Hong Kong, China and Indonesia have arrived

After booking my tickets to arrive in Hong Kong the day before my girlfriend left for China, my botched surprise visit to see her meant that I went on their family trip to Guangzhou as well.

Hong Kong is immense. This was my second visit, which again revealled more of the layers which add to its standing of world truly great cities (along with London, Paris and Tokyo). I’ve love to travel and would have done a lot more if I didn’t get so utterly addicted to snowboarding for 10 years of my life. So far I’ve been to 35 countries but can’t wait to increase that list a lot. What I consider a “truly great city” is not exactly set in hard measurements, but things like: its place in history resonating through it, feeling the current status of global power, a unique sense of place and design influences, having so much to do you know you will have to return, and being safe and secure through sheer power of numbers.

Hong Kong is a city set on so many more levels than any other city. On the ground level you are among a market place of street traders selling anything you could ever imagine, the middle floors are bars and restaurants again filled with anything you could imagine, and at the top you get pools and bars and places to watch the world. It is a hot and sweaty place that at first seems dauntingly higgldypiggldy, but whose charm unravels as you begin to learn your way around. What initially seem like endless piles: containers, tower blocks, shop goods, become a manifestation of a human hive with intricate structures and cultures that simply cannot be held back. It fills you energy and a sense that you are free to make anything happen, as has happened time and time again. I’ve seen that there is at least one startup accelerator program in Hong Kong – I think looking at property tech. It’s an obvious starting point for entering the Asian market with western business incubation concepts. The way Asians do business is often different than the UK, they defer innovation for trends. If they see someone having success they move faster to follow that concept. When launching un-tested products, rather than taking the trendy lean or agile approaches of tech startups, they launch 8 or 9 products at once and if any of them take off, they plough their resources into that product.

The people of Hong Kong are friendly. Randomly, the twice I’ve been there, they’ve done an occupy march – once for the anniversary of Tianomon Square and the second time against the Chinese government handpicking the candidates they can vote for in the up-coming elections. Each time they fill up Victoria Park with hundreds of thousands of people showing solidarity. The Chinese government censored the media for the remembrance of Tianomon Square. Watching the world news a lot on tv, there was not much mention of the second protests either. How that situation will play out is interesting – will China risk another annex by arrogantly refusing democratic principals, or will it become more flexible with it due to its newly integrating position? With democracy seemingly at a low point due to its ineffectiveness for dealing with well balanced elections and prompt or well supported decision making, it is worth keeping an eye on Hong Kong and its struggle to re-integrate with mainland China.

I then went up to Guangzhou, China for a few days. We stayed in the Sofitel hotel which was a 5* plush (and relatively very cheap) hotel. When we arrived there was a Russian delegation inside the whole place was filled with huge men with ear pieces before we were ushered to the side and the main convoy went through. I don’t know who any of them were, but one of the women looked like she could of punched a hole through enforced steel.

Guangzhou is way more developed than I expected. It was modern. It had places of real architectural beauty. It’s huge! It has a population of about 20million people! But it is well organised and actually didn’t feel too crowded.  The jewel in the crown is a very new part of the city that contains a sports arena shaped like a yacht, a new opera house and a huge, beautiful tower that is 600m high – massive. We went to the top for a look and Guangzhou just went on and on into the smoggy distance.

I read a newspaper article when I was there, which outlined the 5 richest people of China. The new richest guy was Jack Ma, following the Alibaba floatation. 3 others on the top 5 list were from technology backgrounds: 1 from renewable power, 2 from web products. This new techno-elite are replacing the property tycoons who are falling down the list and often being arrested for corruption too. Obviously, you notice not being able to access google services when in China. And Soundcloud and Twitter and others (can’t even remember if I checked facebook so much it has declined to me). I found my own website, TimeMaps, on there, which was nice as it certainly pays reference to Chinese history . I was surprised to see Wikipedia available and also any Apple service. Most people think that blocking of these websites is due to censorship, and maybe it is as I didn’t dig deep in to Wikipedia. But I began to think that it was more for economic steering that some of these websites were being blocked. Almost any search on Baidu had Alibaba flooding the first page (to raise its value before going public?).

I really can’t comment too much, I am only basing this off my own limited experience rather than a lot of research, but surely if people really wanted to communicate, they could via VPN servers or using Whatsapp (facebooks way into China?). And with Google taking over the on-line world and making a lot of money as well as developing advanced technology and keeping massive datastores about people- for an inward looking country such as China, why would they want Google in there? I would of thought it was more for economic competition than for censorship that this was happening. I wonder what is our own media casting shadows over their censorship and what is the truth? Now that Snowdon has revealed the extent of Western governments spying on its citizens, and leaders, online activity, is there any difference between the 2 systems in their keeping the truth from their citizens?

On the train back to Hong Kong, through Shenzen (which is touted as being “the next Guangzhou”), a 2 hour fast-train journey, I was surprised to see that at no real point did we ever leave built up areas. It seemed like a constant suburb interspersed by the odd large city. I can understand where the 1.2 billion people of China are now.

And I am now writing this from Jakarta. Another huge city of around 11-12 million. Its hot here, and there is a lot of traffic. Too much traffic. This is due to decades of corrupt government lining their own pockets rather than helping their people. There is a barely started MTR (underground) line currently being built very slowly and a mono-rail supposedly in production too. These will turn Jakarta into a mega city – the powerhouse of South East Asia. I say this because already you can see the wealth and investment here: it is already growing at a faster rate than Beijing.

It has everything it needs to be a great city apart from transport links and green areas. There is also a massive gap between the haves and have nots. There needs to be a higher minimum wage and better transport. Once people can move more easily, and safely, both physically and up the social ladder, then it is ripe for growth on a huge scale. Currently, the working classes drive on motorbikes or the very poor public bus service. They rely on this to get to their £125 a month minimum wage jobs. They cannot afford to purchase the motorbikes outright, so they have to use credit. This makes them cost twice as much and ties them into their job. Most of the jobs are soul-sapping service jobs with limited room to progress up the ladder. I hate to think that the next Einstein is out there, working in a Seven Elven.

The difference between the working and middle classes is huge. The middle classes have money to burn and enjoy the abundant and cheap luxury that is available. Many (/most) middle classes have maids and drivers to support them, again offering a stable environment for their staff, but with little opportunity to invest heavily in their families future.

I would like to see cheaper credit or alternative finance schemes for the motorbikes. I would also love to see these be made electric with very cheap electricity provided by their employers. This would get rid of the need for the current subsidies on fuel which are only for the poor, but which is open to gaming of the system. The price of fuel could rise significantly for the affluent middle classes – the environment would also benefit.

The incoming President has a tough job to turn Indonesia’s promise of success into a reality. Not only must he overcome the legacy of a violent incumbent political elite, and a cabinet that is out of his favour currently, but he must win the confidence of the people with sound policy and reduction of corruption. I wish him all the best as he is a symbol of change in a great nation held back by the greed of its previous rulers.

In summary, my trip to the East has been amazing and would recommend any of these places to people. Anyone who was ever in doubt about the potential of the east to overtake the west needs to come and understand that, yes, it might take time (in the case of Indonesia), but often it has already happened.

Now to forget about all this people stuff and head to Bali to the beach 🙂



Should we be allowed to 3D print humans?

When Oscar Pistorius sprang in to the scene in the para-Olympics, the materials used to repair his legs went beyond simply corrective measures and enhanced his ability to sprint up to a level comparable with able bodied athletes.

In fact, the likelihood is ( well, was before be started killing people) that his adaptations could have been modified so that he could of run faster than the standard speeds professional sprinters reach.

But to a modern bio-engineer, Pistorious’s legs enhancements would look like cavemen’s tools. In the near future, we will be able to 3D print out body parts that operate in the same way as our current parts. But why would we stop there? Technologically, it would be possible to advance these body parts beyond our current capacity. Eyes with better than 20:20 vision; or, like a bird of prey, that could see beyond the light spectrum. Expect them within 10 years. Already new tracheas, kidneys, and bones are in use. Don’t expect the technology to stop advancing.

Legislation and moral debates may hold off the implementation before the technology makes it possible. Moral debates such as: should we be able to ‘make completely new people?’, ‘what should we limit our enhancements to?’, ‘should we be allowed to create entirely new species of animal?’.

These debates should be engaged with now, as once the technology is there, it will probably find a way to happen with or without the public awareness. Just think GM vegetables and cloned meat that we regularly consume without really realising. We slept walked through these debates.

The next phase of evolution is happening in the laboratory and it is incredibly exciting. I would love it if I could slow down ageing or effortlessly stay fit. But the difficult moral debate doesn’t seem to be anywhere. People think I’m making up the breakthrough technology I read about in New Scientist each week.

As so many potential benefits may arise, touching everyone we know, will the debate be swept aside for the sake of foreseen human benefit? It shouldn’t be- it is more important than ever! Who do you think will be able to afford the enhancements? Certainly not those who can’t afford clean water or enough food for their families.

If the last 5 years have taught us anything, it is that technological change is speeding up at a rapid pace. Students are now being taught to code but are they being taught to wrestle with the big moral debates they need to be having about the future of our species? I lead an Education Technology group aiming to enhance the skills of students in the tech world but rarely hear about the moralistic aide of the teaching. But it is happening, right!?

Asking for more from organisations that get too big to care

Have you ever wondered why there are seemingly obvious things that the government could fix but it doesn’t. Easy examples could be better recycling collection schemes or care for the elderly.

Why do these problems persist? Because they are not accounted for by supply and demand economics. There is no financial gain to look at an economically dependant group and improve their lives. This is also why there are very few, if any, start up companies taking on the challenge.

This apathy towards un-profit making activities happens everywhere without us noticing. Corporations like Microsoft and Google do not innovate in the ways they could because their is no financial incentive.

I read this article today which makes this point very clearly:

Among many good points, it looks at the Cloud. The race is on to make sharing easy, improving speed and making space accessible, but this bypasses years of Moore’s law hammering down prices and increasing the power of processors inside our devices. With this power we could run background semantic activities that improve our individual performance and output. By connecting up and contextualising our previous files and documents we could draw upon greater resources and easily find information. But why do that when the space is moving towards small devices and cloud storage?

I think the article is a must read for any one involved in digital. And the thinking around it can be taken down many routes. What are the opportunities for start ups doing good, not making money? What research has been done into the past offs for providing ancillary cool products? How can the government or big organisations work with businesses for good causes?

How to know your customers characteristics

How to know your customers characteristics

I’m reading Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore. It was written in the 90’s but is completely relevant now- which really surprised me about a book about technology marketing written before social media.

The book talks about differences between types of customers that tech companies have: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards.

Each customer grouping has a different set of requirements from the products they use, for example an early adopter is interested in trying out new tech which is a bit raw but may give them a unique advantage or appearance; an early majority is the next step down along the curve, and require the product to be bug free and work well for their needs.

A company’s marketing must be targeted directly at the stage that their customers are at in the life cycle of a tech product. Between each distinct customer group is a chasm which must be carefully navigated to avoid falling into the abyss of marketing messages and product development that only loosely fit a customer segment.

The examples and companies mentioned have incredible parallels with the tech scene today. Netscape is still big and Microsoft only just getting there. I am only a couple of chapters in and fascinates already. The core concept – along with learning about the characteristics of each group and the marketing messages needed to appeal to them- is important to any entrepreneur. I think you can swap in “tech” to any product that changes an industries behaviours.

I recommend a good look at it.

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


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?

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.