The Open Data Revolution

I went for a look Sir Tim Berners Lee’s (the founder of the internet) new brain child: the Open Data Institute, last week.

The ODI (http://www.theodi.org) is a completely new concept based on the opening up of previously inaccessible government data. It will be

“a global first: a collaboration between our leading businesses and entrepreneurs, universities and researchers, government and civil society to unlock enterprise and social value from the vast amount of Open Government Data now being made accessible.

From health and life sciences to education, transport and central government spending data, government is releasing far more data than ever before.”

This means that the information that huge industries run on is exposed and open to anyone to examine.

And then what?

Make disruptive businesses ofcouse! Well, that and feedback into the public sector to put inefficiencies in lights, and make it easy to access and chewable by anyone.

One business we spoke to made a data visulaisation tool called Locatable. This let users select various criteria that was important to them, such as proximity to a school, gym, workplace, transport link .. or bar; and compare these factors against their housing budget to find suitable locations in London for them to live. It’s so fast, easy to use and powerful. I was very impressed.

Another guy made a product called Placr which creates real-time transport data feeds for organisations. On top of this he could use decades worth of transport data to create statistical analysis of what impacts transport flow and look at where huge infrastructure companies were not acting on the best interests of users.

Looking at the big picture, the ODI is creating open data champions and building a world leading advantage in data mining expertise. It’s a shrewd move by the UK government, which will make itself work better through transparency and create a team of experts who can support other countries governments to open up their data.

It was a fascinating place and while in there I even heard the word “revolutionise” on more than one occasion. Watch this space..

The Big Picture is essential for the small decisions

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Elon Musk is a huge inspiration for me. He has been involved in creating 4 businesses worth over $50 billion. The character of Iron Man is reputedly based on him. He is now launching a project with the aim of commercialising space travel with the bigger goal of supporting life on other planets. What a dude!

Am not sure to what degree he has always claimed it, but now he is all about big picture stuff. He says he doesn’t aim to make a business; he sets out to solve problems. Big problems. From making a reliable way to send money over the internet, to reducing the use of fossil fuels in cars, to making a mass transport that is safe and as fast as Concorde, to exporting human consciousness to other planets- all lofty goals.

As I blogged about here, most people don’t see past the end of their own nose (although I question whether it is a physical rather than selfish issue). The only problems they see are their own. And I have constantly said that that will not lead anywhere for their happiness (unless technology chips in). We need a better awareness of the context for our lives. Today, even the average middle class citizen is living a princely life in terms of health, life expectancy, food options available, security, comfort, technology and freedoms to travel compared to any time known in history. Some people might claim there have been other times- some ancient Chinese societies perhaps- where the average person had a better standard of living, but I think health care, cheap flights and technology swing it for me.

I hope with my commitment to making the history of the world more accessible: the periods of wealth and decline of nations, the natural disasters that are common place, the corruption of powerful leaders, the circumstances that nurture remarkable individuals, the behaviours and decisions made by groups of people under certain pressures, and the whole myriad of complex situations that have spawned from the first human civilisations up to todays world, will help to provide the tools people need to see a bigger picture and understand how they fit into the world.

I dream and work hard everyday to make this a way of me being able to lead an independent life where I am free to work on further projects that can help the world. I am in no short supply of ideas of my next move. But I have much work left to do on TimeMaps first.

I would love to know at what stage Elon Musk let space exploration drive his short term goals and to what extent it helped him in his decisions. And I’d love to hear about the overarching big picture ideas that have sculpted the decisions us “normal” people choose for their own life.
Please send me yours?

How to build up a local sports club

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I continued to have a great weekend today. Not only did my company website makes its tv debut but I attended my home town judo clubs first competition.

This time last year only a few kids were turning up to attend the classes after a crisis struck the club resulting in the head coach being landed in jail. We were downbeat and the club was loosing lots of money.

But we made solid decisions and today was an experience that proved that we have not just brought the club back from the brink, but moved it on to the next level.

How did we do it?

First of all, peace of mind. We always ensured training was on, that it was going to be a good session in a safe environment. Some of the members were heroic in their dedication to this.

To support this, we took the senior members through their coaching qualifications, child safety and first aid courses- and placed the certificates where everyone could see them, right by the entry door. We gave our members the peace of mind, that is essential for any lasting agreement.

Then we got creative. We got a huge print out of “Bearpark Judo Club” and placed it over the windows of the hall we use. This attracted the attention of passers by which certainly led to interest. It took our product from the back shelves of a store on to the front shelf.

We set up a website that was properly thought out to appear for any local searches for judo. We made a facebook group and ensured that it was filled with all the information people need before they came, and put up some videos and photos of us in action. Although I was wearing gi that was too big for me.

Once membership had started to climb, we began to take our members to local competitions to ensure they get good fighting experience which raises the standards of the training. Other clubs now know of us and come along to train with us, and we take our members to their clubs.

We now have 30 -40 weekly members (which fills the hall), a range of seniors and juniors, some excellent players who have great potential and are going out and winning trophies, a great family feel to the club (it is a no -profit, community club) and a healthy bank balance.

I am so proud of what we have achieved and excited about what the future holds. For both TimeMaps and Bearpark Judo Club.

TimeMaps makes its tv debut

The TimeMap of World History, my companies website, was mentioned on BBC Click today. Although it was only given about a minutes worth of footage, we got a nice spike in traffic, of about 4,000 new visitors, all of whom seemed to have a good poke about.

TimeMaps on the BBC

The TimeMap of World History was featured on BBC Click

With this bump, our traffic went over 60,000 visitors this month and the wind certainly seems to be behind the sails at the moment, as our traffic is climbing month on month. It was only 20,000 a month a few months ago.

This is still only one tenth of my target for my first target for the website, as I believe it has real value to anyone who wants to understand more about history- a user base who create millions of web searches everyday. But I am happy with progress as we could not claim to have promoted the website with any real effort yet.

I did contact the journalists who make this program. This is what I did. I did a bit of background research into the presentor/reporter, and found out that she was a really cool, interesting person (she can be found on twitter @katerussell). So when I approached her I made my email short (opening emails must always be short- 2 sentences max!) but funny. I appealed to her fun nature. She replied to me saying that she would take a look at the site. A month or so passed and I thought the contact had fallen into a black hole, so I prompted her and quickly let her know how the site was of benefit to people. That was it, we were on the show. To be honest, I think the product did the selling. It does help to have a unique and super cool website. But still, its not for everyone and you have to get yourself noticed.

In about February of next year I am hoping to dedicate a lot of time to promoting the website in a real way. I am very much looking forward to this. I’ll let people know what is effective.

What is a hero?

Here is a Skype chat my father and I had this morning. My dad is a historian and long in the tooth. Our day and age is full of icons and screen stars and celebritites, but really what are they worth? Are they just lucky? I am not saying my opinion is the same as his, but is may be an interesting perspective to you:

Jonny : dad – do you have a hero from history? i heard that quite a lot of people in powerful positions have a kind of muse from history, and when they don’t know what they would do, they ask themselves what so and so would do.. ?

Peter : hmmm, not really

Peter : my trouble is, I know that all hero’s have feet of clay

Peter : they’re just human beings, like the rest of us, who happen to have been in the right place at the right time, where their particular strengths have been shown to good effect. But in other situations they make the same mistakes as the rest of us

Peter : Mum’s over my shoulder, and said, “I thought Nelson was your hero”. Well, actually, if I do have a hero, it’s him. But I know all too well that he definitely had his weaknesses and faults

Jonny : people are not just in the right place at the right time, they make the place the right time and they have their eyes wide open to opportunities. Yes, maybe a lot of it is luck, but there is also ambition and drive and passion.

Peter : Yes, ambition, drive and passion – but you can have all those and fail. Examine any hero in detail and what you get is a frail human being like anyone else – but one with particular qualities that,in certain times, really come to the fore.

Peter. : Take Winston Churchill – he’s the great national hero, and quite right too – but, where it not for the Second World War, he would have been a failure of a politician – and, oddly, that would have been quite right too; because he really was a failure until very particular circumstances arose

Peter : Do you have a hero?

Jonny : only Alan Shearer but he doesnt do much good for my business and general life strategy

a hero or a sports star

Jonny : Bobby Robson.. ?

Jonny : no, I have been looking for one

Peter : why Alan Shearer? Is he more than a very talented sportsman?

Jonny : he came to his home town club to try and win something and single handedly scored all the goals for years. and he didn’t give up when it was obvious it wasn’t going to happen. But it was just a bit of a joke comment

Jonny : the only other people I see are the Dirk Struan types from the Tai Pan and Shogun books who work everything out and play their cards in a subtle and totally accurate way – but that’s fiction

Peter : yes, sadly, that’s fiction. In reality, people only have a very limited capacity to truly shape events

Jonny : i think that is a defeatist attitude

Peter: defeatist and cynical, but nearer the truth, I feel, than the idea that individuals can make a huge difference. BUT – actually, not so defeatist and cynical. Firstly, I am overstating my case – I think individuals CAN make a difference, sometimes a very great one. And also, the corollary of what I’m saying is, we can ALL make a difference, little by little; and indeed we do – for good or bad

Technology will bring happiness and luck

I was part of a group conversation the other day where a couple of quite well known but still thought provoking stories were told.

The first was an experiment in which people were asked to rate themselves as “lucky” or “unlucky”. I instantly engaged with the story because I am known to my friends as being the luckiest lad about. Well there is one guy who trumps me but he wins raffles and lucky dips (he’s Irish), whereas I am always in the right place at the right time. What about yourself, are you lucky?

Anyways, in the experiment they asked each participant to enter a waiting room in a train station or somewhere like that and then they would pick them up in a car. When they had arrived at their destination they were asked if they had found any money. It turns out that a much higher proportion of people who considered themselves as “lucky” had found a £20 note the experimenters had placed in the waiting room.

I find this interesting because it seems to demonstrate some kind of difference in environmental awareness. I have many good friends who consider themselves as unlucky and I’ve always thought they were pessimistic. Now maybe it is because they lack awareness of environmental factors. Conversely, have lucky people got a better sense of opportunity or openness to environmental factors?

The other conversation was about the classic youtube clip which asks you to count the number of passes a basket ball team makes and while they are at it a person in a gorilla suit walks into the middle of the shot and moonwalks off. Your distracted mind does not see this gorilla.

Distraction is very powerful and I think it affects almost every long conversation we have. does it stand to reason that maybe unlucky people are distracted by something so that they don’t notice the money? How easy is it to be distracted away from seeing what is infront of your eyes!?

Try it. I did this. You know a coat stand that is a pole that has a number of hooks at the top.. They’re not big or wide and even with a few coats on they don’t cover you at all. Yet if you are standing behind one and someone walks past they won’t see you. Seriously, try it.

Ever been looking for something and because it is half covered it takes much longer to find it? Ever gone to put the bread in the fridge or the butter in the cupboard? The same thing. It seems to me that we are such simple, distracted creatures that I am able to make the claim that only with technology will we have buck the trend of destroying ourselves over and over again as history shows us. If a computer screen can enhance environmental analysis so that the £20 is always found, the gorilla is always seen, the creep behind the coat stand is always seen and the butter goes in the fridge, then maybe pessimistic people might become a bit more positive about gods rolling of the dice.

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This picture of a horse gimp suit is probably not what the future will look like.