The power of citizenship.

For the past few months much of the media coverage has been focused on the incompetency of the parliament to execute Brexit.  I say Parliament, for it is not just our incompetent government; but the opposition and machinations behind the scenes that are failing us.  Whilst I fervently disagree with Brexit, a greater concern is that those incompetent chiefs in place now will be the ones left running the show once the split is confirmed.

The UK does not have a written constitution, but has a political system that has been twisted and broken through the imposition of party politics above of a constituency based democracy.  Our machinery of government, the civil service, has been neutered through a ‘presidential imposition’ by Prime Ministers acting without the support or mandate of Parliament, and ministers articulating their points not from expert briefings, but from ideological dogma and ignorance.

When Amber Rudd articulated her position on encryption, stating that ‘real people’ didn’t need end-to-end encryption, we’ve found ourselves led by a home secretary who exhibits both with gusto.  I don’t think it’s any coincidence that cryptography is also at the core of the new wave of cryptocurrencies – itself a system that is growing up and able to challenge the power of the state.  A global store of economic value outside the direct control of any nation state, but available to all global citizens, is something that few will have anticipated coming into fruition.  Granted, the machinery that it runs across is dependent on nation states – but now that the concept has been birthed, many new revolutionary ideas will come from it.

I’ve written before about the mechanics of the state, namely the founder of the UK Police force Sir Robert Peel.  The relationship between the citizenry and the police has now developed far beyond his original vision.  I believe it is right that each citizen of the country is responsible for the welfare of their fellow citizens, their welfare and existence.  The recent tragedy at Grenfell Tower and the subsequent inspections of other buildings, have now revealed that many have also been fitted with flammable insulation or cladding.  Regulation should not have been relaxed; it should be in place to prevent such materials from being used; but it should also be on every individual who participated in the tender, responses, allocation and fitment of those materials to ensure the welfare of those living in those buildings.

One of the things that’s always bothered me as a technologist is the lack of training in ethics required to enter the field.  If it’s possible to do via a computer, then most of it will have been attempted.  This is far removed from the traditional scientific and engineering disciplines that have dedicated bodies setup for the assurance of an ethical standard for their profession.  With the ever increasing pace of technological innovation, the Government are failing to consider even the most basic of these challenges facing technology today.

Cambridge Analytics, the mercenaries responsible for both Brexit and Trump, may not be lauded by the technological community – but I dread to think how many copycat ventures have been setup to try and follow in their footsteps.  I’m not sure there are many out there can claim to understand the consequence of such a technological battle; nor the emotional and political division such war gaming may instigate.

Looking across the political spectrum, the tactics appear to be those of demeaning or attacking an opponent, rather than taking the time to understand the others’ viewpoint.  Whilst Brexit saddens me, I also understand that I’ve been lucky enough to benefit more from the union that many other Britons.  That said, my belief is that the vast majority of us have been positively affected by the union, and it should not be seen as a zero sum game, whereby my greater benefit causes my fellow citizens greater loss.

Whilst Brexit is the ultimate consequence, the root of the vote can be traced back to those who felt disenfranchised by being a smaller fish in a ever growing pond.  People that felt like their voices wasn’t being heard in Europe, so assume that by reducing the size of the state their voices would now be heard.

If the politicians are not capable of listening to the experts in their ears, why should we believe that they’ll listen to us?

The way to take back control is to reawaken our communities.  It’s to empower those within our communities that we want to represent us; to not select our representatives based on political party – but on who we know and trust.  In Lambeth, where I live, even at the council level, the People’s Audit have uncovered gross misconduct and widespread collusion and corruption.  That’s the place to start.

Go local; empower your community – and start looking our for each other as citizens.

Why you shouldn’t be too concerned about a lack of Blockchain talent in your organisation.

The hype around Blockchain has hit fever pitch over the past 18 months, with the current trend in articles focusing on whether your business has the requisite talent to take advantage of this new technology.  I’m sure there are many guys out there sitting down to work out if they are behind the curve, and if Blockchain really is something they need to be ahead of their competitors on or not.

My advice is this; Blockchain is a relatively new technology, but it’s also not something that should hit your developers from completely left-field.  If they’re already aware of basic cryptography, I’d argue that most ‘lead developers’ can get up and running (with the level of expertise required as a ‘user’ of a system – within hours).  On the Ethereum stack, lots of good effort has been put into creating a developer toolkit that allows anyone with a little bit of experience to get up to speed and playing around with the code.

Of course, what’s becoming far more apparent is that knowing how to functionally code shouldn’t be the only prerequisite to how or who should be let loose on developing functionality.  With Blockchain and it’s associated technologies, one of the new properties of the systems being developed by your enthusiastic amateurs will be ‘immutability’ – basically an inability to delete.  If you think that you can stand up a project by passing it over to the tech team, then you really should be considering your future.

Blockchain technology is likely to be incredibly disruptive, and may also inadvertently cause completely new paradigms of ‘ethical issue’ with online, or digitised products.  In order to leverage the advantages of the immutable properties of Blockchain will have to be a better understanding of behavioural economics.  Fundamentally, Blockchain is not a technology solution, but an economic one, enabled by technology.  If you’re not prepared to invest the time to understand that further, then you probably shouldn’t be experimenting in this space.

Finally, there’s also the issue of on-chain and off-chain data stores, the related encryption, and the very legislation being passed by governments today which could undermine the security profile of any application attached to a Blockchain.  I’d urge any developer, manager, designer or product owner to really consider any attempt at obfuscation on the Blockchain is likely to be temporary; and unless the same level of diligence is given to Blockchain applications as has been given to applications such as GnuPG, OpenSSL, and other encryption libraries, then they should be considered fundamentally insecure.

It’s why I’m proud that all the work that I’ve done on Blockchain so far, both personally and professionally, has ended up being published under an Open Source Licence – and why the future of Blockchain should continue to be done out in the open.  From a talent perspective, the opportunity to get your development teams to collaborate in the open with these guys is a good first step.

 

Nick Timothy’s Resignation Letter

Having read through Nick Timothy’s resignation letter [read it here], this really stood out to me:

because modern campaigning techniques require ever-narrower targeting of specific voters, and we were not talking to the people who decided to vote for Labour.

This implies modern campaigning is about winning, about getting power, about putting your party ahead of the country.

When we look at the millions spent on campaigns, these are no longer used to broadly inform on policy, but have a very simple target in mind – to swing a vote; potentially even on just a single issue.  Now that we have this capability, is it ethically or morally right to fight an election with such a narrow strategy in mind; or should the manifesto have a more prominent place, making sure that all votes are ensured of a fuller context to their decision, rather than gamified with single issue targeting?

General Election 2017

I thought long and hard as to whether to publish this piece about the recent general election in Britain.  The purpose?  Potentially for something for me to read back on to understand my frame of mind this week, but also to set a benchmark for what is likely to become a tumultuous few years for those living in the British Isles.

It’s been frustrating to be waking up on the day after an election and feeling upset at the result.  That’s the way I’ve felt for the past few elections.  This time was different.  I hadn’t cast my vote for the winner, but I finally felt as though the opposition in the UK had finally found a voice against an ever right-leaning Conservative agenda.  The irony is not lost on the fact that in order to hold onto her fragile leadership, Theresa May is now looking to form a coalition with a DUP that many would consider more extreme than UKIP.  UKIP were the bumbling fools, with a single policy that is now irrelevant.  The DUP are no bumbling fools.

Let’s go back to before the election.  Jeremy Corbyn hasn’t been a strong opposition before he began this election campaign.  His party has been fracturing, and he is not a ‘statesman’ – or wasn’t seen as one before this campaign.  A campaign fought not on demonising a person (which he could easily have done), but on criticising the implications of past policy decisions is exactly the type of politics that I want to support.  Let’s stop attacking people on who their appearance, and instead focus on the content of their endeavours.

I admire his comments Nuclear disarmament; what’s the point in agreeing to fire second; at this point the game is up and we’ve already failed.

What JC has done for me is to put the people first in politics.  Since graduating from University, I’ve had to fight my way through an economy restricted by austerity.  Austerity put in place due to the fact that much of my generation’s tax receipts appear to have already been spent.  I don’t want to be sat here in 18 years time explaining to my children why we’re still stuck in austerity.  An economic policy for the term of a parliament doesn’t make sense; Osborne failed spectacularly at keeping his short-term promises.  I can’t go back and suggest that not having austerity would have been any way a better path – but for where we find ourselves today, we seriously need to consider a different approach.

This different approach shouldn’t be built on doing the opposite of austerity – but setting a very clear long-term vision for the country.  Can we put down a marker to say – “This is what we expect our society to look like in 2050” and making decisions to make progress towards that vision.  We also need to draw a line between macro and micro economics.  I’m not well read enough (yet!) on this subject (please suggest books for me to read in the comments) – but I’m anecdotally aware of the impact of viewing micro-economic policies through a macroeconomic lens – and this doesn’t work well.

I also think we need to review our ethical framework for progress.  Theresa May has been working to abolish the Human Rights Act – I think it needs extending.  We have already built technology that is ethically questionable, without any controls or even awareness of the full implications.  The standard technologist experimentation cycle of “build, measure, adapt” is no longer ethically sound when the subject of the experiment is the global population.  It always astounded me, having studied Psychology at University, that the experts’ hands are tied when it comes to experimentation, but an enthusiastic amateur could be more than capable of running far more dangerous experiments with no trained expertise.

At WebSummit last year I attended a panel on the ethics of humanoid robots, and the challenges they face due to the ‘humanoid’ element.  When you look at the mechanism through which you’ve communicated with your loved ones over the past few weeks, what % of that communication has been “humanoid = eg, face to face” versus “digital” – and when you consider your digital interfaces, how simply could the response have been a computer?

For all of this technological advancement, we need a long-term lens through which to review it, so we can make sure that we are continuing to build a society, and not take society for granted. We’ve lived through a period of immense relative stability, and we’re now starting to see the cracks appearing.  People often used the phrase “Standing on the shoulder of giants,” for the great advancements in this world.  What I feel at the moment is that we’re climbing up the giant’s back with pickaxes, damaging the fabric of the thing we’re supposed to be building upon, and breaking the backs of the giants beneath us.

The result of this election has left our government in the balance.  We don’t have a vision for our country, so we don’t know what Brexit looks like.  I’d ask all politicians to get ready to set out that long term vision before the next election is likely to be called so that we can all vote on the type of society we wish to live in.  I hope it’s a society that provides care for others, by investing in the NHS to allow it to continue to develop; a society that looks out for those who cannot helps themselves, and rewards those for helping others.  A society that can attract the very best, but also continues to give back to where the very best have come from.  Where we can develop new ideas, technologies and medicines, but for the benefit of those both within and without our borders; and where national pride isn’t limited to the pride that we feel for ourselves, but the respect and envy we receive from others.

Running again

Those eagle-eyed views of this site will have noticed that I’ve not been so good at my running recently.

Instead of waiting for the ‘right’ time to start, I’ve already started, and I intend to continue my 5k every other day.

I don’t particularly like it at the moment, but I imagine that’s because I’m not running fit – and as I get fitter I anticipate I’ll like it more.

It’s a hard slog getting back into it, but hopefully we’ll start to see the positives.

Enjoying Ionic, HTML5 app development

One of the things I’ve always loved doing is creating throwaway apps that solve very simple problems.  Historically these have been to educate me on the ‘art of the possible’, rather than actually produce something workable.  I’d always fall at a hurdle, or find a gap in my learning that would take me off on a tangent – the next gap to try and fill.  It’s been a lifetime of constant learning, challenging myself to fill more and more of the gaps with oodles of potentially useless information.

Ionic Framework

Luckily (or with amazing foresight), lots of this information is now becoming appropriate and useful.

As an example, a few years ago I was working at an organisation who got hit with a DDoS.   The site was down for 36 hours before we got it back up, and I learnt an awful lot then that I thought would be pertinent for my future career.  I discovered low level things about networking that I didn’t think much of learning at the time, yet it’s these small pieces of knowledge that make up the experience I have now.

I remember discovering Ionic around 2013 and following its creator, Max Lynch, on twitter.  We exchanged a few platitudes and he helped me out with a couple of early gotchas.  It was a great introduction to a community, and another advocate of my preconception that HTML5 would be ‘good enough’ for native apps – It wasn’t long after the HTML5 LinkedIn post that blasted the idea that HTML5 was the future.

I’d also been working on an app for the Oxford & Cambridge boat race.  I was adamant that using the accelerometer functionality in Cordova, it was possible to mimic a rowing motion and use your phone like a wii-mote.  I prototyped a very simple solution and touted it round a few app development companies.  They mostly laughed and suggested that I specified either iOS/Android, or double my costs.  I then took it to the excelled team at Inviqa, who despite not having long started their app development journey at the time, agreed that I’d seen the potential and were able to complete the project under the budget that we’d originally ballparked.

HTML5 FC 1 – 0 Native FC

Since then I’ve played with Ionic at each stage of its development.  It helped me establish my understanding of AngularJS, and been probably the exclusive partner to my investigations into Angular2+.  I don’t ply my trade as a developer, but as a technical generalist – and the concepts, documentation and community around Ionic have been superb in offering the support, patterns and scaffolding to help shape the new propositions that I nurture.

It was with fair trepidation that I ended up advocating a relatively straightforward application at my place of work; for internal use only and running on Ionic2.  I’ve had my battles (with myself, not the framework) in deciding on my application structure, but I’ve got there.  I have a wonderfully clean and well organised application that fulfils the role of PoC admirably.  The code is clean and well written enough for me to be comfortable in handing it over to a more established developer.  The README.md file could simply state: “Built using https://ionicframework.com – see the docs!  (Of course the documentation is slightly more comprehensive than that…)

With the advancement of web APIs (see https://whatwebcando.today/) enabling frameworks like cordova to start to get ‘native’ functionality ‘in the browser’ and Ionic’s support for building Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) out of the box, I can see a very bright future for HTML5.  My biggest concern is that whilst competing on functionality may be the sexier opportunity, the HTML5 apps community can design these new APIs with the UX around security built in from the start.