Join us for live cricket online on Wednesday #LouthTWicket

Devon Malcolm

Devon Malcolm

It’s been more than 3 years since #Twicket, the world’s first live streamed village cricket match, but this Wednesday (3rd September), I am stepping back into the fray to live stream cricket again. This time I am working with Lincolnshire County Council’s Onlincolnshire broadband project to broadcast the PCA Masters v. the RAF game from Louth Cricket Club, which is one of a number of events that have been enhanced with technology to highlight the potential uses of better broadband.

This time there will be no Brenda and no Vicar’s Son, but there will be a number of big-name former international cricketers, including Graham Thorpe, Devon Malcolm, Steve Harmison and Dominic Cork. And we are gathering a cast of local characters to add to the online fun of the day.

The weather forecast is good, and my old friends at Rural Broadband are coming along to make sure we have a good connection. So, if you are anywhere near Louth on Wednesday, please join us, you might get on camera, or get the chance to do a bit of commentary. If you can’t make it, then please add to the fun on Twitter and other social media. We’re using the hashtag #LouthTWicket. And, of course, you’ll be able to watch the action live online at http://www.johnpophamlive.co.uk

 

My interview on BBC Radio 4 “You and Yours” about Free Wifi for Hospitals

On 29th May I appeared on BBC Radio 4’s “You and Yours” programme talking about the need for Free Wifi in Hospitals. The feature is below.

Join the campaign at https://www.facebook.com/groups/hospitalwifi/

Thanks very much to “You and Yours” for raising the profile of this vital issue.

Using technology to disrupt centralised decision-making

I am starting to write this hoping it will not turn into a rant. I’ve said this before, many times, and I suspect I will say it again, many more times.

Britain is one of the most centralised countries in the world. Decisions are made in London all the time about issues that affect us all. Many of these decisions are taken in small meetings which involve no one with a perspective from beyond the M25. I myself have been at meetings in the capital where I have been the only attendee not based in London but where it has been assumed that everyone present can speak with experience of the whole country.

It need not be like this any more. We have the tools to change this situation. The London-based decision makers who take the top-level decisions are already open to scrutiny. We can watch their discussions on the BBC Parliament Channel.

The internet allows us to take the Parliament Channel principle into all aspects of decision-making. It’s a straightforward task now to live-stream your meeting, involve remote attendees using tools like Skype and Google+ Hangouts, and engender online discussion using Twitter, Facebook or online fora. It’s not happening anywhere near enough. Why not?

One of the factors, that I’ve observed myself when in London, is those serendipitous meetings, where people just happen to bump into each other, exchange views and start working on a collaborative solution. This happens everywhere, but it happens a lot more in London, where there are more people, and where such collaborations can often get direct access to funders and decision-makers very quickly. How we spread those sorts of benefits is a trickier challenge, but, I am sure technology has a role to play.

So, let’s do it. Let’s use new technologies to break down centralism in decision-making.

Some of my passions

Some of the things I am passionate about:

If you connect with me on social media, I’m likely to talk about all of these things at some point, because work and social life tend to leak into each other. I hope you don’t have a problem with that.

What are you passionate about?

Disruption from the bottom up

We hear a lot about the internet causing “disruption”, i.e. radically shaking up and undermining established ways of doing things. I’ve been thinking about some real disruption being led from sources which might seem unlikely.

Now, I’m a great believer in being ambitious in the technological sphere. I think we have to think radically and be prepared to push at boundaries if we are going to achieve real change and demonstrable benefits. And I believe broadband is one of these spheres. In my opinion the economic development of the UK is being held up by a lack of ambition in how we take broadband forward. Yes, the Government, European Union and local authorities are investing in getting “superfast” broadband ever further into the countryside, but what they are investing in is constrained by the “art of the possible”; by which I mean it is being put into delivering more of the same, within the parameters of what certain big players are prepared to deliver, and what the market demand is perceived to be.

Settle

Broadband is one of those areas where I believe the Henry Ford doctrine of “don’t invest in faster horses” applies. The market demand for faster broadband speeds is limited by what people believe is possible and what they think they need now. It fails to take into account the pace of technological change, and the fact that more bandwidth hungry uses, applications and appliances are coming into use every day. I fear that the investment which is now being made in today’s broadband technology will have to be done all over again in a few years time when demand once again exceeds the available bandwidth of the solutions currently being installed. That is why I advocate that means should be found, wherever possible, to ensure that broadband installation is future-proofed; and that means installing fibre-to-the-premises, not halfway houses which introduce bottle necks into the system.

Tractor

All this is vey frustrating. And yet, there are heroic souls out there who have bitten the bullet and are installing their own future-proof connections. Prime among these, in my opinion, are the farmers and villagers of the north Lancashire B4RN project, who are raising money from their own resources and digging hundreds of miles of trenches, to install fibre to the premises connections to properties in some of the north of England’s most remote areas. B4RN is already delivering 1Gbps (1000Mbps) symmetrical connections to its first customers, and those connections are capable of being turned up to even greater speeds should future needs demand.

Sedgford

The irony in this, for me, is that we now have people living in one of the country’s most remote areas who are experiencing the fastest internet speeds available. It will be some time before B4RN has a critical mass of customers connected to the network, but, I ask myself, how disruptive will 1Gbps rural communities be? We will shortly have digital farmers and digital villagers shrinking distances and finding new ways of operating that most of us have never thought about before. And what about the potential for geek vacations to the B&Bs and holiday cottages with the hyperfast connections? This is turning on its head the traditional notions of silicon valleys and technology roundabouts, where we think of the cities as the engines of technological innovation.

Tower Block

And so, the other day, I spotted this story about Hyperoptic offering Gigabit broadband to tower blocks in London. And this made me think. Social landlords are struggling at the moment to get more of their tenants online before the move to online management of benefits payments and the Government’s “Digital by Default” agenda further disadvantages them. What if we used approaches like that of Hyperoptic (allied with a bit of B4RN grit) to create Gigabit social housing tenants. OK, many tenants might be reluctant to go online; but what if they were offered the opportunity to become the fastest tenants in the world? Would they take that opportunity? And would it be truly transformational? I think its an experiment worth trying.

If B4RN can place the remotest villagers at the forefront of the technological revolution, why can’t social landlords do the same with some of their tenants? Lets have true disruption led from the bottom up.

Conference Venues and Connectivity

Image by Paul Clarke http://paulclarke.com/photography/

I’ve been prompted to write this post by my experience live streaming Commscamp yesterday in Birmingham. It was an illustration of my frustrations with the inability of many conference venues to offer decent connectivity. I know it is a frustration shared by many others. A lot of venues have simply not caught up with the requirements of the modern world.

Image by Paul Clarke http://paulclarke.com/photography/

I do a lot of live video streaming. I do it relatively cheaply, using low cost equipment and free web-based tools. I pride myself in being able to broadcast a video stream from most places. I’ve live broadcasted an event from the top of a windy hill in Lancashire, another from a pub basement in Barnsley, and, of course, there was some cricket match or other (for which I had a lot of technical help from some wonderful people). I use a number of different means of getting the live stream to the world. I find that, in very many cases, the connectivity offered by venues, particularly if it’s via wifi, is inadequate for the purposes of live streaming. But then, live video does require a fair amount of bandwidth, perhaps not as much as you might believe, but a fair amount, nevertheless. So, I very rarely find a venue wifi system that can handle me doing a live stream from it. And it’s even more problematic if if there are going to lots of delegates there using their own internet-connected devices. This is why I usually stream over 3G using my WiBE or mifi.

Image by Paul Clarke http://paulclarke.com/photography/

Live streaming is one thing, but it is that point about lots of people using their own tech at events which is the real crux of the matter. These days, I think at even non-technology related conferences and seminars, lots of people turn up at events with their own laptops, tablets and smartphones, which they expect to be able to connect to the internet. A case in point is yesterday’s venue. I won’t name it, because it is one of many that hasn’t woken up to the modern world, but it won’t be difficult to find out which it is. When I arrived there yesterday, I did something I often do on such occasions, I tested the speed of the in-house wifi to see if it would support live streaming. It came in at around 6Mbps download and 0.5Mbps upload. This is about one-tenth of the speed of my home broadband connection. And this was in a venue which was about to welcome 135 delegates to an event where most would have their own connected devices. I then further found out that the 3G connectivity was pretty poor there, and was scratching my head about how to support a live stream when the wonderful Paul Clarke arrived waving his 4G smartphone in my direction. Paul saved my life and I was able to use his device (which offered a 6Mbps symmetrical connection) to live stream for most of the day. And the fact that I had exclusive use of it meant there was no interference.

But, in order to keep the 4G connection free from interference, I connected my laptop and  smartphone to the venue wifi. After a while, the connection kept dropping, and several other people reported the same experience. I suspect this was because the venue was using “domestic” routers which limit the number of devices that can be connected at any one time. If that number is exceeded, they simply start chucking people off who were previously connected.

Image by Paul Clarke http://paulclarke.com/photography/

So, conference and event venues need to wake up to the implications of 100s of people turning up equipped with internet-connected devices. Yesterday’s venue was in central Birmingham, not in a rural outpost. I am sure it is perfectly feasible to secure an internet connection there which offers better than 6Mbps down / 0.5Meg up. And, note, it is the upload speed which is important when people are posting content to the outside world. And the wifi needs to be robust, stable, and capable of handling large numbers of devices all connected at the same time.

It’s not rocket science, is it?

All images by Paul Clarke http://paulclarke.com/photography/ used under CC BY 2.0

Let’s use technology to unlock ingenuity

My friend Abi Manifold reminded me, through a post on Twitter, of Sugata Mitra’s inspirational TED talk about how he had embedded computers in walls in Delhi which children had used to educate themselves.

I think there are so many other ways we can use this principle. It’s why I support the deployment of free wifi wherever it can be utilised. Put it there and people will use it in ingenious ways. People are creative when given the chance. They just need some tools.

Here’s Sugata Mitra’s talk

What happens when the post office loses its internet connection?

I think this is a poignant story. Bellingham Post Office in Northumberland had its broadband connection cut off for 10 days over the Christmas period; you can read about it here. As Wendy Telfer, the post mistress, recounted to BBC Radio 4 in the clip below, this resulted in her having to help people who couldn’t access their pensions out of her own pocket.

There are lots of issues surrounding this incident, but a key point which this has highlighted for me is how difficulties like this one, which could have been helped by outside intervention, can still go unnoticed by the wider world, even in the age of social media. A temporary solution, like a WiBE (http://www.wiberouter.com) could probably have got the post office back online in an instant, but the proprietors obviously didn’t know this, and no one with the kind of knowledge that could have helped was aware of the issue until it was too late.

I think this is a salutary example for those still unconvinced about the benefits of social media. One distressed tweet from the post office could have set a process in motion that would have solved the problem. But who is helping the people who don’t know about these possibilities? Should the local authorities not have a role in keeping their ear to the ground for issues like this and sourcing assistance? And what about the Post Office? Does it not have contingency plans for such difficulties?

And this also highlights the how many people, particular in rural areas, still think the only potential solution to their broadband problems is to turn to the provider that caused them in the first place.

There is so much more work to be done in opening people’s eyes to the possibilities offered by social media in accessing sources of advice and assistance, and in getting properly independent advice about technology and broadband issues. With so many vulnerable people, particularly in rural communities, dependent on services offered by post offices we cannot afford for them to be at the mercy of an ancient copper line.

Interesting use of Linkedin

Here’s a quick social media case study.

Over the last couple of days, I’ve been in Lincolnshire, delivering Broadband for Business Workshops as part of the work I am doing with CDI Alliance for Lincolnshire County Council via their OnLincolnshire programme.

I happened to have a conversation with someone unconnected with the workshops, who asked me what I was doing in the area. When I explained, he told me that he had an interesting use for Linkedin. He had bought a cheap boat in Turkey, intending to do it up for use for mini-cruises and sail it to be based in Spain. However, there had been a number of unforeseen financial obstacles to moving the boat, which had led him to keep it based in Turkey. He had employed a local captain and set about advertising it for group cruises. However, he had found the cost of newspaper and magazine advertising to be prohibitive.

But, he had hit upon an unusual way of recruiting people for the mini-cruises. He had trawled special interest groups on Linkedin and contacted people to find if they were interested in running mini-cruises for people with common interests. He had found a number of people willing to do so, and his model is to pay their air fare to Turkey and give them a free place on the boat in return for them recruiting groups who pay their way. Apparently, yoga cruises are particularly popular. The leader gets a free holiday, and the boat owner gets paying customers recruited for him.

I thought this was a particularly interesting use of social media.

 

A Story of New Technology, Immediacy and the Olympics

This is a story of modern technology.

Last Wednesday, I spent a very enjoyable day travelling round parts of Lincolnshire on a mobile library, encouraging people to get involved in the campaign for better broadband in their area, and showing them some of the things they might do with a better connection.

I then drove home through rural Lincolnshire, heading for the A1. I was driving a borrowed car, which doesn’t have a DAB radio, and, as I’ve had years of listening to Radio 5 Live on various forms of digital platforms, I find medium wave pretty hard on the ear these days, so I was listening to the Olympics coverage via internet radio on my iPad, plugged into the car radio. As most of the areas I was driving through in the early part of the journey were pretty rural, the signal kept dropping out, and there was lots of buffering. As I got onto the A1, Bradley Wiggins’s attempt at a gold medal began. Not long after this, I pulled into a service station, but, the cycle race was reaching its climax, so I sat in the car for about 10 minutes until it was confirmed that Bradley Wiggins had, indeed, achieved his gold medal. Then, just as I was about to switch the radio off and head into the service station, the presenter said “it’s 10 past 4″. I looked at the clock on the car dashboard and saw that it read 4:25. The buffering had actually resulted in a 15-minute delay in the coverage I was listening to, and I reflected on the irony that I had sat there gripped by the “live” coverage of an event that had actually taken place 15 minutes earlier.

This might have been an extreme case, but digital technologies do result in all sorts of delays. Is anything ever live any more?