Category: Social

Social Related Posts

Embracing imperfection

Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.
— Vince Lombardi

As a consequence of both election results, in the UK with #Brexit and in the USA with #Trump, I have found myself thinking about the impact that the role I play in society has on such events. I’ve worked in ‘technology’ for most of my career, minus a short career break for some quasi-philanthropic charity work in India. Given the attention given to issues such as #fakenews and social media #echochambers – it does appear that the role of modern technologists is quite substantial.

I was attending the #WebSummit conference when the news broke that #Trump had won the US election. I was surrounded by 50,000 people of whom the majority seemed shocked and despondent at the result. There were some passionate speeches, incredulity at the result, and a real sense of bitterness at those who had exercised their democratic freedoms to elect #Trump. However, like with #Brexit, I felt the need to turn the mirror on myself and question what I had contributed.

One of the topics of conversation at #WebSummit was on Robotics and the ethical dilemmas created by new humanoid technologies. Ben Goertzel, from Hanson Robotics debated strongly against Andra Keay, from Silicon Valley Robotics, espousing the laissez-faire approach to ‘suck it and see’ and deal with the ethical dilemmas as they appear – whereas Andra proposed spending time to contemplate a code of ethics before the jump is made.

I admire Andra’s approach, but for me this code is decades too late.

Media, communication & social interactions are all things that affect our emotions, decision making and world-views – even without a human face. The power of books and films to elicit strong emotions is just as powerful when read on or Facebook. With traditional media, we understand the implicit contract so beautifully articulated in Yes, Minister! by Jim Hacker*, we question the stories and understand the biases if not quite accepting that we’re affected by them. However with Facebook, Twitter & other online communities we’ve been tricked. We expect them to be passive commentaries on our social circles, not biased media outlets, shaped to affect our emotions. Technology strategists like Nir Eyal seek to focus on modifying behaviour; using digital cues to affect real-world actions. Where was the debate around ethics for non-robotic technology; surely this is as relevant a field as the new humanoids we’re creating?

Just because we can do it, does that mean we should?

In the world of science, this question is used to temper progress. Without understanding the consequence of our actions, we should not seek to blindly continue. This doesn’t mean we have to answer all the unknowns, nor does it mean not take risks. It does mean that we should have a thought for our own safety, and the safety of others before continuing down that road. Ironically President Obama gave a wonderful speech on the 17th October, about how the government cannot be run like a Silicon Valley startup. His pertinent message included reference to the following:

So sometimes I talk to CEOs, they come in and they start telling me about leadership, and here’s how we do things. And I say, well, if all I was doing was making a widget or producing an app, and I didn’t have to worry about whether poor people could afford the widget, or I didn’t have to worry about whether the app had some unintended consequences – setting aside my Syria and Yemen portfolio – then I think those suggestions are terrific.
— President Obama

So perhaps it’s not government that’s broken; perhaps some of the bureaucracy is good? In technology and start ups we solve problems; we’re progressing to find near-perfect solutions to particular problems, without contemplating how some of the brokenness serves a function. We destroy low-skilled jobs in the name of automation, without thinking about how to provide purpose to those who would quite happily take on those low-skilled tasks for financial reward. We disrupt low-margin business models by disinter-mediating those who cannot provide a robust defence and let big businesses who’d fight back off the hook.

Let’s as a community start to look before we leap and to make sure we’re benefitting the whole of society; not just ourselves.


#Brexit – communcation breakdown / too much information.

I’ve often woken up on the morning after a vote with a sense of disappointment.  It’s unfortunately a feeling that’s all-to-familiar for me and many of the people whom I choose to call my friends.

It is estimated that a week’s worth of information in a single newspaper contains more information that someone in the 18th Century was likely to come across in a lifetime.

Living outside of London, I grew up constantly frustrated by the London-centric coverage on the news; the family holidays where people would ask where you were from, and London became synonymous with England – or by big business talking up London being the capital of the world, and ignoring the wonderful cities of Britain who’ve contributed significantly to London’s affluence.  Would London be as affluent today without Sheffield Steel, Manchester’s Cotton, Sunderland’s Shipping & Cardiff’s Coal?  Industry helped lift London up to be able to compete at a global scale.

It’s easy to focus on a class-divide between the voting groups, but it’s both more complicated and more simple than that.  Where London and affluent Britain have failed to provide, the EU have stepped in to fill the void.  It is an unfortunate irony that the election results show that those areas most heavily reliant on EU funding (therefore abandoned by the current UK political system) have voted to leave the EU.  Theirs was not a vote for separatism, isolation, or political ideals, but a vote for change.

The other realisation after the vote, is that posts such as this one are being published places that fail to reach a representative audience.  What vehicle do we have that allows us to bridge the chasm between those who voted out and those voting in?  Historically that may have been the Labour party – but how many unions are properly represented outside of London?  Sure there are national unions, but due to the volume of people they need to represent in London, has their focus left their members outside of London frustrated?

Some videos have been doing the rounds based that illustrate ignorance & xenophobia; responses to those videos have been just as ignorant and xenophobic.  Neither side who’s actively engaged in this debate comes out of this with any credibility.  Those of us who failed to engage lack it even more.  Politics has always been a communication game – 100 years ago it was different.  It wasn’t possible to actively communicate every nuance of every policy – instead we had representatives that we believed acted on principle and with integrity.  Watching shows like ‘Peaky blinders’ – are we that ignorant to believe that ever was the case?  Is it not more likely that the controls around what was communicated were tighter?

We now have a different communication problem.  We need to find a way to communicate across boundaries.  We’ve got a supposedly neutral BBC, a right-wing Sky, and nothing balancing their arguments.  We don’t have a Jon Stewart.  We have a negative Guardian (when’s the last time you read an article with a positive spin)?  Yes – the world isn’t perfect and it doesn’t align perfectly to our ideals.  The answer isn’t to give up, to throw stones – the answer is to start to move it towards where we want it to be for the future.

World in Union

I was lucky enough to have attended the Rugby World Cup match last night between Wales and Australia at Twickenham. It was an exciting and well fought match between two teams who did not want to lose. I’ve been looking forward to the match for weeks and despite England disappearing from the tournament. I was going to Twickenham for the Rugby World Cup.


I remember my first visit to Twickenham fairly lucidly; the sheer size of the place, the crazy silence when kicks were being taken, and the smell of wax jackets and whisky. I’d only ever previously been to Villa Park, and the main thing I picked up there was learning a vast dictionary of new expletives, many of which later got me into trouble as I showed off to my siblings around the dinner table.

Twickenham was different. The crowd belted out ‘Swing Low’ far louder than any cathedral choir and the silence at the kicks was uninterrupted – for both sides. It was like a church to rugby; a monument to a game where the competition happened on the pitch, not in the stands. You were there to support not just your own team, but the game of rugby itself.

One of the paradigms noted across the commercial activity in ‘support’ of this Rugby World Cup has been the notion of having to ‘pick sides’; the idea that it’s impossible to enjoy the spectacle without dressing in the team colours and shouting for your team. Whilst that may be part and parcel of modern sports, it’s also created an unforeseen consequence of people actively ‘un’ supporting the opposition. The theme tune of the RWC – The World in Union is not about using Rugby to divide us, but to bring us together.

At the lower levels of the game, this just isn’t the case. The example set by the spectators at the traditional rugby stadia on the World Cup circuit has exemplified this beautifully – none more so than at Exeter today, for Italy v Romania. The crowded Sandy Park stadium fell silent at each kick. At Birmingham & Solihull yesterday, our South African winger Wayne Child suffered a bad knee injury – this morning our opposition Newport dropped us a tweet to offer their support and hope of a speedy recovery. This is Rugby.

My other observation is around the commercial support of Rugby. The majority of sponsors look to reflect the core principles of what Rugby is about – teamwork, integrity, performance and friendship. These principles shouldn’t be exploited by commercial interest, but reflected in it. I read an observation earlier this week from an old colleague, bemoaning the O2 brand-alignment with the England Rose and how O2 should ‘snatch victory from the jaws of defeat’ in re-aligning themselves with a different country for the rest of the tournament.

That’s not rugby. Rugby isn’t about supporting the best team, it’s about supporting your team. England are the hosts, now we can’t set an example of how to win well, let’s set an example of how to lose with dignity. As England Rugby, our team may be out of the tournament – but we’re still hosting it. Let’s show the world what we mean when we refer to the ‘Rugby family’.

Hooking the user

Last year, I directed the concept development of a rowing app that has gone on to get quite a reasonably sized organic following. Its success was very much unpredicted, but post-rationalising and having read ‘the Hook model’ by Nir Eyal, I noticed that we had ended up incorporating quite a few design patterns from the book.

Hopefully we’ll get the budget to develop the app further, as there are plenty of more ideas learned from the book that we could incorporate. The slideshow below is a nice summary of the concepts, but I recommend supporting Nir and getting the book on amazon here:

The wonderful world of computing

Well it seems like 2013 gave me a little hiatus from blogging – it wasn’t planned but so many of the projects I was working on were about implementing previous knowledge, not pushing the boat out and learning new things.  In hindsight, I realise that is a big mistake, as well as a bit of an untruth – as pretty much every configuration I’ve touched has improved in some way.

2014 is going to bring with it its own challenges, and I hope to keep as many of them catalogued as possible.  2013 brought me into the world of Rackspace – on both their co-location and cloud services – and I’ve found them  ‘fanatical’ about everything, just as they claim.

I’ve also started picking up some AngularJS and using Yeoman for my scaffolding.  I hope to learn a CSS tool, such as Compass/LESS/SASS and use a templating language such as jade.  I’m also going to kill the blog at and bring it back here.  There’s no point in separating my personal and technical blogs, I’ll just make sure I tag them properly on here so people can read what they choose.

Welcome back, and I wish all of you a prosperous 2014.

Etape Pennine

On October 7th 2012, I shall be participating in the Etape Pennines cycle race up in County Durham, England.  If I were doing this by myself for a group of fit cyclist friends, it would be a challenge.  In order to make it even more exciting I’ll be doing it with my family.  This will include:

  • Chris Loughran – Dad
  • Jim Loughran – Uncle
  • John Loughran – Elder Brother
  • Simon Loughran – Younger Brother
  • Chris McCarthy – (ok, so I did have to get one experienced cyclist in to help us).
  • Me.

The reason I’m doing it is to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Society.  Unfortunately last year my Nan lost her battle with Dementia and passed away at the end of November.  It was a very tough time for the family, but unfortunately it was not my first experience of the condition.  Both my mothers’ parents also had the condition.

I remember posting many years ago about John Suchet‘s battle in coping with his wife having the condition.  He pointed out that it was not a condition which necessarily caused the contractee to suffer, but the family and loved ones that surround them.  It can be a very painful condition, moreso when you are left to comprehend the suffering of an increasingly lonely partner.

What does make a big difference though is education and experience.  I was a few years younger when my Gran started showing the signs of dementia, but old enough to have been by her bedside for the last few days of her life.  Understanding the condition made it much less of a chore, and though it was obvious to see that many in the family were in distress, I always felt happy that my Gran wasn’t the one suffering – and if we took to her new character and interacted with her ‘in her world’ then she was extremely content.

The Alzheimer’s Society is a fantastic charity, and due to my girlfriend having worked with the Alzheimer’s Society last year, I’ve been able to gain an invaluable insight into their work.  Funding both care and research into dementia, the Alzheimer’s Society are fighting on all fronts against dementia.

The donation page at the moment is still setup from the donations from my Nan’s funeral.  I hope to get the login details off my Uncle soon so that we can re-theme the site to raise the funds for the cycle.

I look forward to your support over the coming months – I need all the peer pressure I can muster to force me to keep training (and keep patience during a 5 hour+ cycle with my family).  Please share your stories of dementia and I’ll be riding for you too.


1st Training Run –