian?

Yesterday I spent the day at a JISC consultation event in London. This was an opportunity for various representative groups, including UCISA of which I’m Vice-Chair, to tell JISC what our concerns and issues are, and for them to tell us what plans they have for the coming year.

UCISA do a “Top Concerns” survey amongst it’s members every year, where senior IT Managers have to suggest, and then vote on, which issues are important to them, and what issues are likely to become significantly more important over the next year. The results of the last survey are here. The ones we discussed with JISC were:

Funding – particularly sustainable funding. We are constantly being asked to do more as technologies become more functional and critical to the organisation, but resources do not usually increase. It is also easier to obtain capital funding rather than recurrent, and yet it is in staffing that many of us need to invest. Capital funding can come from number of sources, including SRIF, and the JISC themselves, and I personally have been in the situation of being allocated money, and not having the staff to spend it.

Another issue we discussed was the whole area of “Green IT”. I’ve mentioned power consumption of PCs and Data Centres in previous posts, and I have heard that IT accounts for 2% of global carbon emissions – more than the airline industry. There’s a lot of work to be done to reduce our carbon footprint, and we need to be looking at the what happens wherever students are learning, not just in the University but at home and in student halls, as well. Even Second Life avatars leave a footprint

The third area was the whole area of e-learning, including the changing needs and expectations of students, and the use of new technologies (blogs, wikis etc), as well as virtual learning environments.

The JISC outlined a couple of communication themes to us, including Libraries of the Future, and Changing Student Expectations. Some of this will be informed by a project carried out by UCL for the JISC and the British Library looking at the behaviour of the researcher of the future, or the google generation - it's an interesting read.

Oh, and don't you think my Second Life avatar has pretty hair?

Monday, 18 February 2008

T shirt

Apparently someone in the department (who shall remain nameless for now), dared someone else in the department (who shall also remain nameless, but is fairly closely related to me...), to buy this T shirt. He hasn't yet, or if he has, he hasn't worn it. You will know if he does.

PC Power

Had an interview on Friday with someone from HEEPI (Higher Education Environmental Performance Improvement) who have just started a 12 months study for JISC "Managing Environmentally Sustainable ICT in Further and higher Education". Funnily enough, contact was made via this blog because of the post about energy savings in data centres. We talked a lot about a project we carried out last year, looking at energy usage of PCs, given that we have about 12,000 of them on campus. Usage various tremendously between different makes and models, and also between different states of the PC. For example when your PC is idle and goes to sleep, you might think it’s using practically no energy, but we found some models that were using nearly as much in that state as when active. Our recommendations now are that all machines are turned off at night, and the power supply is also turned off – many machines draw power from the socket even when they are turned off! Of all the machines tested, the Mac mini used the least power – by a long way. Sun Rays were also very low, and that’s one of the reasons we’re looking at using them to run our new managed service which will be thin client based.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Data issues

It's amazing how after two days back at work, a holiday seems so long ago! Lots of things to catch up on, and lots of junk emails to delete. Not spam - we filter most of that out, but all of those companies who've got my contact details because I put my business card into their jar at an exhibition to win an iPod, all of those recruitment companies who think I'm going to use their services, all of those companies who think an unsolicited email to me is going to make me buy their product (how wrong they are).

A meeting yesterday to discuss how we provide management information to Departments and Faculties, especially in the light of the restructuring that's going on. We collect and store an enormous amount of central data - on student numbers, admissions, staffing, research income etc. It's also very high quality data, ie we're fairly certain it's accurate. At the moment there's a number of ways of accessing it, and what we want to do in partnership with the Corporate Planning Office is to make it easily accessible, preferably through a web interface, with a top level "dashboard" and the ability to drill down to more detail, to both static and live data. It's a new project, and one that will have to be delivered in phases. We'll be starting this project as soon as possible, with the hope of delivering the first phase by the summer. More detail will follow on our project pages.

Today myself and Dave met one of larger science departments to talk about how best to store their research data. It's a big problem for many departments as more and more data is produced - often it's kept on hard drives on PCs, or external hard drives, or on the shared areas on our fileservers. Last year we invested a considerable sum of money on a central filestore. It's got lots of discs which are protected in case one breaks, the machines are in two places so there's business continuity protection, and everything is secure and backed up. We obviously would like to move all of the research data in the University onto this. But - there are resource implications which we're currently trying to work through. Today's meeting was very useful - it was great to talk to a Head of Department about the issues they face, and hopefully explain some of ours. I must get out more...

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

No longer at a distance...

Well I'm back - yesterday at this time I was sipping sangria in the sun, now I'm dealing with hundreds of emails, trying to prepare for meetings and generally catching up on what I've missed. During the last week I've seen dolphins swimming by the side of the boat, read loads of books, walked on a mountain in snow in shorts, bare feet and sandals (due to a slight miscalculation of how high the mountain was and how cold it might be at the top..), and watched a comedy Elvis show! All good stuff. Normal blogging will return as soon as I get my head around it - probably tonight or tomorrow. Till then, some holiday pics - the dolphins - you've no idea how many pictures I've got of just sea to get that one - the view from our apartment balcony, and El Teide, the highest mountain Spain. Complete with snow - I just didn't notice it!Incidentally, if Tenerife is part of Spain (which it is), and they use the Euro (which they do), why does it count as outside the EU for buying duty free goods?

Sunday, 3 February 2008

The importance of pronunciation...

UCISA Executive meeting in London last Thursday. Several interesting items discussed. The main one concerned the way Universities access electronic journals. The main technology used to authenticate to online journals has been Athens, but institutions are being encouraged to use an access management system called Shibboleth. I’m not going to explain the technology behind either of them – far to complex for me to attempt, but I’ve put links in for anyone who’s interested in finding out more.

The origin of the name Shibboleth is interesting, and why would anyone use it for an authentication system? Well, it originates from a Hebrew word meaning the part of a plant containing grains. According to the Book of Judges in the Bible, it was used to distinguish between members of two groups, the Ephraimites and the Gileadites, the Ephraimites having no “sh” sound in their dialect. The inhabitants of Gilead defeated the tribe of Ephraim, and the surviving Ephraimites tried to cross the River Jordan back to their own land. In order to identify (and then kill) them, the Gileadites merely asked refugees crossing the river to say the word Shibboleth. If they said it correctly they were OK. If they said Sibboleth, they were killed. Apparently 42,000 met their death because of this. In computer terms, the word is now used to mean a way of testing who you are, ie authentication and then authorisation to use services.

After that interesting diversion, back to the UCISA meeting! The reason we were discussing this, is that it is the strategy in UK universities to move to Shibboleth as a way of authenticating to e-journals, away from the current system of Athens. However, there has to be a transition stage where both are in use because many publishers have not moved to Shibboleth. Athens and the gateway service allowing institutions using Shibboleth to also use Athens, is provided to the community by Eduserve, and paid for by JISC. However, recent discussions between JISC and Eduserve on the costs of the gateway have broken down with no agreement. We were discussing what to say to the JISC, and what advice to give UCISA members on the bet way forward.

Phew, hope you got all of that – it really is quite complex, but there’s lots of info around if you’re interested in finding out more.

I’m off on holiday tomorrow to Tenerife for a week, so I doubt that I’ll be blogging until I get back – unless I post a few holiday snaps!