March 2008


Zimbabwe is a place near to my heart. My best friends at University were from Harare. We went to Zim on honeymoon. I will take my kids there to visit the falls, the lake and the highlands. One day it will recover, its people will no longer be hungry and the economy will thrive. The people of Zimbabwe will make this happen, sooner or later.

Today is election day. Jeff mentions the election history of Zim. It is not pleasant reading.

This time aoround the blogosphere is highlighting the corruption, fraud and intimidation in ways that the government can’t control. I wrote some weeks ago about blogging and social media in Kenya, and it fabulous to see Zim bloggers doing what most of the press stopped doing ages ago.

Have a look at Kubatana for instance, live blogging election exit polls.

Have a look at Sokwanele’s google mashup.

Or this video on youtube.

I have been following Sokwanele for some time, but reading that blog today, I’m filled with a sense that Zim is on the edge of change. I hope Mugabe goes quietly, and that there is little violence, but I believe the people of Zimbabwe are Sokwanele, which means Enough is Enough.

“The unconfirmed reports (or rumours) are flying crazily. Just heard that Robert Mugabe has apparently left for Mozambique (this morning it was Mauritius).

We also heard that Chiweshe (ZEC Chairman) fled the Meikles Hotel in Harare where the press are gathered waiting to hear results. The story goes that he refused to deliver the news.

Another unconfirmed report is that Elliot Manyike has shot someone in anger, seriously angry because he lost his seat.

But the oddest news of the morning so far is the story that Sabina Mugabe has died of a heart attack and Bob is using this as an excuse to delay the news.

I laughed at this last, because it sounds like such Zimbo grapevine stuff, but the story is coming in from a variety of sources.

It’s hard to filter fact from fiction at this stage. But what it tells me is that the nation is desperate for news and starting to share everything they have as fast as they can.

Oh, and last bit of confirmed news – this is fact fact – via the ZBC is that they are still “verifying” the results. We all know what “verifying” has meant in previous years.

… as I finished writing and was just about to post, one more snippet of news came in: the police have apparently been put on high alert commencing 2pm and the MDC planning to do a press announcement this afternoon – no time given yet.

Suddenly it turns ominous. But I’m still buzzing, BUZZING!

OH….. and another flash of info just in (this is what it’s like today) news that people are starting to celebrate everywhere.

Blogging and the web is playing a small but important role in undermining Bob. To the guys and gals behind the Sokwanele blog, respect. You are the A-list bloggers.
image

Sokwanele has just posted this

Let’s hope the people of Zimbabwe, who have seen the results outside the polling station doors with their own eyes, will not let this happen! Let’s also hope the army and security forces will refuse to participate in the oppression of their own people.

I hope so to.

I will leave you with Bob Marley’s Zimbabwe.

.

Perhaps his record company could re-release this one.

Natty Dread it in-a (Zimbabwe); Set it up in (Zimbabwe);
Mash it up-a in-a Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe);
Africans a-liberate (Zimbabwe), yeah

Dave Allen’s book and method  have received considerable positive coverage in the blogosphere, and  tools to bring the method to the inbox are popping up like daffodils.

The Dave Allen Company has an outlook application for GTD,  which it sells along with books and other guides to getting your life in order.

Instead of doing the sensible thing and buying the book first, I thought I download some software…

I decided to try a Firefox plug in, based on the WebWorkerDaily review.

I’d not planned to blog this, but Zoli posted about a GTD offering for gmail,

I wanted to get organized about my ever-growing inbox, so I thought I’d give GTDInbox a try, especially after reading the positive reviews on both WebWorkerDaily and ReadWriteWeb.

My regular readers will know that I’m interested in the collisions  between law and software.  I vaguely  wondered if there was a trademark issue with calling the application GTD, but US trademark law isn’t really my cup of tea. GTD is a registered trademark of  the Dave Allen company, so they may have something to say about this use of it. Then again, they may think it is goodness that someone has built a firefox-gmail add in, as it might help them sell more books.

But this post isn’t really about trademark, it is about something even more boring, T&Cs-

Many of us don’t bother reading the T&Cs of applications we use. After all, we are busy people.  But in the case of a GTD add on, I thought  it might be worth pausing for a second and dong so. After all, in theory this little application will be rummaging around in my  inbox,

Also I figured it would be interesting to see how a Mozilla “accepted” application’s T&Cs looked. All  glowing GPL stuff, I presumed.

tc

 

and zooming in…

image

Unlike Zoli, I can’t comment on the application, because I didn’t even download it.

Please,  next time you build an application, even if it is only in  beta, please add organise appropriate T&Cs in your Get Things Done before shipping list. Sure it is a beta application, but it could be  using my live data, and that of my friends and colleagues.  

But even Apple seem to have T&C challenges. More fom Zoli here.

 

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Gefunden

Translation partly from here. with some minor edits. (a more poetic translation here.)

Ich ging im Walde
So vor mich hin,
Und nichts zu suchen,
Das war mein Sinn.

Im Schatten sah ich
Ein Blümlein stehn,
Wie Sterne blinkend,
Wie Äuglein schön.

Ich wollt es brechen,
Da sagt’ es fein:
Soll ich zum Welken
Gebrochen sein?

Mit allen Wurzeln
Hob ich es aus,
Und trugs zum Garten
Am hübschen Haus.

Ich pflanzt es wieder
Am kühlen Ort;
Nun zweigt und blüht es
Mir immer fort.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

I was walking in the woods
on a whim of mine,
and seeking nothing,
that was my intention.

In the shade I saw
A little flower standing
Like stars glittering
Like beautiful little eyes.

I wanted to pick it
When it said delicately:,
Should I just wilt if I were picked.

I dug it out with all Its little roots. And carried it to the garden at the
By the lovely house.

 

And replanted it
In this quiet spot;
Now it keeps branching out
And blossoms ever forth

 

Thanks to defrag’s twiiter about poetry and conferences for the idea.

I need to read some  poetry, go for a walk, and hang out with my

Blümlein

 

(photo from the flickrstream of Swamibu )

It is apparently Sunshine week in United States of America, so please excuse the metaphor collision.

Over in the UK it is goodness to see nine Lords experimenting with a blog.  It is called Lords of the blog. I quote.

Apparently we are going live today. So far, our blog confessions have had a very limited audience, but now anyone may see what we have been doing.

Not that I have anything to hide. Indeed, I suspect that most members of the Lords would be only too happy if the public could and did take more notice of what we do on their behalf. Some of us spent a lengthy afternoon last Thursday debating the best way to get more people – and especially young people – interested in the way Parliament deals with their concerns, hopes and fears.

It is easy to think of the House of Lords as characters in a PG Wodehouse novel, greeting each other with what ho! chum, eating boarding school nosh, and wondering where the empire went. But that would be wrong. I’ve been lucky enough to meet a lord or two, and even though they expressed a fondness for Yorkshire Pudding, they were right on the money as far as software and technology were concerned.  I blogged some time ago about the House of Lords and RFID and the science and technology select committee .

Though the link had come from the most reliable source on all matters UK law, Geeklawyer, I wondered for a moment if this was a put up job, but no, it seems to be the genuine article. The Hansard society is lending a hand.

It is also interesting to see rather than hosting it over on a server in under the woolsack, they are running it on wordpress.com. If it had been buried in the depths of a government website somewhere, who would read it?  up on WordPress seems somehow less contrived, and less likely that  a  Sir Humphrey  is moderating things in the background.

Having these Nine Lords blog is a fine thing. I look forward to them asking some probing questions about Phorm………

This post was lurking in my Live Writer, but then Mike’s post spurred me to dust it off and rework it a bit. Over on Techcrunch UK he was pretty damning of EU research funding for the Theseus and Quaero projects…EU taxpayers to fund $306m Google rival. No wonder the Yanks think we’re dumb

A couple of weeks ago Vinnie had a somewhat more gentle dig at European technology industry too.

Airbus A380 at SFO, from the flickrstream of Telstar Logistics

Vinnie picked up on the Airbus comment at Cebit and said:

The Airbus for the European IT Industry is what we need,” says the president of Bitkom, the leading high-tech industry association in Germany.You keep funding that, Europe. In fact, we would love to lease Airbuses and send our folks from Washington to Brussels so they can help you design and grow the program. That way it would also keep them away from our thousands of technology entrepreneurs. Our preferred way of delivering technology innovation.

I’d like to raise several points in response to Vinnie and Mike.

1. The assumption the US software industry is somehow subsidy free ignores the history of the software industry, and the huge role that the US government plays in funding software research and driving demand in the US. Check out this book by Martin Campbell-Kelly, From Airline Reservations to Sonic the Hedgehog: A History of the Software Industry, MIT Press, Cambridge Mass., 2003. Herewith a quote..

The likely prime reason for U.S. software supremacy is a paradoxical one –government support for the industry. The paradox arises from the fact that, although the United States is non-interventionist in principle, in practice it promoted the early industry massively by creating a market for computers and software through programs such as the SAGE project, the Department of Defense’s ADP program, and the NASA program, to mention only the largest..”

And this still goes on today. In fact the whole software industry owes a big debt of gratitude to the US government and its big wallet. I bet if we were to dig around into the history of many of the most successful US technology companies and products we would find a research funded project at its core. (Netscape and the browser- thanks NSCA, and oh, and indeed Google itself.)

2. The president of BITkom knows a whole lot more about software entrepreneurship than the quote implies. August-Wilhelm Scheer is the founder of the company that builds ARIS, one of the leading German software companies and a major global player in the BPM market. He is an entrepreneur, not a bureaucrat.

3. His main point about the power of Airbus not about subsidies or government meddling, but that Airbus iis a joint Anglo-French company, and that both countries could be more successful through deeper commercial collaboration. Scheer knows, as he is also a professor at Saarbrücken University, close to the french border.

4.I don’t have a lot of details on the French Quaero project and the background for the split but to call the Theseus project a Google rival is missing the main point of this project. But I guess it makes a neat newspaper headline.

This is what the Theseus project is actually about.

So the Theseus project is not intended to develop a new Internet search engine to compete with Google and which could be used in every situation that crops up in the digital data world. The data contained on the Internet are simply far too heterogeneous and chaotic for that. What’s more, at the end of the project, there won’t even be an Internet platform – probably not even a physical product, says Thomas Huber, press spokesperson for the Theseus project. Instead, Theseus aims to create standards for semantic searches within specific areas. With partners from the business community, notably Siemens and SAP, and research associations such as the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft and various universities, Theseus therefore consists of subprojects which focus on specific application scenarios. As a spokeswoman from the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology explains, these have been selected in advance by companies and the Ministry itself on the grounds that they appear to be particularly promising.

The project is essentially about semantics, standards and the longer term future of the web, and it hopes to drive both fundamental and applied research.

Technology Research projects require funding. VC’s don’t fund primary research, and very few companies can afford to take the long term focus that it requires. Let’s take a well known example, a research project that evolved over about 20 years. The work started in the the late 1970’s and in 1987 a research alliance was formed between Erlangen-Nuremberg University and the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits within the framework of the European Union-funded EUREKA project EU147. This led to the MP3 format. No EU funding, no IPod, I guess.

A while ago I argued that Europe needs to invest more in pure software research.

It is about time that the governments in Europe started to invest in the future of IT rather than just subsidizing cows.

Here in Europe I reckon governments need to do two things: fund research and help create an environment where smart people can build businesses with those innovations. The German government funding this research is a step in the right direction, but governments in Europe also need to do a whole lot more to encourage an environment to exploit those innovations. Sometimes this means getting out the way.

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Disclosure: As part of my academic work at the University of Karlsruhe, I have a connection with the project.

Joseph Weizenbaum in Jena, November 2006

“A computer will do what you tell it to do, but that may be much different from what you had in mind”

One of the pioneers of computer science, Josef Weizenbaum, died on the 5th March, . 

Several years ago I read his book Computer Power and Human Reason: From Judgment to Calculation. It would now be an appropriate time to re-read it.

He fled Berlin in 1935 as a boy, studied maths, and worked on some of the first computers after the war. He became one of the giants of computer science research. He probably has done more than anyone to explore the potential of computers and artificial intelligence. He recently returned to live in Berlin mitte.

He invented ELIZA,    The original paper is here. 

a conversation between eliza and a young woman

young woman: Men are all alike.

eliza: In what way?

young woman: They’re always bugging us about something specific or other.

eliza: Can you think of a specific example?

young woman: Well, my boyfriend made me come here.

eliza: Your boyfriend made you come here?

young woman: He says I’m depressed much of the time.

eliza: I am sorry to hear you are depressed.

young woman: It’s true. I’m unhappy.

eliza: Do you think coming here will help you not to be unhappy?

young woman: I need some help, that much seems certain.

eliza: What would it mean to you if you got some help?

young woman: Perhaps I could learn to get along with my mother.

eliza: Tell me more about your family.

young woman: My mother takes care of me.

eliza: Who else in your family takes care of you?

young woman: My father.

eliza: Your father.

young woman: You are like my father in some ways.

eliza: What resemblance do you see?

young woman: You are not very aggressive but I think you don’t want me to notice that.

eliza: What makes you think I am not very aggressive?

young woman: You don’t argue with me.

eliza: Why do you think I don’t argue with you?

young woman: You are afraid of me.

eliza: Does it please you to believe I am afraid of you?

young woman: My father is afraid of everybody.

eliza: What else comes to mind when you think of your father?

young woman: Bullies.

eliza: Does that have anything to do with the fact that your boyfriend made you come here?

This work is a fundamental building block of modern computer science, whether it is gaming, business software or virtual worlds.

You may also find this interview interesting .

I stumbled across a website about him

To speak only of Joseph Weizenbaum’s lifetime technological achievements would not do him justice.  He is an engineer and computer scientist by profession but a humanitarian at heart.  Weizenbaum has a deep concern for education and the direction for computer applications.  When asked about the benefits computers could bring to the classroom, Weizenbaum’s reply was indicative of establishing a first priority to determine what problems currently exist within the institution.  Only after answering such questions about education can one look to computers to provide some answers.  Aside from developing the world’s first banking software for Bank of America, Weizenbaum has contributed to the field of artificial intelligence and is the author of the famous ELIZA program.  ELIZA, modeled from Rogerian psychology, is a computer program that carries out natural language conversations with the user.  Weizenbaum firmly believes that science is not impenetrable to the human will, and he hopes that students today consider the moral and ethical ramifications of their work.

Probably more than anyone else, Weizenbaum raised significant questions about the ethical and moral challenges of computerization. I suppose the simplest way to paraphrase him would be just because something is technically possible, doesn’t make it ethically correct. He challenges computer scientists to think beyond just technology. He spent most of his life thinking about what it is to be human.

I’ll also have to watch this movie.

“The computer programmer is a creator of universes for which he alone is responsible. Universes of virtually unlimited complexity can be created in the form of computer programs.”

(I think Loic Le Meur treated him very poorly  in the Davos panel discussion.  I’m guessing  he had no idea who he was talking to.)

 

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(gates of Vigelandpark, Oslo, Norway. from the cc flickrstream of D3 San Francisco)

I read this in the Guardian earlier.

This month, Norway set a new global record. It now has, at 40%, the highest proportion of female non-executive directors in the world, an achievement engineered by the introduction of a compulsory quota. Two years ago, after several years of voluntary compliance had failed to lead to a sufficient number of female board members, 463 “ASAs” – publicly listed companies over a certain size – were told to change the composition of their boards or risk dissolution.

And further…

According to the Norwegian government, the quota is not simply a strike for equality; it makes sound economic sense, too. Last year, Goldman Sachs, the global investment company, published a paper in which it outlined the economic reasons for reducing gender inequality and using female talent fully. Not only would this increase growth, the paper said, it would “play a key role in addressing the twin problems of population ageing and pension stability”

A quick Google brought me to this speech from Kjell Erik ØIE, the State Secretary, Ministry for Children and Equality, Norway. It makes inspiring reading, not because it is an idealistic policy position, but because it is idealistic policy delivered.  The whole speech is worth reading, but here is an excerpt.

In the near future the majority of European countries will have labour shortages and a swelling population of people over 65. The proportion of the employed population might be too small. Europe faces two main challenges in the years ahead. Firstly; to ensure that more children are born. Secondly; to ensure that more people work and work longer. The solution to these challenges lies in viewing family and equality policy in close combination with labour market policy and thereby as part of a larger modern growth strategy for the region. We must both increase the birth rate and achieve an including working life.

The key in economics of gender is a redistribution of power, care and work. When doing so, we will meet strong resistance. People seldom let go of power voluntary. There are counter forces to such a development. These counter forces needs to be addressed. But redistribution of power, care and work is the only road ahead for sustainable development in our region.

Norway is a pioneer in politicising fatherhood. We want to widen our understanding of men’s responsibility as fathers to include not only economic provision, but also psychological, emotional and physical care for children. When it comes to gender equality, we must create an alliance between men and women. In my opinion, both genders gain from a gender equal society!

Instead of moaning about the cost this would have on business and pushing for watering-down and delays, the Confederation of Norwegian Business and Industry (NHO)  made proactive and aggressive steps to help members comply. You can read more about Female future programme here and here. No one really likes quotas, but the NHO put a plan in place to change attitudes, drive change and thereby achieve the quotas.

The goals for the NHO’s effort on women and management are the following:
• Firstly, facilitate that the private sector is viewed as an attractive place to work by women.
• Secondly, increase the percentage of women in decision-making processes, in management and in boards in general
• Thirdly, involve managers as prime movers in the process aimed at recruiting more women to executive positions and to board posts
• Fourthly, facilitate that executive responsibilities may be more easily combined with family responsibilities – the balance between work and private life. quoted from here.

Lots to ponder on, yes, from the CSR / HR/ Change Management/ Talent Management perspectives, but fundamentally as a father too. For now huge respect to Norway.

(from jamieca‘s flickr stream)

The words of Benja Stig Fagerland, who ran the Female Future project , put a little spring in my step this morning.

Fagerland says she plays a game with her daughters based on the Swedish fictional character Pippi Longstocking, a girl who believes in herself and is utterly unconventional. “We break all the rules. Everything is turned upside down. We wear pyjamas in the garden and eat sweets before dinner. They love it.

“I want them to constantly question why things should be as they are. In business, you can always find ways of playing the game differently and better. But first, you have to know your own level of competency and your price – and never sell yourself cheap. For your own sake, and for the sake of all those women who come after.”

Brilliant advice. Takk.

On a related note, you may be interested in this blog from the University of Cape Town, Women in Leadership. 

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