Of Cobblestones, Solomon, Paula, Gunter, Joseph and the GDPR.

I’ve been reading a fair bit of software vendor marketing and press from around the world about the GDPR. It seems to me that a lot of it misses the point. GDPR is seen as a compliance burden, an unwelcome dose of EU bureaucracy or at best a useful opportunity sell security software.  It is perhaps useful to reflect on why the GDPR and its predecessors in data protection legislation came into being.

I was walking to the train station in the rain this morning, and I paused for a moment by the pair of  Stolpersteine (tripping stones) on the corner of the street where we live. I’m not sure why I took the picture today,  perhaps they glistened from the drizzle.  I  wondered what Salomon and Paula were like, what were their hobbies and their foibles, did they watch football or play tennis together, what jobs did they do, was she left handed, who were their friends, what colour was his favourite tie,  did he make puns that made her smile, did she play Chopin on piano so that the notes drifted down the street on the breeze, did they hold hands as they walked beside the Neckar on that summer’s evening for the last time?

stolperstein image. two next to each other. Deutsch family.

Gunter Demnig began this art project in 1992. The first stone was laid in Salzburg, Austria, and now there are over 27,000  plaques across  22 countries, and growing.  Think of it as a distributed  museum.   They all follow the same format, size and font.  In situ, on the doorsteps of houses, for me they are more powerful and poignant than any centralised memorial or museum. They bring an uncomfortable intimacy and they force me to think about  how easily such an evil could come into being.  (check out more about the stones  here).

The GDPR exists to protect our data (and our person)  from abuse.

This Regulation protects fundamental rights and freedoms of natural persons and in particular their right to the protection of personal data. (Article 1 (2) GPDR) 

Software has the potential for enabling goodness, yet it can also empower evil. Software can encourage democracy, but it can undermine it too. Software can level the playing field, or it can entrench privilege.   The power of software to find, sort and group people is both awesome and awful.  It is a mighty thing that we wield.

As an industry we need to see people’s data as something to treat with care and respect. The GPDR is a long overdue firm nudge for us to remember that.

One of the pioneers of artificial intelligence,  Joseph Weizenbaum, fled Berlin for the US as a child in the 1930’s.  I suspect there is a stoplerstein for his family on a street in Berlin. His book, Computer Power and Human Reason, should be required reading for all those building software.

““The computer programmer is a creator of universes for which he alone is the lawgiver. No playwright, no stage director, no emperor, however powerful, has ever exercised such absolute authority to arrange a stage or field of battle and to command such unswervingly dutiful actors or troops.”

We proclaim gleefully that software is eating the world, and data is more valuable than oil, so it is high time the software industry took its human rights responsibilities more seriously.

I, for one, welcome the GDPR.


On DJs and the history of computer music

While flying back from South Africa the other day (more on my SA trip another day), I got to sit next to a professional DJ.  My knowledge of house and trance music would fill the back of a postage stamp in a big font, but we had an interesting chat about Emerson Lake and Palmer,


as well as Yello, Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk and role of computers in modern music.  Marc plays in some of the world’s top clubs, such as 1015  (on Folsom)  the Redwood room in San Francisco, and Tresor in Berlin    I was expecting him to have lots of specialized equipment and software, but his set up is remarkably simple and cheap.

2 x macbook pros.

i-pod for planning sets.

pioneer HDJ headphones.


Apparently the really cool bit on these headphones is the swivel bit.

Total Control mixer, cost less than 600 dollars.



Beatport is an excellent source of trance and other electronic music.

On the software side, he uses traktor. more details here. and Ableton.live

It was fascinating to talk about how the music business works with someone making a good living out of it. We talked about copyright, sampling, remixing, how you read the crowd, the importance of preparation, and life as a DJ after 15 years…

And then over on the BBC website this morning I read about the Ferranti Mark 1 computer and the birth of computer music.


A scratchy recording of Baa Baa Black Sheep and a truncated version of In the Mood are thought to be the oldest known recordings of computer generated music.

The songs were captured by the BBC in the Autumn of 1951 during a visit to the University of Manchester.

The recording has been unveiled as part of the 60th Anniversary of “Baby”, the forerunner of all modern computers.

The tunes were played on a Ferranti Mark 1 computer, a commercial version of the Baby Machine.

You can listen to the recording here.

Things have come a long way since then.


New perspectives. Redwood, Berlin and telescopes.

(photo from klara on flickr, danke)

I’m not in Orlando this week at Sapphire, partly because I spent last week in the San Francisco and Bay Area.

The main purpose of the visit was to meet the folks at Oracle. Having competed against Oracle and PeopleSoft for much of my working life, it was more than a touch surreal entering the Redwood Shores complex.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I met a group of smart, engaged, friendly and deeply knowledgeable people.   They have an interesting blog too. 

I’m having something of a Hubble experience since joining Gartner.  I’m realising there is a lot more going on out there in the HCM space than I did when my orbit was tethered to Planet SAP.  (more on my Paris trip in another post)

In a couple of weeks I’ll be heading to back into the SAP zone, to  Berlin for the European  Sapphire. I’ll be looking at SAP through a new lens.

Sure,  I’m interested in the goings on with Business By Design, and the business objects integration,  but there are colleagues here at Gartner that will be covering that in depth, and I expect there will be  lots of blog coverage too. 

I’d like to talk to customers at Sapphire,  and I hope to understand more about what they are actually doing with the SAP HCM products.  I’m seeking evidence of ERP 6.0 traction beyond the technical upgrade.  There are several potentially  interesting presentations on the agenda.  (The search engine  on the sapphire site doesn’t work properly, so you need to dig to find them.)

I’m also very interested to look at RIA deployments in an HCM context. There are some funky funky tools out there, but I’m keen to hear about actual deployments.  I’ll also wander the halls and check out what the partners are up to.

It will be excellent to meet up with old colleagues, and also to see some new ones too.  I also get to go to Berlin, which as many of regular readers know, is my favourite city.


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Art and Berlin

My Berlin infatuation continues. Last weekend I went to Max Liebermann’s villa on the Wannsee. It is a spectacular setting.

Max Liebermann Villa am Wannsee - Berlin


Max Liebermann Villa am Wannsee - Berlin

(from flickrstream of infactoweb.)

The lake is just a few kilometers from the centre of Berlin, but it feels like you are in the country.  

His art is equally memorable. Max Liebermann’s life and the Wannsee itself provide a poignant illustration of the highs and lows of German culture and politics. I’m not an art expert, but there is something rather special about this painting.

It makes me want to go and find a bench to sit on, and read about the Berlin Succession.

You can buy  books and prints etc in the on-line shop, and the museum is a must see.

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