Preview of Museum of Communications and Computing and a Chance to Win an iPod.

Identify the computer in the background for a chance to win an ipod. had a privilege of having a preview of Ireland’s only Communications and Computer Museum which is being housed at the Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI) at NUI Galway. It is a collaboration with eGalway and will be officially opening on November the 16th.

Apart from using history as a context for understanding the present it has another purpose which is to inspire young people to consider careers in science and engineering as interesting and worthwhile.

Ireland has a strong tradition of being welcoming to high-tech researchers, innovators and manufacturers right back to when Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) set up their first plant in Galway in 1971.

Computers on display, amongst many others, are the DEC Vax, Digital Rainbow, Apple 11, Apple Macintosh, IBM PC, Commodore 64, Vic-20, BBC and the Sinclair ZX81. Gaming is well represented and there will be an opportunity to play some of the legendary video games of the 70s and 80s.

Portable computing, printing and microprocessing technologies are also well represented in the exhibition as can be seen in this video.

To mark the opening of the museum Brendan Smith, the curator, has offered an ipod as a prize for the first correct answer out of the hat on Monday, November 8th.

The competition is to identify the computer that is in the background of the picture. Many will recognise the computer in the foreground as the BBC Microcomputer.

Send your answer to and a rather cool ipod could be yours.

On another note; with a month to go there is still a gap in the collection where an Atari gaming console should be. If you or if you know of someone who would be willing to donate their machine to the museum then rest assured it be well taken care of and Brendan will be very grateful.

Interview: Tim Smit on the Eden Project at the Social Entrepreneur Awards

Last Friday night the Social Entrepreneur Awards were held in Dublin, Ireland. The ceremony has been going for five years now and was well attended on the evening by a vibrant group of emerging Irish men and women active in the field of social entrepreneurship.

The rise of the social entrepreneur is a very visible and timely movement in Ireland coinciding with the greatest economic crisis that this country has ever witnessed. We need these type of entrepreneurs now more than ever, as we can expect a whole range of Irish social services and environmental initiatives to come under pressure during these challenging times. The Social Impact Programme that Social Entrepreneurs Ireland operates offers funding to high potential social entrepreneurs. It gives them the knowledge, support and expertise to assist them in delivering sustainable, long term projects.

The evening was a truly inspirational and educational one and I was delighted to be able to interview one of the speakers on the night, Tim Smit.

After a spell in the music business Tim conceived the idea of The Eden Project in the Celtic nation of Cornwall in the far South West of England. This intuitive impulse led him to an unused china clay pit and the eventual siting and construction of two vast biomes, both over a 100ft high and hundreds of feet across at the base. The larger biome contains tropical flora planted over four acres of carefully landscaped earth. Temperature and humidity in the dome varies with height and plants are planted at a level on the gradient where they are most likely to flourish. The smaller biome contains plants from mediterranean latitudes and is also landscaped accordingly.

The Eden Project has been a great success with over a million visitors a year since it opened in 2001. This is a huge endeavour by any standards and it all began with a beer or two and few notes on a napkin. After all, it had to start somewhere.

Tim tells the story, “The idea of the Eden Project was sketched in a pub called the Llawnroc, which is Cornwall spelt backwards, while we were drinking beer one evening, by the engineer Anthony Hunt and the architect Nick Grimshaw. A friend of mine went back to the pub and picked up the napkins that were left on the table and thought historically that they might be important and put them in his bag. He bought a new briefcase and left the other one in his house somewhere. About seven or eight years later he found them and we framed them. It was amazing because it (the Eden Project) was all pretty much there.”

He then went on to reveal more about the Eden Project and the importance of doing the things you love.

“Eden was a very natural evolution. The area looked like a moonscape and it was very depressed looking. I went up there and had a look, everyone had been telling me that nothing could have been done with the place. I thought actually, it’s beautiful in a funny way. You’ve got these ocean views wherever you are there. I thought it would be great to do something no one expects in a place like this. I’ve always worked on instinct and I had this sense that the idea I had for the place was just right.

“Loving things is a completely different proposition and what that taught me was that if I loved something that there would be millions of people like me, therefore the issue was only one of marketing. For something to work it requires influence and people to know that you are going to do it no matter what happens. People need to feel that you can do things with or without them. The moment people think you are dependent on them they treat you in a different way. It’s a bit like when you lend money to someone, even if they are your best friend, it damages your relationship. That’s why I can’t do fundraising in a normal way”

It is not only fundraising that Tim does differently. As you can imagine the Eden Project is special and something special is required of those who work there. Tim has nine rules which the people involved are obliged to follow:

Tim Smit’s 9 Rules

  • You must say good morning to at least twenty people before starting work.
  • You have to read two books a year that anybody you know would say are completely outside your realm of knowledge/interest and review them for your colleagues.
  • As above with one piece of music.
  • As above with one show.
  • As above with one film.
  • Once a year you have to make a speech explaining what makes you passionate about your work and why you love working here. If you can’t do it, you are honour bound to resign (apparently it helps to focus the mind…)
  • Once a year you must prepare a meal for your closest colleagues and the people that matter around you.
  • As fortune favours those who share it, you must share your good fortune by conducting a random act of kindness to a complete stranger once a year (and they must never find out that it was you who did it).
  • All staff members must learn to play the drums.

The Eden Project is not about the magnificent biomes or varied plant life or even as a lesson in the importance of biodiversity and our dependence on plant life for human survival. It is about symbolising our awareness to ourselves that our own consciousness is changing and that we cannot go on the way we are going and pretend not to know the consequences.

Buckminster Fuller whose original geodesic domes formed the basis for the design of the biomes said “I am convinced that human continuance depends entirely upon the intuitive wisdom of each and every individual.” Tim Smit’s initial impulse to create the Eden Project goes to show where intuition can take us if we choose to listen to and follow it. Don’t forget to have a pen and some napkins handy.

ScraperWiki: Hacks and Hackers Day comes to Dublin

Hacks and Hackers Hack Day is taking place in Ireland on the 16th of November during Dublin Innovation Week. The organiser of the day-long event is ScraperWiki. Their aim is to provide the resources that allow anyone with any kind of programming ability to develop, store, and maintain software tools for the purposes of extracting and linking data.

By providing the means to create accessibility to data ScraperWiki can allow interested parties such as journalists to take advantage of initiatives such as the UK Government’s policy to make its data more available to the public. Since the UK Expenses Scandal, where certain British parliamentarians were found to have abused their statutory allowances, journalists have become increasingly aware of the wealth of potential stories that lie in databases around the world. However, this data has usually been stored in a random, unstructured and relatively inaccessible manner.

According to Aine Mcguire, in charge of sales and marketing for ScraperWiki, change has only come recently, “In 2003, a gentleman called Julian Todd contacted the UK Government to find out how various MPs had voted on the war. When he tried to get this information in order to do some analysis on it he was advised by the Cabinet Office that all this information was published in Hansards which is the official publishing body of the UK government. But it was difficult [to access.] It was deep down inside a website and he couldn’t do anything with it.

“So Julian went and scraped all that information from Hansards and…then fed it into a website in the UK called The Public Whip which shows you the voting record of all of the MPs in the UK.

“But it was very controversial as he risked imprisonment for doing this because of Crown copyright. But they didn’t imprison him and it was Julian Todd who came up with the idea for ScraperWiki.”

Active since March, 2010, Aine says Scraperwiki aims to, “build the largest community supported public data store in the world.

“You’ve got Wikipedia which supports content that’s predominantly for text and OpenStreetMap is for maps. What we want to do is create a wiki for data. We’re taking data that is in a very unstructured style and putting it into our structured data store. Where appropriate we’re adding longitude and latitude tags. We’re geo-tagging it which means that data can be mapped.”

In line with its aim of being a worldwide data resource project ScraperWiki has had datasets submitted from countries such as the UK, Brazil, Germany, Estonia, Greece and France to name a few. These datasets cover such subjects as the 11,000 deep sea oil wells around the UK, public transport traffic incidents in London, oil rig accidents and so on.

“As well as being a datastore it’s a wiki for code.” Aine explains, “At the moment if you want to do some programming you would go out into the web somewhere, you download some tools, you would install them in the server. Scraperwiki allows you to directly program on the browser so in effect we’re given you lots of libraries for you to program with.

“You can write a screenscraper that goes that uses any of the libraries we’ve got in our browser technology. You can use Python PHP, or Ruby. So you can go off and scrape without having to install anything on your PC or server.”

An added benefit is that because of the inherently collaborative nature of wikis the possibility exists for code to be updated and improved and shared by other programmers.

Aine describes what to expect from the Hacks meet Hackers Hack Day, “At the beginning of the day we have a little presentation about what a Hacks and Hackers Hack Day is all about. Then we give a little presentation on ScraperWiki although we don’t prescribe that they use it. Then we let the journalists and developers gravitate together to form teams over datasets of interests. Then they go off and hack all day. At six o’clock we ask the project groups to come back and present for three minutes each their particular visualisation of the data set that they have worked on.”

Prizes are then awarded and there is a reception for the participants to attend. At a previous event in Liverpool in July eight projects were produced by journalists and programmers working together using open data.

For data driven journalism to flourish information even with the maximum reasonable amount of access granted by governments around the world the problem still exists of data being stored in data silos. Information has to be accessible not only by other people then those who made the original entries but by other machines as well. Structuring information for greater accessibilty is not going to happen all by itself. It will take the sort of co-ordinated and collaborative effort that organisations such as ScraperWiki offer to really make our world a more open and transparent place to live and work in.

At the moment of writing the Hacks and Hackers day taking place in Dublin is fully subscribed but tickets are still available for the Belfast event on the 13th of November.

It is a free event and Scraperwiki is a not for profit organisation. Please contact Aine through their website if you would be interested in sponsoring a part of the event.

Interview: Salim Ismail and Singularity University

Sunset from the International Space Station

Salim Ismail has been Executive Director at Singularity University for the last two years. A renowned Angel investor and entrepreneur with a rich and varied CV. He helped bring Bupa, a private healthcare service, to Ireland and spent almost a year living near Cork. In the United States in addition to being an executive at Yahoo he started and ran a number of businesses. One them is Confabb, a resource for conferences and tradeshows worldwide. He recently sold another one his companies Angstro to Google.

The idea of Singularity is described in Ray Kurzweil‘s book The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. Technology is accelerating at such an increasingly ever-rapid rate that at some point in the near future we will be living in a world of pure information. We will be technologically enabled to transcend our own bodily limitations, illness etc., and also have the capability to solve the planet-wide challenges that currently face us.

Singularity University is based in Silicon Valley and the learning regime is based on methodologies developed at the International Space University. These information imparting systems are vital to Singularity University as in two session totalling ten weeks students encounter ten separate study fields.

Not only do applicants need to have either a Masters degree or be working towards one they also need to be able to demonstrate a track record of leadership in the public or private sector. They also need to be able to show a marked interest in confronting and resolving the large scale challenges that we all face. Climate change, pandemics etc. Last year, there were 1600 applicants for 80 slots.

Salim says that the major issues that the world faces today have one root cause.

“The biggest problems in the world today, whether its financial crises, pandemics or climate change are all rooted in accelerating factors and our leadership around the world does not understand this phenomena.

“The fundamental paradigm of accelerating phenomena is something that human beings don’t understand. All of our thinking is linear. Yet the world operates in certain ways with exponential phenomena and power laws.

“What’s unique about where we are today is that the world is being impacted by many external accelerating phenomena powered by informational properties and we don’t understand it. Our leaders don’t understand it, the general public doesn’t understand it, most scientists don’t understand it.”

So how do you find what the problems are?

‘In the summer program we have two courses. We have the Summer program that’s ten weeks long for the top graduate students in the world, for the new next generation of leaders. We have a seven day course for existing government leaders, business execs, investors etc., that we do on roughly a quarterly basis.

“In the Summer program, its a ten week program. In week one we bring in the World Bank and some of the top foundations in the world and we have them talk about, fairly extensively for the whole week, [the issues we face.] What are the characteristics of clean water, home energy, pandemics, public health? So that the students have a good deep insight on what’s been tried, what’s failed, where the problem is most acute etc.

“They spend half the summer getting a state of the art view across all of these technologies. What’s in the labs today that’s getting commercialized tomorrow? What technologies like nano-technology show the most promise? Where are these technologies converging to increase other breakthroughs? Who are the top thinkers in the field? Who are the labs and companies doing the most interesting work?

“In the second half of the summer they form teams and they do what we call a ‘ten to the ninth’ project. Their challenge is to come up with a project or service that will impact a billion people within ten years… So the idea is that if you are going to do that you really have to think about something that will scale over time. You’re not going to impact a billion people in three weeks so how would you do that over time. So what technologies, what acceleration within these technologies would you have to ride?

That requires forecasting. Isn’t that a tricky business?

“There’s a whole discipline called Future Studies that has good solid techniques for forecasting. If you look at the rise of 3D printing. You can graph it on a very nice 2×2 matrix as an acceleration of a particular technology with the social adoption of that technology. So 3D printing of houses is a very nice accelerating area.

“Nano materials and nano medicine is an accelerating area. Stem cells is an accelerating area, [but has] much less social adoption. You can plot on a graph which ones will have the most social adoption and which ones won’t and how do you deal with it.

“Another example you can think of is what’s a likely future versus a preferred future versus a most unwelcome future. And how do you mitigate those. So we teach the students techniques in future studies so they have some practice in thinking about this. For example if you think about your Blackberry or iphone, we know exactly how much power those devices will have in ten years. What we don’t have is the imagination as to what we would do with them.

“We’re expanding the experience of what it is to be human very, very rapidly without realising it.”

So what should we be looking at in the near future?

“So we have to look at what domains are information enabled and see what has promise. 3D printing is one, solar energy is another. The rise of Arduinos and robotics is certainly another huge area. The key is how can you create systems of innovation in the hands of everyman? When you can put that into the hands of a farmer in China then magical things are going to happen.”

Pocket Body: A Google Earth of the Human Body

Click on image for video

Pocket Body for the ipad is a new addition to the suite of products being planned under the series title of Pocket Anatomy by Mark Campbell. The app was designed using feedback from, amongst others, six medical students and an anatomy lecturer, Dr. Brendan Wilkins from the The College of Medicine, Nursing & Health Sciences, NUI Galway.

Twixt ‘pencil and pixel’ there were at least eighteen iterations of the product before initial release. Mark attributes his thorough and rigorous approach to what he learned from his MA in Interactive Design, course at the University of Limerick, (UL.)

“There was a lot gained from my time in UL’s Interaction Design Centre. At each stage we brought in the users and carried out usability testing. That would have gone back to my Masters where we used ‘think aloud’ protocols where you ask the user to verbalise their thoughts when they use a piece of software.”

Up until recently nearly all medical students around the world used anatomy diagrams represented in two dimensions in their textbooks. Mark and his colleagues thought it would be a tremendous advantage for the students to have the ability to move around the human body in three dimensions in order to obtain a better understanding of the spatial relationships between the different anatomical parts.

They saw that there was a better way of showing how the body works rather than just in a book or in a 2D slideshow.

“The ideal was to create a Google Earth of the human body. Nothing exists out there. We have Google Maps and Google Earth Apps, and we wanted to create a Google Body type app!”

Mark is a native of Galway and finds there is no problem in operating his business from the City apart from the inconvenience of readily meeting clients and interested parties face to face.

To overcome that Mark says, “We pick up the phone, we engage with them. We use Skype and video-conferencing or if needs be, hop on a plane. We do get asked if we outsource development but so far we have developed everything in-house. There’s no handicap in being based in North West Europe.

It’s about building relationships with our customers. There’s a lot of people interested in our product and they want to feel that they’re not just another number. The market place can be thought of in crude economic terms or it can be thought of as being made up of individuals with names and needs, who regularly contact us with requests to become involved in the Pocket Anatomy project, and for us to engage with them. This is the start of what we see as a global community of people with an interest in medical education. It’s great for the team in Pocket anatomy to be involved in something worthwhile and innovative like this.”

Pocket Body was released in September 2010 and has climbed into the Top Ten in six different itunes stores around the world in the Medical iPad downloads section. You can read more about the app at the Pocket Anatomy site.

HP Labs: Attention is more important than money

The conclusion from a recent study by HP Labs, Status as a Valued Resource, which confirms that attention is more important than money may seem totally counterintuitive. Outside of totalitarian dictatorships and countries that are totally ramshackle and broken down, we live in economies that could be categorised as capitalist to one degree or another. Without money the governmental and business systems of a State quickly grind to a halt. Our lives, as individuals without money, can become onerous in the extreme. Therefore, on the surface, money can be seen as vital and core to our survival and anything else is a bonus. Claiming that something as seemingly trivial as attention is actually more important is a very challenging idea.

In extremes, the absence of money like the absence of water, food or shelter requires urgent self-management. All one’s focus, unless impeded by injury or illness, automatically turns to satisfying these basic needs. Lack of enough money to function with carries within itself the same imperative to do something to remedy the situation.

However, it has been shown that after one has access to a certain amount of cash the impulse to satisfy financial desires is as a consequence reduced. The following video makes this point in a most delightful manner.

In the paper Status As a Valued Resource authored by Bernardo A. Huberman from Hewlett Packard Laboratories, Christoph H. Loch, INSEAD and Hewlett Packard Laboratories and Ayse Öncüler from INSEAD a key experiment was done that shows that will sacrifice monetary gain in order to gain status and garner increased attention.

“Intrinsic status seeking by individuals has important implications for social and economic systems because it can provide a powerful motivation to perform; it also can lead to unproductive competitions with no obvious social value.”

The experiment consisted of a two part card game. Each subject was given a set of 30 cards and the idea of the game was too deploy them in such a manner so as to proceed to the next round. The cards had been given an arbitrary value so their use when deployed could be described as an expenditure or investment. Once through to the second round the game became a lottery. A winner was picked at random and the game ceased. The more cards that a player had left over from the first round increased their chances of winning the lottery in the second round because they would have had more cards available for the draw.

When the game was played by the rules presented to the subject and other variables were taken into account the subjects deployed their resources in a manner corresponding to what could be perceived as a rational approach. Passing through the first around with sufficient cards left over to increase their chances of being card being chosen in the lottery.

Then the notion of a ‘winner’ was introduced:

“In the first condition (no status), the game was conducted exactly as described above. In the second version (status), we introduced a status condition by stating at the beginning of the game that the winner of Stage 1 would be announced publicly, given a small tag saying “Winner,” and congratulated.”

This altered the subjects game playing strategy. The immediate acknowledgement, attention and status that was perceived to be had from obtaining a winner’s badge and receiving applause proved to be more valuable to the participant than a possible eventual overall victory in a lottery.

We know from our previous article Crowdsourcing: Getting Attention is the Key to Getting the Message Out, that attention is the main driver for content production on Youtube and across other forms of Social Media networks that have similar dynamics and operate in a similar way that the more attention a content provider gets the more content they produce and vice versa.

This research further shows that our prime motivator is attention. In this experiment attention gave the subjects status and it is this sense of status that defines where we are in relations to others. Our essential primate nature has existed long before the use of money came into play. Where we stand in our pack or social group has far more significance then many either suppose or care to admit.

In our prehistoric groupings outside of the inefficient use of violence, being active in increasing one’s status was probably the only way of getting hold of special privileges such as a preferred share of the food and grooming etc.

In the modern world we see this in the office politics and turf wars of the private and public institutions. Most people are earning enough to get by so our inclination to pursue status comes to the fore more easily.

In the online world status may be seem to be suggested by having a high follower account but as explained in a previous article, How to Influence on Twitter: Research from New Algorithm Gives Guidance a high number of followers does not necessarily mean that one has a great deal of influence.

“The experiments reported here imply that people tend to over-invest resources whenever “winning against others” is involved, because winning confers status.”

We now know:

  • People value attention more than money.
  • People will behave differently for the sake of increased status.
  • Increased status brings more influence.
  • More influence means greater leadership and possibily more rewards in online communities.

Knowing what our drives are frees us from being slaves to them. Knowledge of our predilections means we can allow, correct for and take advantage of them. The information we now have from the work done by Bernardo and his colleagues at HP Labs enables the rest of us to think, plan and prepare our online and offline activities with greater precision and accuracy than ever before.