Reinforcing Ideological Walls with Facebook’s News Feed Algorithm

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In a recent academic paper from Facebook, researchers described how their news feed algorithm is presenting users with content that is related to their ideological standpoint, and removes some “cross-cutting content” from sources they are less likely to agree with. (Cross-cutting content are stories that are more likely to have been shared by those who are strongly committed to a different ideology than you.) The paper has raised concerns about the role that algorithms play in the kind of content that Facebook users are being exposed to.

One general issue with the algorithms that control the selection and display of content in our social network news feeds is that we do not actually know what else these algorithms are selecting our stories based on, or how widespread their effects are. For example, we had the experiment carried out by Facebook in 2012 and published last year where they manipulated the display of happy and sad stories to 150,000 users to see if they would in turn share happy or sad content. It may have been an isolated test, but the attitude behind carrying out such a study did cause me to stop using my own Facebook personal profile.

Some argue that an algorithmic ranking is much the same as an editor choosing what we see in a newspaper: most people would know when they pick up a certain newspaper that they are going to see stories aligning to the ideology of that newspaper and its readers. However, an editor can also decide on any one day that it is in the interests of a newspaper’s readers to see a more diverse range of news stories around an important breaking topic.

In terms of social networks and how algorithms work on sites like Facebook, there is often an assumption of neutrality, and many would think that they are being shown the same types of content as other people would see from their own sets of friends. That is, everyone would see a balanced set of content items overall, perhaps reordered based on “Likes” but not so much on one’s own profile characteristics (apart maybe for the ads on the sidebar which a lot of people realise are tailored). This was apparent after the aforementioned emotion manipulation study, when a lot of people stated that they didn’t realise that the Facebook news feed was filtered at all.

Most social networks (and also non-social services such as search) are trying to personalise your content and make it more relevant, creating the so-called “Filter Bubble” as a result, so in this respect Facebook is similar to many other platforms. What you click on determines what you will see, although the researchers in this paper seem to make a distinction between the news feed selection algorithm and user choices as if they were semi-independent yet similar factors: in fact, one actually drives the other.

As regards other findings from this study, some of the results made sense, albeit with a sample group that had issues in terms of its selection. What the researchers called “hard content” – national or world news and politics – was very polarised in terms of how it is shared: liberals shared stories from liberal news sources, conservatives from conservative sources. Also, placement of stories in the news feed has a significant effect on clickthrough rates (no surprise there).

In terms of the numbers, self-identified conservatives are being shown 5% less cross-cutting hard news compared to self-identified liberals who are being shown 8% less (who does that anger more?!), and also conservatives are clicking on about 30% of the cross-cutting hard news that they are being shown in their feed compared to the liberals at 20%. I would have guessed the reverse.

The problem revealed by this study is that some social networks are now effectively increasing political polarisation, accelerated by algorithms such as the one from Facebook that curates your news feed for you. These news feed algorithms can be changed to suit different conditions, but no one knows how much they are changing over time, if at all. Right now, all we know is that these algorithms are increasing a user’s selective exposure to news, before the user can decide what to select themselves.

Such news selectivity is generally accepted as being counter to democracy. The reinforcement of ideological walls outlined here may be part of a social network’s future plan for content consumption but it is not a plan we have to go along with.

Galway Tech Map: Version 2!

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It’s been one year since the first version of our Galway Tech Map, so it’s time for an update!

Here is the second version of the Galway Tech Map that shows the growing ICT ecosystem in Galway, incorporating feedback from the community over the past year. As before, if your organisation isn’t on the map, you can download a copy and create your own version as we have released it under a CC By Attribution Share Alike license.

The Galway Tech Map is available in a variety of formats: PNG, PDF, PDF A4.

(Edit: SVG, EPS and AI versions are available here.)

Feel free to share via social media and use in your presentation decks. If you wish to make a suggestion for next year’s version, just send a tweet with the hashtag #upgalway or #gaillimhabú.

Towards Innovation

Galway needs a city centre innovation hub to attract ‘cool’ companies, tech entrepreneur John Breslin tells Lorraine O’Hanlon of the Galway Independent ahead of next month’s Innovating West summit.

Galway is missing out on attracting innovative tech enterprises due to its lack of a downtown hub, according to boards.ie co-founder John Breslin.

Fortunately, plans are afoot to remedy the situation and the need for the so-called Galway City Innovation District is among the topics set to be discussed at the one-day Innovating West summit taking place at NUI Galway on Friday 13 March.

The idea for the event, which will focus on building both teams and innovation ecosystems in the West, came after Innovating West co-organiser Dave Cunningham established a new incubator for start-up businesses, StartX6, on Mary Street in the city centre.

In a bid to inspire more people to create viable businesses in Galway, Dave and John thought it would be a good idea to bring together some of the leaders who have built some of the top companies and teams in the West.

“They’re all coming together on the day to inspire people, to show that you can do things here as good as anywhere,” explains John.

However, some challenges remain for those setting up in Galway, as many companies considering it as a location “see the fantastic city that we have and the talent and the lifestyle and culture, but they often are missing that downtown hub where they could imagine themselves being placed”, he says.

While some software companies – such as SmartBear and Element Wave at Dockgate on Dock Road – have found homes in the city centre, and many others on the outskirts at Parkmore or Dangan, John feels a dedicated area in the heart of the city would attract even more.

“There is a move in a lot of cities around the world to create these downtown innovation districts where you can basically cluster the cool companies, the cafés, the transport, the Internet and broadband all in one place,” he says.

“In Galway we’re kind of missing that. I think we’re losing out a little bit because these companies go to other cities and they see the downtown building and see the cool exposed stonework and they can imagine themselves being there. We don’t really have that here yet.”

The panel discussion at Innovating West on the topic, ‘Towards a Galway City Innovation District and Similar Ecosystems in the West’, will feature contributions from John along with Maurice O’Gorman from Galway Chamber and IDA Western Regional Manager Catherina Blewitt.

The discussion will, John hopes, build awareness of the need for the district, and include brainstorming on how to make it happen now, rather than in ten years’ time. In fact, he is hopeful that there will be real movement on the plan in the next year.

Given the overwhelming support for the initiative since it was first mooted, however, John believes the development simply requires “pushing an open door”. Support has already come from the likes of Galway City Council, Galway Chamber, NUI Galway, and Galway Harbour.

John sees the area around Ceannt Station and Galway Harbour in particular as an ideal space for the innovation hub development, and hopes to see at least one building utilised successfully as such before the district is grown further from there.

“We would see that space as, hopefully, being a target for this innovation district and that will be part of the discussion at Innovating West,” he says.

The station area has huge potential, he considers, as it’s close to town, the main transportation hub, and is within walking distance of key spots like the university.

In addition to its focus on the Galway City Innovation District, the Innovating West summit, which is sponsored by Galway Independent, will also focus on building teams here, with speakers from companies employing hundreds and thousands of people offering their insights during a series of interactive panel discussions.

‘Why Galway Works’ is just one of the topics set to be discussed by innovators such as HP Galway MD Mark Gantly, Element Wave CEO Dorothy Creaven, Cloud90 CEO Nicola Byrne, Enterprise Ireland Western Regional Manager Barry Egan and Silicon Valley-based Game Golf CEO John McGuire.

Mr McGuire, whose golf product has been used by US President Barack Obama, is flying in specially for the event, and John points to the fact that the company still has a base in Galway as evidence of the West’s appeal.

Galway’s charm also applies to the sports sphere and team building will be discussed at the summit by Connacht Rugby’s Head Coach Pat Lam, CEO Willie Ruane and Domestic Rugby Manager Eric Elwood, who will speak on ‘Lifting Connacht Rugby to a New Level’.

“Connacht Rugby has built a very strong team, both in terms of the managerial team and the players,” says John. “Whether you’re a tech company or a rugby team, you’re basically trying to attract someone to the lifestyle of Galway.”

While there may be different requirements and skills needed for sports stars and tech teams, John contends that people still want the same things from where they live: good quality of living, adequate housing, quality schools in the area, convenient transportation, and broadband connectivity.

The same is true outside cities and ‘Building a Winning Team Outside of a City’ will also be discussed at the summit by Gerry Barry, founder of Baile na hAbhann-based Fintrax, Harry Hughes from Westport-based Portwest, and John Concannon from Tuam-based JFC Manufacturing.

“It should be interesting to hear how you can create a team that doesn’t have to be in a city… it can be anywhere if you put mind to it,” says John.

Around 200 people are set to attend Innovating West and it will appeal to anyone starting up, building or growing their company, team members and team leaders. The day-long summit will conclude with informal networking at The g Hotel.

For more details on Innovating West and ticket details, see www.innovatingwest.comThis interview was published by the Galway Independent on 25th February 2015.

Galway City Innovation District: A Game Changer for Galway’s Startup Sector

This post originally appeared on Startup Ireland, and was written with Maurice O’Gorman from the Galway Chamber of Commerce.

Galway: Ireland’s fastest growing city and “Top Micro European City of the Future”; one of five global hubs in the medtech sector (with nine out of the world’s top 10 medtech companies on its doorstep); and home to a multitude of long established and early stage ICT companies. All that’s missing is a downtown innovation hub that can act as the first step towards our vision of a Galway City Innovation District.

Galway City was highlighted in 2014 by Financial Times’ FDI Magazine as the “Top Micro European City of the Future” (for populations under 100,000 people). It also featured in the Top 25 European Cities (of all sizes), and was ranked highly for economic potential, business friendliness and foreign direct investment strategy.

Galway has a fantastic array of large and small companies in various areas, primarily medical technologies and ICT. Biotech and medtech companies in Galway include Algae Health, Anecto, Apica, Boston Scientific, Cappella, Creganna, Crospon, Embo, Full Health, Lake Region, Medtronic, neoSurgical, Neuravi, Zimmer, Novate and Veryan, making the city a key part of what has recently been described by Richard Bruton, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, as a global hub for the medtech sector.

On the ICT side, software/hardware/internet-focussed startups and indigenous companies like OnePageCRM, Ex Ordo, Element Wave, Netfort, BuilderEngine, Pocket Anatomy, Altocloud, SpamTitan, RealSim, Storm, SourceDogg, GAME GOLF, CGA, Instillo, Rivada, Tribal City Interactive and Alison are in close proximity to multinational operations from companies like Valeo, Cisco, HP, Avaya, SAP, IBM, APC, Arm (Duolog), Schneider, Oracle, Fidelity, SAP, Aspect, SmartBear and EA.

Galway also has highly skilled talent available through graduates from both NUI Galway and GMIT, and also through current and future PhDs from the Insight Centre for Data Analytics, EVOSS at LERO, etc.

However, even in a small and vibrant city like Galway, there’s a lack of a downtown innovation hub or cluster that one can point to. It is fair to say that many in the city had high hopes for the Webworks Galway building that was located close to the Coach Station, but for various reasons that did not materialise into what it could have been.

A number of organisations, including the Galway Chamber of Commerce, Galway Harbour, Startup Galway, WestBIC and NUI Galway, have come together to kickstart a new innovation hub as part of a larger initiative called the “Galway City Innovation District”. The global trend and preference for tech companies is to locate in areas close to city centres. Employees tend to favour locations where they walk or cycle to work and can interact with one another in less formal surroundings such as food markets and cafes. We have seen this trend develop very successfully in Dublin.

The vision we have is for a downtown city innovation hub, attracting young technology companies with strong growth potential, including many of the superstars we have listed above. This would start with one building and then expand to a cluster of many more as part of a Galway City Innovation District.

So what is an Innovation District? Katz and Wagner have defined it in their “Rise of Innovation Districts” report for the Brookings Institute as follows: “Innovation districts constitute the ultimate mash up of entrepreneurs and educational institutions, start-ups and schools, mixed-use development and medical innovations, bike-sharing and bankable investments—all connected by transit, powered by clean energy, wired for digital technology, and fueled by caffeine.”

As part of these efforts, we are organising a one-day summit at NUI Galway on the 13 March. The title of this summit is “Innovating West”. The aim of this summit is two-fold:

  1. To showcase those who have successfully built world-class teams in the West of Ireland, from ICT and medtech to food and sports
  2. To kickstart discussions around what is required to create the aforementioned Galway City Innovation District, and to replicate such ecosystems throughout the West of Ireland

Speakers at the event include: Gerry Barry, founder of Fintrax, which produced one of the biggest deals in Gaeltacht history when it was sold for €170M; Dorothy Creaven, CEO of Element Wave, awarded best new startup in the 2013 InterTradeIreland Seedcorn competition; Padraig O Ceidigh, serial entrepreneur in aviation, publishing, and homecare; Willie Ruane, Pat Lam and Eric Elwood from the Connacht Rugby management team; Nicola Byrne, CEO and co-founder of Cloud90 and founder of 11890; and John Concannon, the creator of the Gathering and director of Ireland 2016.

Many more speakers are being announced each week, and we hope you can join us for this event as we endeavour to create a roadmap for innovation ecosystems in the West. You can register now at www.innovatingwest.com.

Startup Weekend Galway 2014

Startup Weekend is a non-profit organisation based in Seattle, which has been holding weekend long business creation events since 2007 in cities all around the world. Last weekend it was Galway’s turn to host the event.

Participants gathered on Friday evening. Some had come to pitch ideas and others had come to offer their services as developers, designers or biz dev people. They were given colour-coded t-shirts at registration to make it easy to identify the various roles.

There were 30 one minute pitches made to an audience of 67 people. It doesn’t sound like a lot of time but it turns out that 60 seconds was a perfectly adequate amount of time to introduce oneself, give a brief headline of the idea and to make a request for the sort of people and skills the pitcher required to work with him or her on their project.

Ideas varied greatly, some grand in scale and some niche specific. People wanted to create career management tools, price comparison web sites, listing guides and one person even proposed a treehouse and swing business.

The pitches were then posted on separate sheets of paper around the walls in a large room kindly provided by the J.E. Cairnes School of Business and Economics at NUI Galway. Attendees then indicated their preferences for the ideas put forward by attaching sticky coloured notes.

The top 12 ideas were selected by the organizing team and the originators of those ideas then stood roughly equidistant around the room and gave a brief recap of their idea in turn. This was then the opportunity for the developers, designers and biz dev people to gather around the pitchers of the ideas that they most wanted to work on and in this way the teams were formed.

But four hours had passed and now before them lay another 50 hours of the weekend to get produce a minimum viable product (MVP), a working user interface, and a plan for creating customers and for handling the relevant financial issues that go along with starting a business.

On the Saturday morning it was remarkable how quickly the teams settled down to work. I had somehow expected there to be a getting to know you period where team roles and bonds would be established but people got stuck right in.

One of the good decisions of the weekend was to have all 12 teams in one large room. It wasn’t at all disruptive and there was a nice, continuous buzz of productivity that helped to keep everyone’s energy up through the entire weekend.

In the afternoon the mentors arrived. They came from all aspects of the Galway business community and in turn were able to offer the nascent startups a complete range of advice from legal to sales and all stops in between.

Among those giving up a valuable Saturday to share their experience and knowledge were Ian Knight from Flynn O’ Driscoll – Commercial Law and Investments, Mark Campbell – Pocket Anatomy, Dorothy Creaven – Element Wave mobile technology, Alan Burke – Annertech and Mark Quick – Entrepreneur and Engineer.

(Picture: Mike Conroy (r) – Cisco Galway mentoring at #swgalway)

A free massage was available on site throughout the weekend from Michael Klusak of Mobile Massage Galway. In the late afternoon a rather delightful yoga session was led by David Cunningham from The Yoga Shala.

In a break shortly after supper teams were asked to give a quick rundown to the other teams about where they were on their project. Interestingly, when the time came for them to make a request for additional help, it was suggested by the facilitator, Adam Haun, that the teams should reach out beyond the resources immediately in front of them. They should try to utilise the network effect already present to find a wider community of people to obtain information and feedback.

The participants also took the opportunity to watch an item about themselves on the local news.

Then it was down to work right through until 10pm. At least one team was going to carry on coding some place else afterwards. Dedication.

It was a foggy start to Sunday morning but the energy in the room burned on undimmed. It was a constant surprise to see how much work had actually been done. Information garnered from the market research done on Google Docs, Twitter and Facebook had been utilised into shaping numerous MVPs.

One team had a couple of its members go into town to talk to real live business owners. Initiative.

Shortly before lunch I spoke to one of the organisers, Paul Killoran of Ex Ordo. I asked him about the aims of the weekend.

“We have had people who have never met each other before arrive into a venue and get up and pitch their ideas. As an organiser you just sit back and watch this Petri dish of energy come together. It’s incredible that these people didn’t know each other a few days ago and by the end of this weekend twelve startup companies will have been created.

“The reality is that most of these startups won’t last until next weekend – one or two of them might. For me the most important part is founder education and networking.

“If we want to create startups in the West of Ireland, in Galway, what we really need to do is educate people about what it is you have to do to create a startup.”

One of the mentors, Greg Osborne – I Speak English Graphic Design Solutions, also spoke about the wider effect the weekend’s activities may have.

“It’s about the journey as well as any of the services or products they may create.”

After lunch the teams were reminded of the essential elements of their projects that they were expected to show the judges that evening.

Customers – Validation

  • Is this a real problem that needs to be solved?
  • Have you identified a specific market?
  • Did you talk to customers?
  • SHOW the validation in your presentation.

Product – Execution and Design

  • Do you have an MVP or prototype?
  • Can you show a demonstration of your MVP or prototype?
  • DESIGN MATTERS! How easy and user friendly is your product?

Business $$ – Business Model

  • What is the value proposition?
  • How do you plan on making this a successful business?
  • Go to market strategy: How are you going to launch?

So, no pressure then.

Soon enough it was time for the teams to show the judges what they had created in the previous 54 hours. The very experienced panel consisted of Barry O’Sullivan – Altocloud, Aideen Bergin – Bank of Ireland, Oliver Daniels – The Insight Centre for Data Analytics, Breda Fox – Galway Local Enterprise Office, Paul Gilson – Veryan Medical and Maurice O’Gorman – Galway Chamber of Commerce.

Each team had five minutes to pitch their idea, immediately followed by a three minute question and answer period with the judges. NB: Each of the pitches was recorded and will be posted separately on the Technology Voice YouTube Channel over the next week or so. So look out for them.

While the judges were in deliberation a popular vote amongst the teams themselves was held for the best business idea. That was won by Hours and their application to make shift management easier for small and mid-size businesses. Also an out of competition honorary mention was made to Random Acts of Karma (pictured above) and their social enterprise project.

Finally the judges returned and the winners were announced in reverse order:

3rd Place – Arrow – Arrow is an In-Airport application that guides users to their boarding gates, taking the hassle out of airport travel. It adds value by providing all relevant information about the specific airport and the users trip (Dylan Commons, Gavin Ward, Patricia Organ, Patrick Breslin and Michael O’Meara)

2nd Place- What Paws Around – What Paws Around is an online platform that allows dog owners to find dog related services close to their location (boarding, trainers, groomers, sitters) and access to a wide variety of educational information in one click. Every service is peer reviewed, to help customers choose what is best for their furry friends. Dog related services have the opportunity to advertise their businesses and to connect with a new customer base. (Caterina Lodo, Anthea Middleton, Gavin Donohue and Gianmassimo Vigazzola)

The Winner – FriendShip – FriendShip makes it easy to share the shipping fees when you buy online. Partner with your friends to place your order and share the fees. (Gofran Shukair and Emir Muñoz)

(Pictures: Snaphappystudios, Ireland)

Finally a shout out to the organisers and volunteers. Events like this don’t magically happen by themselves so here is a look at just a few of the people behind the scenes who helped to make Startup Weekend Galway happen.


L-R Paul Killoran, Tara Dalrymple, John Breslin, Laura O’Connor, Ciara Deane, Michelle Clarke, Darren Kearney and Noëmie Martin-Pascual (Picture: Snaphappystudios, Ireland) Those not pictured are Michael Campion, Ciara Loughnane, Emily Mannix, Jane O’Connor, Rose Barrett, Tom Murphy, and Paul Mulhern.

If you are interested in hosting your own event in your locale check out the main Startup Weekend site to find out details on how to participate.

Disclaimer: John Breslin is the publisher of Technology Voice and I am a regular contributor. One of Technology Voice’s aims is to promote Irish technology and its associated businesses both large and small. Any bias you may detect in this article is of the flag-waving sort and we are quite happy to put our hands up to that fact.

Bill McDaniel, a Star in the Semantic Cosmos, Winks Out but Shines On

It is with deep regret that I learned this week of the passing of my good friend, colleague and StreamGlider co-founder, Bill McDaniel. Bill was, among many other things, a Semantic Web innovator and serial entrepreneur who co-founded a multitude of companies, shipped more than 70 products, and co-authored seven books and many more publications during his career.

I first met Bill McDaniel at the International Semantic Web Conference (ISWC), held in Galway in 2005. Bill was working as a senior research scientist at Adobe at that time. By chance, I happened to be seated across from Bill and another colleague of his from Adobe at the conference dinner, and I mentioned to them both that there were some job opportunities for researchers at DERI in NUI Galway that could be of interest. It turned out to be an opportune time for him to pursue a new challenge, as Bill joined DERI soon afterwards as a project executive in the eLearning Research Cluster.

Those who knew Bill through his Semantic Web work may be unaware of his long and varied career in information technology, with CEO, CTO and CRO roles in diverse areas such as electronic printing, wireless demand chain management, wireless retail loyalty, advanced 2D bar coding, AI-based military logistics, and of course semantically-powered mobile applications.

His career in IT stretches back nearly 40 years to 1975 when he worked as an operations programmer and manager with NCH Corp (at the time, saving the company $1M a year in order processing costs). He then joined Image Sciences in the 1980s as an R&D director, responsible for their $20M flagship product DocuMerge. From then into the 1990s he was CTO and co-owner of GenText, sold to Xenos for $12M in 1998.

Ever the entrepreneur, Bill established the first internet café in North Texas, as well as a digital recording studio. He worked with DCM Solutions, COPI and Optimus Corp in CTO roles in the early 2000s (having sold another of his own companies, GenX, to COPI in between times). He then joined Adobe as a senior scientist in 2004, where he worked in the Office of Technology and later led the Advanced Publishing Technology Group there, researching the semantic processing of documents and automatic metadata extraction. As part of his work, Bill was also the Adobe representative on the W3C Semantic Web Best Practices Group.

Bill moved to Galway in 2006, joining the Digital Enterprise Research Institute (now part of the Insight Centre for Data Analytics) at the National University of Ireland Galway. At DERI, he designed various semantic eLearning platforms and managed a large team creating semantic software. He went on in 2009 to form and lead the Applied Innovations Unit, set up to commercialise software at DERI. It was Bill along with Liam Ó Móráin at DERI who helped me acquire my first research grant through this unit. In 2010, he spun out three more companies: NKA-Decker (with Stefan Decker), SemantiFace, and SemantiStar.

Bill left DERI towards the end of 2010 and returned to Texas. We shared a common interest in science fiction: when Bill left Galway I gave him a signed Harlan Ellison book, and we often discussed the sci-fi greats and steampunk when we weren’t talking about the Semantic Web or StreamGlider in later years. (Bill also once wrote a treatise on ‘The Infiltration of Buffy into the Real World’, examining the dissemination of Buffy-speak into discursive spaces, as well as ‘Semantic Reasoning and the Buffy Paradigm’, looking at how semantic technologies could aid in making critical decisions in uncertain and unpredictable environments.)

In early 2011 along with Nova Spivack, we co-founded StreamGlider Inc., a real-time streaming newsreader app for the iPad. This was a real distributed project team, with members spread out across the US, Ireland and Russia. Bill was the CEO of StreamGlider, and we continued to work together on this project over the intervening years right up until his passing last week.

I last met Bill in hospital exactly one month ago today – on the 10th of October 2014 – when I was in Dallas for a meeting. Despite his increasingly difficult situation, he remained pragmatic and I would say even positive for the future, as we discussed various software and hardware integration problems and ideas for future research projects that he wanted to work on.

As a science fiction geek like Bill, I wonder what would have happened if we hadn’t been seated across the table from each other at that conference dinner nine years ago yesterday. In a parallel universe, perhaps another person would have sat in my place and told him about the job opportunities at DERI, or maybe something else would have drawn him to Galway (perhaps the fact that Buffy character Angel was born in the Claddagh!), and our paths would have crossed anyway.

All I know is that I am glad things worked out as they did, as many of our lives would have been much the poorer for not knowing him. As well as helping many of us in the past, his influence will continue to be felt long into our future.

You can also read Bill’s obituary and/or leave a message on the guestbook. Our thoughts go out to Bill’s wife Linda and son Ian, and all his family and friends.

Top Software Testing Conference Comes to Dublin: We Have Three One-Day Tickets!

Europe’s software testing community will descend on Ireland’s capital at the end of the month for what is Europe’s leading software testing conference and exhibition. The EuroSTAR Software Testing Conference 2014 will be held in the Convention Centre Dublin from 24th to 27th November, and we are delighted to be able to offer one-day tickets to three lucky winners of our competition.

Organised from their headquarters in Galway, the annual EuroSTAR Software Testing Conference has been running now for over 20 years, and is recognised as the premier event for software testing professionals who wish to both learn and network over the four days.

The first day consists entirely of full-day tutorials, followed by half-day tutorials during the first half of the second day, with the conference itself running from the middle of that second day until lunchtime on the fourth day. The afternoon of the final day consists of a set of active workshops.

Over 40 session tracks will be run during the conference in Dublin, including sessions on: Agile Testing; Test Strategy; Big Data; Mobile Testing; Security Testing; Test Automation; Test Design; and Test Management.

The conference will also feature keynote talks from some renowned world leaders in software testing: Andy Stanford-Clark from IBM Global Business Services; Rob Lambert from New Voice Media; Isabel Evans from Dolphin Computer Access; Julian Harty, an independent consultant; Daniel Maslyn from Sogeti; and Zeger van Hese from Z-Sharp.

The event includes a well-established interactive exhibition where companies can show off their wares and innovations. Companies at this expo include SmartBear, HP, Applause and Accenture. The exhibition will also include a “Test Lab” live testing environment where conference attendees can demonstrate their software testing prowess and learn from the experts.

All-in-all, the event is a must for IT companies who want to learn about the latest developments in the global software testing industry, as well as providing maximum opportunity to network with over 1,000 software testing professionals – from not just Europe but from all over the world – at the social events in Croke Park and Trinity College Dublin.

In conjunction with EuroSTAR, we are delighted to run a competition for three one-day tickets to the event. Simply click on this link to tweet out your entry to be in with a chance of winning: I want to win a ticket for the EuroSTAR Software Testing Conference 2014 with @technologyvoice @esconfs #esconfs.

For more details on the EuroSTAR Software Testing Conference’s programme for 2014, simply go to conference.eurostarsoftwaretesting.com.

The Six Questions I’ve Been Most Frequently Asked About ecars and the BMW i3

In my last post, I gave a little bit of context to my Great Electric Drive by talking about the history of electric cars and where things are going in the future (with an Internet of Electric Vehicles). I’ve been driving the BMW i3 for about a month now, so I thought it was about time that I gathered together a set of the questions that I am asked most frequently – there are six! Some of my answers relate to the i3 but also to ecars in general…

How far does the ecar go?

For the BMW i3 I am driving, the ‘pure electric’ range is about 130 km, but that may be increased by 20 km or so if you enable either ECO PRO or ECO PRO+ mode (which limits speed and optimises ‘coasting’), or may be decreased through more aggressive driving (like any car). I say ‘pure electric’ because the model I have also includes what BMW calls a range extender, which is a small 650cc motorcycle engine whose sole function is to charge the battery when it is nearly depleted. This can add an additional 100 km to the range (giving a total of 230 km or more). Also, advances in battery technology mean that this range will increase as future ecar development continues.

Is it fast?

For some reason, I’ve noted that there is a general perception that electric cars are slow, and that they must take a while to get going. In fact, the opposite is true – I’ve never driven a car that is so responsive, and when you go back to an ICE (internal combustion engine) car, it can feel very sluggish in comparison. The BMW i3 delivers 250 Nm of torque, which powers it to go from 0 to 100 km/h in about 7 or 8 seconds. The top speed is about 150 km/h (on a German autobahn!). It’s fast.

How much does it cost to buy?

On the road, after availing of a €5000 SEAI grant and another €5000 in VRT relief, the BMW i3 (without a range extender) costs about €34000. Being a premium marque, the BMW i3 costs more than its compatriots, but considering the next-generation lightweight carbon fibre materials used and the amount of electrical and electronic technology that they’ve packed into it, it compares well. It also has an eight-year battery warranty. (The Nissan Leaf is about €10000 less.)

How long does it take to charge?

I now have a charge point installed at home, and I usually plug in the ecar every one or two days depending on how low the battery is. It normally takes between three and five hours to bring the battery back up to full, but if it is fully depleted it could take a bit longer (an overnight job). My home charge point is an AC charger, the same as the majority of the public charge points around the country, but public charge points have a much higher power output – 22 kW as opposed to the 3.6 kW I have at home – and can therefore charge faster (as low as one or two hours in some cases). Also, the ESB have rolled out 67 DC fast chargers around the country, which can charge up compatible ecars in just 30 minutes. There are two types here: CHAdeMO and CCS, but they are now also installing dual-type DC fast chargers. If you’re really stuck, there is a backup option of a cable with a three-pin plug, but these are not really recommended and can take about 33% longer to charge.

How much does it cost to charge it?

At present, charging at public charge points is free, so you simply swipe a card provided by ESB ecars to charge up. The BMW i3’s battery capacity is roughly 20 kilowatt-hours, which means that at a cost of just under 20 cents per kilowatt-hour it costs less than €4 to charge on a home charger. Estimates are that it costs about €3.25 to drive 100 kilometres, and this compares to about €9 for an ICE (€1.50 per litre, at six litres per 100 km). Bear in mind that if you have night-rate electricity installed at home, this would be even cheaper.

Can you drive cross country in it?

The ecar I have has done trips from Dublin to Galway, Galway to Limerick, and Limerick to Dublin on a single electric charge with the range extender kicking in to complete the journey (its nine-litre tank takes about €13.50 to fill). But if you’re going any further than that, you’ll need to charge up. I live in Connemara, so on my Dublin to home trip, I charged up in Enfield for an hour to make sure I’d have enough to get me home. Some of the i3 ecars have a fast charge option, which means you can charge to at least 80% in around 20 to 30 minutes (using a CCS-type DC fast charger). This will be great for me when I go to Dublin next because there are CCS-type DC fast chargers in Ballinasloe and Kilbeggan (here’s a handy map from the ESB of all the CCS-type chargers in Ireland).

Apart from the answers to the questions I’m asked, the physical ecar itself changes perceptions because the BMW i3 looks fantastic. During the past few weeks that I’ve had it, there have been many, many pictures taken of it and with it. The opposing coach doors and lack of central pillars (because of the carbon fibre reinforced body) are very eye catching, and I’ve even seen someone recording a video of the i3 from the car following behind me as I drove home one day (it was the passenger you’ll be glad to hear).

The good news is that you don’t need to follow me around with a camera phone to find out how I am getting on with the ecar. We will be recording a video shortly where I will give you a full tour of the i3, and you can also follow my adventures on Twitter @myelectricdrive.

Social Fresh Conference WEST 2014 in San Diego

Did you want to attend the Social Fresh Conference in San Diego, called the “top social media marketing conference” in the world, but couldn’t find a direct flight on Aer Lingus?

You still have time to sign up and plan your holiday (err, business meeting) to San Diego. Tickets are available at the Social Fresh Conference website. They even have a template email/letter that you can use for requesting time off from your boss!

But if you can’t make the trip, don’t fret. Ted Vickey, our very own west coast columnist for Technology Voice, will be attending from 28th-30th October and live tweeting during the event.

The Social Fresh Conference is targeted at marketing professionals and has a focus on useful and practical presentations with takeaways that can be used immediately to yield business results. Attendees are typically marketers who are using social media to build their business, in all types of domains and in all sizes of company.

Most attendees work in social media as community managers, communications and marketing specialists, content marketers, designers, executives, account team members, business managers, and consultants.

For a complete list of the speakers that Ted will be live tweeting, visit the website, and don’t forget to also follow @technologyvoice and @tedvickey on Twitter.

You may also want to visit the Social Fresh social media blog and sign up for their weekly social media tips newsletter for social marketing tips, tricks and tactics to help you better use social media for yourself.

(One of Ted’s favourites is the blog post entitled “How my Blog Helped Me Meet Princesses, Talk to Billionaires and Make a Few Million Bucks“.)

From the 19th Century Electric Car to an Internet of Electric Vehicles

I am writing this article from Dallas in Texas, a state that I assumed would have the lowest stats with respect to electric vehicle infrastructure and potential demand because of my preconceptions of JR Ewing and crude oil production there. In fact, Texas is the state with the second highest number of public charging points in the US (1600 of them in fact), and the charmingly-named Union of Concerned Scientists recently listed Texas as being one of the top states for electric vehicle efficiency.

You may also be surprised to hear that Ireland now has over 1200 public charge points between Northern Ireland and the Republic, or one for every 5333 people. That’s actually pretty high, because the top state in the US in terms of electric vehicle infrastructure, California, has one charge point for about every 7500 people (Texas has one for every 16500 people).

Electric vehicles themselves – EVs, ecars, call them what you will – have come a long way since their origins in the 19th century.

The first practical electric car (with a rechargeable battery) was built in 1884 by England’s Thomas Parker, although early electric vehicles were made in the 1830s by the American Thomas Davenport and Scotland’s Robert Anderson. Parker’s electric car is shown on the right.

130 years after Parker’s car, I’ve been fortunate enough to become one of the ESB ecar ambassadors for the Great Electric Drive of 2014, and even better, to drive one of the most technologically-advanced electric cars out there, the BMW i3.

It’s so advanced that from here in Texas I can load up a “BMW i Remote” app on my phone to see where it is currently located, check its state of charge, and even remotely turn on the air conditioning when I touch down in Shannon Airport. I can also send it a destination from my laptop, which will instantly appear in the navigation system. It won’t drive me there just yet, but you can use your imagination…

You may have heard of the Internet of Things (IoT), where everything from your home thermostat to your fridge can potentially be connected to the Internet, allowing you to find out more about what’s going on at home when you’re in work (or vice versa), but also allowing you to control things remotely and in a smart, automated fashion – i.e. sensing plus actuation.

We’re now seeing an Internet of Vehicles (IoV), or even an Internet of Electric Vehicles, where you don’t need to worry about returning to your car prematurely if you’ve plugged it in to charge, because you can now check and see how it’s going from the comfort of your own smartphone. Or if you’re worried that you’ve left the doors open, you can check the locked status and even remotely lock them if they are indeed open.

The i3 basically has a mobile data connection built into the car – making it part of this Internet of Vehicles. That same connection also makes it possible for rescue services to be dispatched to your GPS location if an accident occurs and an airbag deploys, or if you manually pull an SOS switch above the rear-view mirror. Real-time traffic information is displayed via a red/yellow/green (slow-moving/medium/fast) line beside the road on the navigation system, using data obtained from the mobile network, smartphone apps, vehicle fleets and police reports.

Based on the current state of charge, the smartphone app can also show you the range you can drive the ecar in all directions, using its current location and the roads nearby. It is fun showing people how I can monitor (and control) the i3 through the app – even from a different continent – but many of the questions I get asked about ecars are much more practical, and I’ll cover some of these in my next entry.

For now, I’ll just say that it’s fascinating as an electronic engineer to observe such a convergence of technologies in these new ecars: high-voltage batteries, mobile devices, internet connectivity, regenerative braking, remote control apps, multimedia storage, voice recognition, fast charging, touch-sensitive input mechanisms, sensor information systems, and more.

It’s an exciting time to edrive.

Follow @myelectricdrive on Twitter.