Friday, 19 July 2013

Class of 2013

So, another graduation week comes to an end, and I'm off on holiday so no more posts for a couple of weeks. I'm going to leave you with two videos produced for our Class of 2013 - call me a softie but they almost brought a tear to my eye. And how wonderful to include Jez from John's van in one of them. Enjoy, and see you in a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013


One of my favourite University weeks this week - Graduation  - it ties with Freshers Week. This week we see our successful graduates celebrate and leave us, and in freshers week we see another group of eager students arrive. The sun is shining, and the University looks wonderful - the new plaza outside of the Octagon Centre is almost finished and looking good

 we have a champagne bar in the Quad

and a jazz band to welcome the students as they emerge from the ceremonies

And of course we're doing our bit to make sure the students can remember the day. Our creative media and teaching technologies teams are over there live streaming the ceremonies - you can watch the here - as well as recording them for students to take home on a DVD or USB stick. Both of these are produced on site and we have them ready an hour after the ceremony has finished. We've got our friend Ed from Re:Axive back to take the Facebook taggable gigapixel photos, and for students who don't want the full 1hour recording of the ceremony, they can get their 2 minutes of fame as we release their handshake videos on Facebook which they can then share with their friends and family.

Excellent work from the team as always, and if you wondered what it looks like while they're recording/streaming/editing, here's a pic, courtesy of Chris Clow.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

13 year old CEOs and Swarm Organs

The Activate day yesterday was excellent - a lot to think about, especially around how we innovate, and some interesting thoughts on how we as Universities can help develop our students to become entrepreneurs. One of the panel sessions was comprised of young entrepreneurs, all of whom ran their own business, and the age range was from 34, down to 13! Young Jordan Casey is CEO and founder of Casey Games, with a team of 3 working for the company, and does most of the work on school nights, after he's done his homework. He confessed that his parents thought he was playing games, not writing them and were somewhat surprised when they realised the extent of what he had done!

One of the other highlights for me was a presentation from the Swarm Organ project - difficult to describe but I'll have a go. Imagine a lego model of a plane, which you then break up. Imagine if the lego bricks could act like tiny robots, and put themselves together again. It would be difficult because each robotic brick would only know where it was in relation to its immediate neighbours and would not see the bigger picture, ie the whole model. But, cells do this all the time. They can build big structures only communicating with their neighbours. Think of cells as tiny robots....  Imagine being able to regrow an arm....  Bringing together biology and technology. It was fascinating. If you want to know more, there's a nice little video about it here.

Swarm Organ Twenty20 from FET FoCAS on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

The father of the Internet

Fireside chat with father of the Internet, Vint Cerf who has a great job title, Chief Internet Evangelist for Google
Always enjoy listening to him, but never take many notes, too busy listening. Here's a few gems:

Internet was created by homogenous geeks, like himself, who were only interested in getting it to work. Then it was released on general public, and now it touches everyone. Not everything was thought through! Lots of stuff can be done for security and privacy, technical solutions. But lot we can do personally to improve it. Usernames and passwords a not good, can't remember them, write them down. Two factor authentication much better. Banks already doing it.
Domain name system security being worked on.
End to end encryption is a possibility.
So we can protect ourselves. But, as a former programmer, Vint admitted that no one writes bug free code, so there is no bug free code. No bug free software or browsers!

Internet enable you to turn products into service. Especially relevant to the media. Not just getting information, but being able to interact with it and take actions.

What are his worries about internet? That we will be unable to keep it stable, sustain growth or maintain privacy and security.

Current trends? Internet of things, higher speeds, mobile, connectivity eg google balloons in New Zealand.

Next big thing, computers to augment human intellect. Computers as partners. Ability to have a conversation, not typing commands.

Technology is racing ahead so quickly, and we are so keen to embrace it, we don't always appreciate some of the hazards and side effects. We do things which are innocent, but we can't all predict outcomes of social behaviour. Have to be willing to learn from mistakes.

Global issue of legal frameworks, the internet transcends international boundaries, by design. Problems will not be solved individually, but by cooperation and collaboration.

Google glass is like having your mobile strapped to your forehead but more comfortable. Put out as a pilot to see what people could and would do with it. Demo earlier showed that there is no subtle way to take a photo ( earlier the chair of the day, Jeff Jarvis had demonstrated Google glass. It didn't go well. All I can remember is lots of shouting "OK Glass" and much jerking of the head )

What did he think about copyright? The Internet is one big copying engine. We need to rethink and redefine copyright. Can't keep using an old business model written for the advent of the printing press, for new technology.

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Lightening rounds

Great set of lightning rounds this morning at Activate conference, all using Pecha Kucha, 20 slides, 20 secs each. They were founders of tech start ups, and this is a flavour of them.

Raspberry Pi. Made to get young people into programming. Toolkit for experimentation and computational thinking. Enabled a 13year old to send marshmallows into space, to see how they expanded and used a grape as a control :-) Is a version of Minecraft available with the tag line Why dig when you can code.

Therefore, product design consultants. Invented the Gravity light. Alternative to kerosene. Lifts a weight which then slowly falls to ground and powers a light for 3 hours. Funding raised on crowd funding campaign site. Relied heavily on influencers, and raised $300,000 after being tweeted by Bill Gates.

Founder of crowd funding website, Indiegogo. Largest global crowd funding system. No gatekeepers. No judgement, no applications. Merit based, so higher the gogo factor, the higher you get promoted on the site. Lot of investment in trust and safety. Also, have to allow failure. Improves equlaity, 47% of campaigns run by women.

Then two presentations by Tech talent day winners which was yesterday.

First from Peerby founder. Borrow the things you need from people in your neighbourhood in minutes.
Find things you need but don't need to buy, like lawnmowers, or chocolate fountains. All free, but revenue generated by insurance.
Came to London last week. Fantastic idea. Would love it to come to Sheffield.

Radar. Trains and mentors citizen reporters from underdeveloped areas. Based on SMS news alerts from mobiles, no need for Internet. Operates as a news agency using professional journalists who do the editing etc. Using free software currently including google, ushahidi and Tumblr. Now developing an app for the content. Some great success stories.

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First fireside chat

Chat with CEO of Ericsson, Hans Vestberg. Some interesting insights. Difficult to blog, but here are some snippets from the interview.

Cost of handset very important in mobile ownership. Ericsson are driving down cost of handsets by using standard technology across the world. In many countries in world, you buy your phone, in UK cost often borne by operator. Reducing the cost of handset by $10 means 100m more people can afford a Phone.

By 2018 number of people with mobile internet will have increased 3 fold to 98%. By 2020, the will be 50b connected devices.

75% of time spent on a phone is not making calls – 5 years ago this was just 5%

Social inclusion important now, digital inclusion will be vital in the future

Mobility, connectivity and the cloud will transform the way we work.
Cloud technology is both useful and daunting in light of the PRISM scandal. All your data in one place. As the data explosion continues, corporations & governments will face the challenge of maintaining trust with consumers/citizens.

Technology will never be as slow as it is right now - it's only going to get faster.

Will be different purposes for devices in future. Hub for connectivity will be the smart phone. Could be different shape and form, but will essentially be a smart phone. We will stop talking about TVs, mobiles etc we will talk about connected devices
Enormously dense networks will be required to cope with new technologies including Google Glass.

Nice little video referred to here.

Interesting first question in Q and A , " Do companies like Ericsson need to make back doors available for intelligence agencies?" got a very curt and simple "No".

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Unleashing the girl effect

Next up is Maria Eitel, CEO of NIke Foundation, on Unleashing the Girl Effect. Opens with video showing girls in developing countries married at 14, pregnant at 15, in prostitution at 16 to support a family.
But if you invest in an adolescent girl, keep her in school, keep her healthy, would enter labour market, if happens across generations, would have huge effect on poverty. Look at

Stop poverty before it starts. Cost of losing these millions of girls is huge. Nike Foundation entered a number of partnerships to unleash the girl effect across Africa and Asia. Investment in adolescent girls crucial.

Asking the girls what they want. They spent 10s of thousands of hours talking to girls. Examples, spend 8 hours a day on chores, no electricity so can't study at night, drops out of school, cycle starts.

Built a digital and analogue network, use magazines to spread word. Use insight based technology. When girls get technology, they're the first to teach it. Will teach the rest of the family. They are very shrewd users. For example, using ushahidi to map safe spaces. Most bizarre, girls worked out how to hack generators to run on urine,not diesel. Referred to as the pee powered internet later :-). Nike Foundation attempting to build a digital community of 100m girls using feature phones. Need to optimise current systems and innovate new ones.

Interesting and passionate talk. worth a look. The campaign has got its critics, accusing it of playing to stereotypes of women for example, and ignoring the role of men in the community. But, investing in technology for adolescent girls to keep them in education and out of the early marriage cycle has to be a good thing in my opinion.

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Activate: Open Development

Today I'm at the Guardian Activate conference, been before and found it very stimulating. Mainly attended by media people, it's good to mix with a different crowd. There are many speakers, and the sessions are short, the longest 20 minutes, the shortest 2 minutes. Blogging could be interesting!

First up is Chris Vein, Chief Innovation Officer for The World Bank on innovation and openness.

Talking about Open Development. Transparency enables greater participation in development process, collaboration vital to innovation. Open Bank focusing on extreme poverty.

"In an analogue world, policy dictates delivery, in a digital world, delivery informs policy" Mike Bracken. Start with the user, not the policy

8 principles of open development:

User centred. Understand needs of the user. Bottom up approach, not top down.

Data driven. Most disruptive of principles. Use real time data to make real time decisions. Shorten processes eg for open bank, making loans. Example, project in Uganda, banana crop extremely important. Disease attacking banana plants, could wipe them out, used SMS messaging to report outbreak of disease, map responses using geocoding, created map of disease for first time.

Reusable. Reuse bits of development to speed it up

Scalable. Everyone loves a pilot, let a thousand flowers bloom etc, but world is littered with dead flowers. Think about long term scalability, not short term solution.

Sustainable. Modular development based on open source, open data platforms, doesn't have to be recreated as things change. Let the world in to maintain it.

Ecosystem. Think of all of the players in a solution. Understand everyone and keep everyone involved.

Open. Goes without saying. Example, Map of a slum area in Tanzania. Government had no idea of how big slum was, where roads were etc. used people in the slums to map it.

Security and privacy. Has to be a priority in all projects.

In summary, technology is powerful, but to truly provide solutions, eg to eradicate poverty:
Development as the platform
Community is the capacity
Customer is the approach
Empowerment is the key

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Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Identity Management Demystified

Interesting day today at the Identity Management Task Force, set up as part of the JISC Innovation initiative. Instead of looking at technical solutions to problems, our job is to look at the people and cultural issues to identity management. One of the biggest issues we identified was most of the University, with the exception of the Library and IT departments, not only not knowing what it is, but not really caring. Put simply, it's about people getting access to the services they are entitled to access. That includes electronic journals, academic software, corporate systems, buildings.

It's usually seen as an IT problem, as we are are the "blockers" - we are the ones saying you can't have a computer account, you can't access this service etc. Librarians also get the blame when they don't allow access to resources or buildings.

What we identified today is that it is rarely an IT or Library issue, and more often than not it is an HR, student or governance matter. For example, two completely hypothetical examples. A University sets up a franchise agreement with an overseas college. As part of the deal the students of the college are told they will get access to the VLE and eResources. But, the students are not really students of the University and won't be returned to HESA, so the student registry don't want to input their details onto the student record system. So, they can't have computer accounts, and because they are not our students they're not covered by licences for the VLE or eResources. Or, a University sets up a wholly owned subsidiary company, and the staff of it are not employed by the University. But they teach and supervise students and need access to software and buildings. But they're "not the right kind of staff" so can't have it.

These sorts of issues are common in many institutions, and usually happen because no thought is given about IM when strategic decisions are made. Often the IT department/library only finds out after a deal has been done.

We identified a number of other cultural and people issues, but this was the one that got the most discussion. We've agreed that we need to have a much wider discussion and involve a bigger cross section of the university sector including HR professionals, student registrars and senior management staff to get to a shared understanding of the issues, and come up with some guidance and good practice examples. We also need to demystify what IM is, and talk in a language that everyone understands. It's all about improving the student and staff experience of getting access to everything they are entitled to, when and how they want it.

Oh, and we need to simplify and clarify our licence arrangements, but that could be a much bigger task!

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Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Student innovation ideas - winners announced

I've posted before about the Summer of Student Innovation, and the winners have just been announced. 21 projects will get £5,000 and help with developing their ideas which will be showcased at the end of the summer at an event which we hope will be in September. Some great ideas, and it will be interesting to see what they come up with and how many actually develop into usable projects. You can read about the funded ones here.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Working together

One of the most important aspects to delivering good services is collaboration and teamwork - we couldn't do our jobs without it. It's not just teamwork within CiCS, but across all of the departments we work with.  Most of the time everything works well, but very occasionally relationships breakdown, different cultures collide or communication fails. So, you have to keep working at it, and we've got some great initiatives being implemented or piloted. The Sheffield Leader programme is management development which brings cohorts of staff together from across the institution. In some of the levels staff work on projects together and I'm really pleased that one of the projects which included a member of our staff has received funding from the Leadership Foundation - there's a great article about it here, as well of some great pictures of Janine. The project has been looking at how academic and professional service staff can understand each other better.

Carrying on with that idea, we've been piloting a work shadowing scheme with 10 staff from CiCS and the Faculty of Arts shadowing each other. Today we had a "Meet the Department" session which brought together a mixture of staff from the Faculty of Arts and CiCS. We did a few presentations - starting with an introduction to the department and who we are, where we are and what we do, followed by a great session on "The Hidden World of Infrastructure". A difficult subject to get across to non technical people, but important that the complexity of what we do is understood. Some great fact and figures - we have about 43,000 devices connected to our wired network, and in the last year we've had 100,000 unique wireless devices connect. That's at least 2 per registered user. The extent of our server virtualisation is quite impressive - 7 years ago we had 100 physical servers, each running a service. Now we have 800 services running on 10 physical servers. Soon that will be reduced to 2. It was brought home to me when I went on one of our lunchtime tours of the data centre, (which proved very popular), as I'm not normally allowed down there (I have an urge to fiddle with things....) and I saw all of the empty racks!

Other talks included one on shared service development which explained the collaborative way we run projects and develop new services, and one on incident management and business continuity. Two important messages to come out of this one- Don't Panic and Call Control, and Don't let your pants cause a power cut.   Finally we had a presentation how we support learning and teaching technologies - everything from providing and managing 1700 open access PCs, helping to run the Information commons, providing AV services, lecture capture facilities, supporting the VLE and providing creative media facilities for students. During the day we had opportunities for staff to network, and overall it was  a very good event, and we hope to do it again, either to other specific faculties or as an open event.