Tom McEnery on Steve Jobs

In his famous challenge to John Sculley, Steve Jobs asked if he wanted to spend his life selling sugared water to kids, or did he want to change the world?

Jobs was quite a salesman. About a year after that famous quote, I saw much of that legendary asset when I met him to discuss the new Apple headquarters that he wanted to build in the southern reaches of San Jose. He had I.M. Pei to design it, bundles of cash, more cachet, and a plan that was “awesome.” And he made me an offer that was tough to refuse: He’d make San Jose a great city. Jobs even talked about living in a loft downtown. Wow. You could really see that glimmer of greatness.

But within a year, the man he seduced to lead Apple would send Jobs on his way, and with him went much of the spark that so enlivened that company. Gone but not forgotten. Like many other parents, I made sure a Mac was on my daughters’ desks, part of their kit like a pencil.

There was a sign in my grammar school library at old St. Joseph’s — now under the Adobe Towers — that said, “you can travel the world over in your library.” Now it was possible in your own room. It was a gift to education and a boon to Luddites like me as well.

The word “great” is nowadays used in the most casual way. I prefer it for those who have transcending ideas or real courage. Jobs surely did. Some of the reason for his unique cult status was his straight talk. It was as legendary as his ability to turn the inventions of others into cash. As the “Woz” has noted, “he sells all the stuff I made.”

In my conversation with Jobs about the “insanely great” headquarters that he would build, he disparaged a prominent Silicon Valley developer and philanthropist as a “sleaze ball” and ranted about how Jacob Rothschild had changed a deal at the last minute to buy a New York apartment.

He only savaged the important and dropped only the best names. He was brash and a bit annoying. And remember, he was still in his mid-20s.

Others have written how he changed the world, and I will let others more qualified expand on it.

But I do know this, because I have seen it clearly in my children and grandchildren, and in classrooms from Costa Rica to Ireland. Steve Jobs helped us all to dream a little more and to make those dreams easier to see. He may have been the supreme visionary in this special valley.

Perhaps most remarkable was that as a young man, he wrote his own epitaph when he said to another: “Do you want to change the world?”

Steve Jobs surely did and we are all the better for it.

This article originally appeared in the San Jose Mercury News.

Galway Demobar

Writing software, in practice if not by definition, can involve long hours sitting in front of a computer screen and the opportunity to socialise with contemporaries who have shared interests and concerns is limited. In response to this need to have real world face time with others in the same field, a Demobar was organised in Galway.

Last month, developers and entrepreneurs gathered at a seafront bar to show each other products and projects that they have been working on.

Over 20 different companies were present at Demobar Galway including: Pocket Anatomy, Ex Ordo, OnePageCRM, Seevl, tunepresto and the yet-to-be-launched StreamGlider from our very own John Breslin.

On the evening about a hundred people turned out for an informal showcase of online product demos. According to John Breslin, “Having these people come together is great because there’s a network effect when you get all these products being demoed. One or two people on their own couldn’t hope to get such a crowd but when there are ten or more products being shown you get all kinds of people showing up.”

As well as the social aspect there is real value in putting one’s work on public display. In many cases this was the first opportunity for a product to be given a wider airing.

“It is good to put the product out there for a live showing because when you are working in semi-isolation with your product team you tend to miss what early adopters (with similar expectations to developers) or general users (often coming to a product with less background knowledge) will either latch on to or loathe. The early adopters get bogged down in ‘can you do this; why didn’t you do that’ whereas the others tend to say ‘hey, look what this can do!'”

Mick FitzGerald of OnePageCRM was one of the organisers of the event along with Dave Kelly, Paul Killoran, Mark Campbell, Siún Ní Raghallaigh and Ronan O’Malley. Mick says that he was surprised by the huge amount of energy present in the room.

“For a small city there seems to be a lot of very good technologies around. All the digital entrepreneurs have a great deal of optimism.

“There are some really good things happening in the West.”

Citizen Sensors: Individuals’ Mobile Updates Contribute to a Bigger Picture


Citizen sensing applications range from public health to disaster relief.

In 1999, before the advent of Foursquare, mobile Twitter clients or sensor-enabled phones, a somewhat prescient Neil Gross in Bloomberg Business Week said: “In the next century, planet earth will don an electronic skin. It will use the Internet as a scaffold to support and transmit its sensations.” A new area of research called “citizen sensing” has emerged since then that aims to derive collective knowledge from the actions and reactions of individuals armed with internet-enabled mobile devices.

In the past ten years, we have seen the growth of online social networks, but there has been a parallel surge in sensor networks, many of which are also connected to the Internet. These usually consist of multiple static or inert sensors that capture certain readings from their environment whenever they are programmed to do so. Also, many people are now carrying some form of sensor-laden device – a mobile phone, a tablet, a fitness device – from which sensor readings can also be retrieved. This is sometimes called ‘human-in-the-loop sensing’, but sensors are also being carried by cars, animals and other moving entities.

There are various advantages for human-in-the-loop sensing. For collecting data in large urban areas – for example, for environmental or traffic monitoring purposes – it can be both expensive and time consuming to build large networks of sensors in these areas. Having people walking around with sensor-enabled devices makes sense due to the high population densities in urban areas and the willingness of people to contribute sensor data if it will have an eventual positive impact on their lives.

Five years ago, a team in UCLA wrote a research paper on ‘participatory sensing’, which uses, “mobile devices to form interactive, participatory sensor networks that enable public and professional users to gather, analyze and share local knowledge.” Applications were described in the areas of public health, urban planning and even creative expression. In 2007, Michael Goodchild described citizens as sensors in the field of volunteered geography, when he talked about, “[humans] equipped with some working subset of the five senses and with the intelligence to compile and interpret what they sense, and each free to rove the surface of the planet.”

More recently, a professor in Ohio’s Wright State University, Amit Sheth, outlined the notion of ‘citizen sensing’ whereby people are, “Acting as sensors and sharing their observations and views using mobile devices and Web 2.0 services.” A citizen sensor network is “an interconnected network of people who actively observe, report, collect, analyze, and disseminate information via text, audio or video messages.” In particular, Sheth presented work in which semantic annotations were applied to Twitter microblog posts from ‘citizen sensors’ in order to provide situational awareness, e.g. in the Mumbai terrorist attacks.

If interpreted correctly, the data that is available from citizen sensor networks can have a wide variety of applications. Some of these include: earthquake sensing (people interested in acting as citizen seismologists can apply to Stanford for a tiny seismic sensor for their computer); disaster relief (there are various platforms available from Ushahidi for disaster response); traffic monitoring (Dr. Liam Kilmartin at NUI Galway is leading a project that uses mobile apps to monitor and reduce traffic congestion in Galway); and environmental data analysis (UC Berkeley and Intel provided personal air quality sensors to community members in California as part of their Common Sense project).

In a previous article (“What If Your Car Could Tweet?”), we briefly talked about how sensor readings could be attached to microblog posts through the Twitter Annotations extension. Twitter Annotations will allow arbitrary metadata to be attached to any tweet. There is an overall limit of 512 bytes for this metadata ‘payload’, and each metadata item is expressed in the form of “type”:{“attribute”:”value”}, e.g. “movie”:{“title”:”Planet of the Apes”}. Inspired by Twitter Annotations, work is ongoing with David Crowley at DERI, NUI Galway to attach mobile sensor data to Social Web content, to develop mobile sensor-specific extensions to the SIOC de-facto standard developed in DERI, and to build Android apps that use this data model. The next step is then to provide novel methods for interpreting and visualising the data for different domains.

At the moment, you can attach geolocation information to a tweet, and every tweet is timestamped, but what if you could append temperatures, air pressures or other contextual information to a tweet? When combined with the actual texts of the tweets themselves, this combination of human-contributed and machine-contributed data could potentially be very useful.

John Hartnett of the ITLG interviewed by RTE

On the first day of the Global Irish Economic Forum John Hartnett of the Irish Technology Leadership Group was interviewed by RTE. Here are some excerpts from the conversation. Click on the image to see the original video.

Q: How have things changed in Silicon Valley when it comes to Irish companies trying to get their projects up and running over the past two years?

JH: Over the last two years, what I’ve seen is more Irish companies coming out [there].

Silicon Valley is a well-known brand but what it’s known for is technology. It is the centre of the world for the big companies: the Googles, the Intels, the Apples. The combined market capital of those companies is about 2 trillion dollars.

But it’s also where venture capital is raised. Over 40% of all venture capital across the United States is in Silicon Valley. From an Irish perspective we need to take some of that cash and invest it into Irish companies.

We’ve got 30 Irish companies in the Innovation Center [San Jose, California] that we set up last year. That’s 30 more companies that weren’t in Silicon Valley two years ago.

Q: How important are forums like these?

JH: I think they are critically important. They are important for a number of reasons. First and foremost the global Irish are not all in Ireland.

[It is also about] being able to have a public/private partnership where you can have a conversation with the government [and] with the agencies about what’s good, what’s bad, what do we need to do differently.

But now we need to move more into execution of these ideas. For me, what I would love to get out of this is, ‘What’s the game plan now?’

Q: How significant is Dublin as a place for technology companies?

JH: I have been in technology for 25 years both here and in the US and [Ireland] has a phenomenal track record.

You talk about the likes of the Twitters and the Facebooks and Googles who have had phenomenal success over the last few years but Microsoft have been here 25 years. Apple has been here 25 years. Intel has been here 20 years. This [represents] decades of experience that are not going to get minimized by the current challenges that are there.

So we have a very good reputation. For now, we need to look forward and project where we are going and how we are going to invest in innovation.

Our success in the 21st Century – the Innovation Century – is going to be [based] on our ability to be leaders in innovation.

Q: Are there companies that can lead to more jobs being created here in Ireland?

JH: I think this issue of early exit is core to the challenge we have.

We need to get that confidence where young Irish companies are starting with the end in mind – being a public company, being a multi-billion dollar company. That will create long-term jobs, long-term security [and] long-term value.

Q: Does Ireland have the infrastructure to support those companies in the later stages?

JH: The important things for companies is basically; access to capital, access to customers and access to talent. Customers are outside of Ireland. We are too small a nation to create huge businesses here.

From an Ireland perspective: we’re small, we’ve got minimal resources. So we’ve got to do a few things and [those] few things really, really well. We’ve got to be excellent and the place to be excellent is in education.

Global Diaspora Strategies Toolkit “Harnessing the Power of the Irish Diaspora” – Review

Everyone needs to get their hands on a copy of this book, Global Diaspora Strategies Toolkit which is available from the Diaspora Matters website, if for no other reason than the fact that these authors have taken the time and effort to implement for Ireland a plan of action against the potential of downfall.

Putting together an assembly of high achievers with Irish roots and global connections could mean Ireland’s economic recovery could be more than a slow uphill struggle; it could accelerate us back to where we were before the Celtic Tiger’s roar was silenced.

Putting a plan in action of any shape or form has the benefit of planting in fertile minds the notion of survival and allowing like-minded people to come together and consider how they can help themselves. If this plan were completely moot, I would still say it is an idea worthwhile for this reason alone.

As the recent global recession has proven, “No nation is an island.” We are all interconnected. Kingsley Aikins and Nicola White believe that by harnessing the power of the global diaspora and implementing a diaspora strategy, we can aim to extend our networks and by default reclaim some of our lost power in our time of greatest need.

Quotes from Hilary Clinton and JF Kennedy are cited that support the authors’ feelings on the importance of global relationships. One is reminded of the presence in Ireland this year of Barack Obama and The Queen, following a hundred-year absence of any royal monarch on Irish soil, that the authors might be onto something. Gaining a global presence and striving for a leading role on the world stage and important allies can only stand to improve matters for us.

What is clear from this strategy toolkit is that Kingsley and his group are committed to improving Ireland and its communities through philanthropy, access to global markets and the advocacy of brand ‘Ireland’. This strategy is based on collation and analysis of the experience of Diaspora organisations from around the world.

Kingsley emphasises that, “Networking with the diaspora is going to be a key piece in Ireland’s economic recovery.”

The discussion topics at the recent Global Irish Economic Forum touch on a lot of the themes in the book; philanthropy, trade, investment, tourism, culture, education and sport were all discussed.

“In all of those areas there were initiatives suggested and now the key is execution,” Kingsley comments, “But the government seems determined and they have set themselves a hundred-day target that they will have a whole series of initiatives in place by.”

How can we make all this networking possible? Technology is the key and the most outright way of opening up the endless connections that stand to be made with the overseas diaspora.

“The internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow” – Bill Gates.

The good news is that we don’t have to start from scratch. Groups such as the Irish Technology Leadership Group, that encourage and support entrepreneurship and innovation in the Irish Innovation Center, are a prime example of the benefits that can be reaped by engaging with the larger Irish diaspora.

F.lux releases iOS app

Earlier this year, we featured f.lux, a free program which adjusts the warmth of your computer’s display to correlate with the light conditions outside.

The program has been widely hailed as a Godsend by millions of users who stare into their computer screens long after the sun has set, which according to medical studies, can have a disruptive effect on sleep patterns.

One question we asked Lorna Herf at the time was, “When can we expect to see an iPhone or iPad app?” A question echoed by many of the million-plus users of the desktop application. Unfortunately, the app store prohibits certain apps, such as those which make use of background processing, one of f.lux’s key features.

Although iPhones and iPads can adjust their brightness automatically using their ambient light sensors, this does not adjust the warmth of the light, and this warmer, bluer light can still delay the production of melatonin, vital to inducing sleepiness.

“We’d love to be in the Apple app store, but because we run automatically in the background, with the current app restrictions, we’d never be able to. Here’s hoping one day,” says Lorna.

“It unfortunately requires jailbreaking to install for the time being, but if you do have a jailbroken device, it’s so nice.

“We’re really excited to be saving people from glowing blue inside dark pubs or restaurants!”

The reaction from users so far has been very positive, and Lorna and Michael have even been contacted by users who have jailbroken their iPhones just to install the app.

Anyone with a jailbroken iOS device can download f.lux for free through Cydia.

rNews to Combine with schema.org for more Accurate Data Identification

At the International Press Telecommunications Council (IPTC) Autumn meeting in Vienna this week the rNews version 1.0 standard will be voted on and hopefully approved. rNews uses RDFa to annotate web pages and embed metadata in these pages, particularly in the field of news publishing.

The IPTC has existed since 1965 and now promulgates digital standards that can be helpful in the exchange of news information. Its list of voting members includes such organisations as Getty Images, Press Association Ltd., the Associated Press and the Xinhua News Agency to name just a few.

The New York Times Company is also a member and just prior to the Autumn meeting we spoke to Evan Sandhaus, Lead Architect of Semantic Platforms in the New York Times Research and Development Department about the development of rNews and its forthcoming integration with schema.org.

We asked Evan how the initiative began: “The impetus came for the most recent work came at the 2010 Semantic Technology Conference when I went to a session (Semantic Tools for More Profitable Online Commerce) given by Best Buy’s Jay Myers. His organisation was able to leverage RDFa and the Good Relations ontology to mark up Best Buy data in such a way that it made it more helpful to the search engines, social sites and aggregators.

“I got to thinking that’s really cool that you can do that. I got to thinking is there anything we could do in my sector that would let us do this kind of markup. I realized immediately that it was going to be a standardizations effort.”

So Evan began work on rNews in collaboration with Stuart Myles from the Associated Press, Andreas Gebhard of Getty Images and Michael Steidl, Managing Director of IPTC amongst others.

“As we worked on rNews we originally started with the idea that an RDFa only standard. But we quickly realized that there were competing formats for expressing semantic markup in html documents.

“We thought that the interesting thing was that the data model and the vocabulary that we developed was not tied to a particular implementation but rather as a data model that could have multiple implementations.”

A parallel effort was taking place with Bing, Google and Yahoo who came together to create Schema.org, a vocabulary that people can use to semantically mark up their content. The hope is that if webmasters adopted the vocabulary there would be a much more consistent return on search results for web users amongst other things.

“What we didn’t want to have happen was to release a standard that was competing with schema.org.” Evan says, “We didn’t want the publishers to be faced with a choice between supporting an IPTC standard and a standard that was supported by three major search engines.

“We immediately realised that half of our standard existed in some form already in schema.org. Some of the ideas are so obvious about what you want to mark up that multiple people, working independently, would arrive at them.

“Through this process we were able to integrate many features of rNews into the vocabulary that is published at schema.org”

What that now means is that publishers can use schema.org to implement the rNews data model. We see the schema.org collaboration with IPTC as a commercially supported implementation of the rNews data model.

rNews offers three major benefits:

  • Better Machine Generated Links: Oftentimes the links that are created to your content are not created by people but by machines. Social sites may have instructions to link to your content and search engines may have crawled to your content and they have display a link to it. Humans would find it easy to identify the content and mark it up accordingly as a headline or as a picture but machines find this sort of identification problematical.
    Evan says, “We anticipate rNews empowering machines with the information they need to create attractive links to our content.”
  • Superior Analytics for Publishers: Because rNews can express whether content is about or mentions a concept it becomes possible to create analytics around the meaning of content rather than just the number of page views. A concept can be an idea like war or terrorism; a person like Barack Obama or a place like New York City.
  • Better Ad Placement: The possibility exists for ad targeting algorithms to benefit from high fidelity information about the content. “We believe that there is an opportunity to provide these platforms with higher quality metadata about the content that they are targeting.”

“All three of these benefits are contingent on the adoption of the standard and the support that the broader web eco-system provides to the standard. But we see these three reasons as why publishers might want to seriously consider rNews for their publishing stack.”