THU • 27 OCT 2016
A better use of hybrid
One place however that has proved a real eye-opener in the world of hybrid has been the use of deploying the technology onto push bikes. E-Bikes as they are referred to bring the electric motor into the fabric of the bike and provides assistant to the rider. And I have to say it is amazing. I think previously I hadn’t been interested as the bikes that are E-Bikes were ugly and the motors large devices fitted to the wheels, whereas the new generation by Bosch and Yamaha are now fitted into the gears and are part of road or mountain bikes, even with suspension. This means there are no downsides, apart from some additional weight in choosing an E-Bike over the model you would have normally chosen.
On a recent trip to Cornwall my wife and I decided we would do a bike ride with some friends and also take our 6-month daughter to introduce her to one of our shared passions. The only issue was my wife’s broken leg and being on crutches which sort of ruled out cycling as an option. However the bike shop we used had an electric mountain bike which she could use and what a revelation! With a Bosch motor delivering assistance based on the setting from the control panel on the handlebars, she had immediate assistance and could minimise the pressure through her leg depending on the conditions.
Certainly if you are planning any big bike rides and have the option of trying an electric bike I would highly recommend it. For my wife at least it has also meant I can now argue that the baby seat should really go on her bike as she has the assistance to deal with the extra weight…
WED • 14 SEP 2016
You make your own luck
I met Jimmy when I joined my first fulltime job and worked under his tutelage for a number of years before leaving and setting up my own business. When I worked with Jimmy one of his key mantras that I remember him talking about regularly was that people aren’t lucky in life – they make their own luck. At the time I didn’t really get what he was on about, surely some people win the lottery, ie lucky, and many others don’t – not lucky. But as time has gone on I have slowly adopted it as my own saying as I realised how right he was.
It is easy to let life pass you by, but those who grab opportunities, take risks and push boundaries usually it pays off in the form of progress and change. Now to the outside world looking in, it might be that the individual was ‘lucky’ to get that job offer, meet their partner or live in that great house. However I am sure behind any lucky person is persistence and huge amount of effort.
When I spend time with students or new employees usually they say I am lucky to be where I am or do what I do. What they fail to see is the ten years of graft and sacrifices that got me to that point. At the time I didn’t really see it as sacrifices and graft but looking back it certainly was a tough time. The same goes with Jimmy, with his endless positive attitude and energy, I am sure some people looked at Jimmy and thought how lucky he must be. Super successful in his career, great wife, kids and home.
But then he had one of the worst pieces of news anyone can have, but being the guy he is, and the amazing family he has around him, he managed over the last year to overcome cancer and now finds himself starting to turn his experience from such a huge negative into a positive. He has a blog which detailed his feelings over the last year, and while he did it really for friends and family, it has been picked up and followed by many people all over the world.
This lead to the introduction to the Sprintathon and his invitation to run the last 100 meters in this world breaking attempt to run the fastest marathon. They have a very good video which is worth watching and they are raising money for Stand up to Cancer which goes towards the amazing work that helped make Jimmy better. Maybe he was lucky or maybe many thousands of people have worked tirelessly over many years to improve the chances of surviving cancer which along with Jimmy’s determination has meant that he gets to take centre stage and take a bow. Bravo.
THU • 21 JUL 2016
Do not underestimate the value of resilience
The datacentres concerned are some of the most popular sites in the UK and because of that the knock on impact is significant especially when customers such as BT support so many other partners, businesses and consumers. However BT have appeared to suffer more than others, but anyone within a datacentre can be out for quite a while when hardware is subjected to a power outage, even a brief one, as it can result in hardware not powering back on. With core hardware spending its whole life turned on, the sudden loss in power can result in a high number of failures, requiring engineer visits and hardware replacement – all of which takes time.
Precaution is key, and whether BT had or had not in place sufficient alternative hardware in that datacentre, it did have other working datacentres, so lessons need to be learned about the importance of uptime and mitigating failure where possible. Customers, and especially businesses and ISPs need to understand the risks of not just their networks but upstream suppliers to mitigate total outages. Datacentres for example run large UPS (uninterruptable power supplies) systems to cope with the switch from mains power to generators and while this provides a level of resilience, it needs to be checked and serviced regularly. Servicing and testing varies dramatically between datacentres so investing in smaller UPS systems for individual racks may therefore seem excessive but from experience it can provide a useful buffer should the worse happen.
Furthermore the number of backups and spares again goes someway to reinforce confidence. Gone are the days, in my mind at least, when datacentres can offer n+1 resilience (where ‘n’ is the required load and the +1 means an additional spare). So for example if a datacentre requires four generators to power the site then five would be installed. This is very different to a more resilient site that offers 2n where, for the same example, eight generators would be provided. The big issue with all of this of course is cost and this has a knock-on effect to the customer.
Ultimately though no datacentre is impervious to disaster, as BT and others experienced today, and while a whole site outage is very rare, the importance of having multiple datacentres is very important. While the costs grows significantly again, because not only is everything at least duplicated but now connectivity is required to all the suppliers, the likelihood of complete outage is seriously reduced. The graph shown is all our BT DSL users, with the red line representing customers coming into the affected London datacentre and the green representing our Manchester datacentre also connected to BT’s network. At the time of the failure all our DSL customers moved across meaning they had an outage of a few minutes while their routers would have logged off and on again – significantly better than just relying on London. But as I say having enough spare bandwidth (at least 50% capacity free) dormant for such an occasion, is another cost.
With customers more interested in SaaS applications and outsourcing operations, their removal from the actual nuts and bolts of the network design puts higher reliance on the supplier and the supplier’s supplier to do the right thing in terms of investment and design. Hopefully issues like those experienced today and yesterday will go someway to help steer investment back into resilience.
TUE • 14 JUN 2016
Does democracy matter?
One of the main issues for the leave campaign should be the fact that the EU has got unelected people deciding on British laws and policies. It is a reality I think they have failed to accurately articulate. So facts like when Austria was recently going to elect the right wing Freedom Party and the unelected EU policy makers were going to make it illegal for them to be involved in the EU if they did come to power, is surely undemocratic? So people elected by the people are suddenly deemed criminals by a body that, by law, overrules local law? Now whether it is right or wrong for Austria to elect such a party, is one thing, but to take an election and then disregard the result is surely not democracy? I am sure Greek people felt the same when the bailout referendum was ignored after being overwhelmingly defeated.
So whether we decide or don’t decide to be part of the EU the fact is that for many years we have not really enjoyed true democracy. And while the decisions being made might currently serve our interests the lack of true accountability surely should be something to be worried about in the future. Or does it actually matter?
If we look to America we have a potential presidential candidate of a rather ruthless ‘billionaire’ or the wife of a previous president. Have we not already had to endure the Bush dynasty (and nearly more with the likes of Jed running for Republican nominee), and now the American people have to choose between a narcissist or another Clinton? Surely out of 200 million there must be some better candidates? Or is that the point - the perception is that this is democracy in action but the reality is it doesn’t work and what we really have is a Russian version of ‘democracy’?
With the EU referendum soon to be decided it seems to me that if we have voted to remain then actually, as I suspect, we are happy to believe we enjoy democracy, even if the technicalities mean we don’t. And our concern lies more with short term economic stability rather than an ideal our forefathers laid down their lives for. For a country as patriotic as America I find it outstanding that nobody seems to question the quality of the candidates that they are going to put forward for election. Maybe in a few years we will be looking forward to the opportunity to ‘elect’ a Mrs Juncker for presidency.
WED • 30 MAR 2016
What about the Commonwealth?
With recent security fears in Europe there has been a lot of talk about security in the UK but as I understand it our intelligence comes from Five Eyes (FVEY) an intelligence alliance between the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States. This can be tracked back to World War 2 and while Edward Snowden brought it more into public conscious, it is widely regarded as the most comprehensive known espionage alliances in history. Our ability to work with our Commonwealth brothers and, in this case, the US is well documented so why is it failing to get any real voice in the discussion on Europe and why have we not done more with it?
As I understand it when Britain joined the EEC after Charles de Gaulle rejected our application a number of times it was agreed that the Imperial Preference, a method of promoting unity through the Commonwealth countries, would have to be abandoned by the UK. This probably was the beginning of the UK turning its back on the Commonwealth as a trading block as it embraced the growing European market. But as we now see global trade grow and Europe decline is it worth looking to embrace a new trading focus? Certainly Europe’s protectionist view and the application of the common external tariff does nothing to help our consumers or Commonwealth producers.
One benefit could be immigration with the abolishment for our appalling point based system where highly educated people from the Commonwealth cannot move and live in the UK because of the current unlimited migration policy within the EU. By evening out migration so the UK can attract the very best talent from anywhere in the world certainly is worth considering. My own office for example has many different nationalities but the ability to keep people from Australia, America, New Zealand and India is difficult under the current system. Certainly feeling is strong and in a letter to David Cameron from Commonwealth supporters went as far as stating that ‘descendants of men and women who volunteered to fight alongside Britain in two world wars must stand aside in favour of people with no connection to the UK’. Strong sentiment and highlights the loyalty and dedication of Commonwealth members, something Britain should embrace.
TUE • 23 FEB 2016
Robots will take over the world
I am a great believer in advancements in technology and while our present is not quite what we would have imagined twenty years ago (I still don’t have a flying car) it is leaps and bounds further on in many other respects. The power of the Internet is only now being fully understood, and while the Information age has opened up vast amounts of data it hasn’t, until recently, started to make inroads into daily society as the preferred method of engagement. Tax discs have gone online, there is no need to ever visit a high street or supermarket, Amazon and Ocado have that licked, it is even easy to do my tax return. I can do my weekly shop on my iPhone in twelve clicks and 11 hours later it is all delivered on my doorstep in perfect condition. That has to be the retail equivalent of putting a man on the moon. But what does that all mean in the real world and jobs?
Well the global media seem to have woken up to the fact that many jobs are changing in response to this advancement, but worryingly it is the acceleration as technology continues to advance in leaps and bounds. Many years ago The Electric Telegraph Company (before it became hip BT) recruited many hundreds if not thousands of staff to man their telephone exchanges as Operators, as did other telephone companies across the world. Their job was to get calls connected and in 1918 managed to complete long distance calls in around 15 minutes. But soon came the advent of automatic switching and this once important role was made redundant. This was a quick change but fast forward to today and you have a whole industry about to buckle with phone calls almost being free in the advent of FaceTime, Skype and WhatsApp. We have seen the likes of Kodak, Nokia, Xerox, Marconi, CityLink and Amstrad to name but a few struggle with this change and this is only the beginning.
Why for example would TFL continue to tolerate being held to ransom by drivers striking when the technology to automate trains is available? Apparently all across the employment spectrum jobs from secretaries through to travel agents and credit controllers are all inline to be automated. It is reckoned that within 20-years over 35% of UK jobs will have been lost. That is over 10 million people looking for a new career.
The hope is that for every repetitive job that is automated a new job will appear, but realistically if we look the way our economy is going with increasing margins and the profits big business are reporting that isn’t actually happening. I am sure for example Google does not employ more people than all the libraries, mapping companies and media businesses it has displaced. Sure there are a lot of new opportunities but I am not sure all the people who have lost their jobs have been able to retrain as developers.
One of my biggest fears from ‘the rise of the machines’ is that we will end up with a bigger social divide with more have nots than haves. Unfortunately I am not confident our education system is going to be able to cope with the shift that is going to happen so quickly around us. Hopefully whole new industries will emerge that haven’t even been imagined yet.
FRI • 22 JAN 2016
One of the points David was making when he referred to Tiger Mothers, or as I have heard it described, Dragon Mothers, the need to push children while ensuring strict discipline seems to be an art lost and as a result are we ending up with weak, carefree generations. This on a global scale is worrying when we are competing against other nationalities, like the Chinese (where the term Dragon Mother comes from), who are turning out hard working, responsible adults who don’t feel the world owes them anything. I am not saying one way or the other is correct, and I am sure I will find out very soon how difficult it is, but one thing I am concerned about is our society’s push to reduce competition and access to failure.
Some of my biggest defining moments in my life have been around my failures rather than my successes. It is not as though my parents set me up to fail but they allowed me to experience failure, rather than protect me from it, and pushed me to do things that I didn’t want to do so that I could really appreciate the things I enjoyed. One good example of this is learning to play a musical instrument. My brother and I hated learning to play instruments but had to persist until we were about to leave school. Now to our parent’s dismay we didn’t become musical geniuses, looking back we did expand our experience, knowledge and appreciation that we could do something we didn’t like or were particularly good at. The fact that we were regularly tested in the form of grades used to be a big negative, but again a useful life skill that I regularly employ in daily life.
While music might have been my challenge, it could have well been maths or science, which again we are told as a country we are lacking, but it seems to me that if a student picks a non-science route through school then they are pretty much able to ignore a big part of our society. Science touches every part of our lives, and I am conscious that later in life the student who didn’t enjoy science in the classroom might very well have flourished in the working world. So the Tiger Mother approach is not just to discipline but to push. I am sure we all have a view as to how much pushing is needed, but I don’t think it means that the child can’t push back and become stronger through that defiance.
As I say another area of interest is in how generation-X (babies born after the baby boomers generation) are so depressed and unhappy with life. The theory goes that the baby boomer generation were told how tough their parents had it, living through wars with rations and strikes, only to overachieve on their expectations. My generation however thought they would see similar increases in lifestyle, wealth and happiness with minimal effort only for it not to appear on our plates and for hard work and focus needed to overcome the high levels of competition so abundant today.
What does the world have in store for the next generation? I don’t know but I do realise the difficulty in bringing up someone who can deal with anything the world throws at them.
WED • 02 DEC 2015
Back to the floor
While returning from holiday I was greeted with the news that while scaffolding had been removed from my house, from a recent reroof, they not only knocked out my satellite dish but also my phone line. So I spent last weekend in the dark ages without mobile phone signal (as I use a booster and EE’s fabulous WifiCall technology), internet and television. Everything from listening to music (Spotify) or watching a film (Apple TV) was curtailed and I was focused instead to look for other forms of entertainment. While it sounds like I spend all my time in front of a screen the ability to bank, share photographs or do some research is reliant on a reliable and fast internet connection.
It did however give me an opportunity to test out our support team, the process BT Openreach now follow for booking engineers, and the list of issues with miscommunication with the engineers on the ground in actually fixing the problem. In the end it turns out it was a good thing that the scaffolders hit the line as it was actually broken in the cabinet as well.
What I always think about when I go through these processes is what my father would make of it. I am not saying he is a technophobe but in terms of industry jargon and feedback is it something he would be happy with would he have been able to get the same resolution. In the end it wasn’t as painful as I had expected, but it certainly could be better. Unfortunately a lot of that process might not change until the future of Openreach has been decided but there are certainly steps the industry can take to help the situation. For one thing our dependency on connectivity is at such a point that we certainly should be thinking about delivery in the same context of gas or electricity. I just hope enough people high up in our industry experience service as customers do rather than relying on their superior contacts or knowledge of the technicalities to mitigate them so we can drive forward with our need to improve.
THU • 22 OCT 2015
Robots will take over the world
Scientists have been astonished at how quickly we have advanced our computers and software in the past few years. We may not have hover boards as depicted in Back to the Future for 21st October 2015, but we certainly have a lot of automation in our lives all thanks to the internet and running from our pockets via smart phones. The ability for more and more of our lives to be automated is inevitable but does that mean a loss of jobs?
If we look back over human history, and recently the last hundred or so years, our society has seen hundreds, if not thousands, of manual or repetitive roles replaced by computers. Just take our industry which has seen Telephone Operators replaced by computers, or call centre staff replaced by websites and self-support applications. Older industries like farming now make do with fewer people than ever before but produce more than we thought possible. Does this mean there are less jobs in those roles, of course but the question is surely what new roles have been created. I am sure my Grandfather would have never considered his grandson would sit in front of a computer all day building data networks for businesses and that marketing, client communication, billing and support could all be over the same medium. And that a support network of billing software companies, web search optimisation businesses and call centres would be needed.
My point is that yes, thousands if not millions of jobs will automate over the coming years but at the same time new roles will appear that we cannot even imagine today. Bring on judgement day.
WED • 23 SEP 2015
It is easy to tick boxes
Surely this was the inevitable outcome from the government supporting BT as the primary partner in rolling out ‘superfast’ (I still don’t know what that really means) broadband across the country. I have written before about moving into a brand new flat in 2014 which was still wired by BT using copper cables, instead of a future proof technology such as fibre which could support potential speeds of over 100 Gb/s. As it is, the technology BT has invested in, Fibre to the Cabinet, ensures we are going to be dependent on phone lines, copper and technical issues for decades to come. So while I appreciate BT’s view to maximise on their existing footprint, as any self-respecting business would probably do to maximise shareholder return, it has proved to be a costly mistake for the rest of the industry and consumers.
The other knock-on effect by handing BT so much responsibility has been the enormity of the task. The business continually has to invest in new staff and equipment to get anywhere near to delivering against the targets put upon it. No wonder the rest of the industry is frustrated. One such issue was recently highlighted to me by a neighbour who said to me that he had finally got ‘fibre broadband’ as it had just been enabled in our building.
“No”, I replied, it has been in our building since January 2014 when BT first enabled the local cabinet. What has transpired is that while our building has been enabled, the actual cabinet quickly ran out of capacity and it has taken over a year to deliver more capacity to it so that the rest of the residents could receive the service.
So is that due to BT being overstretched, or possibly a lack of hardware available? Or cynically could you read into this that actually on paper, at least, our building has been enabled and so therefore met a target, even if not many people can actually order it.
The same could be said where I live in the country. For the past nine months, I have been inspecting a shiny new cabinet that has appeared at the end of my drive. ‘Fibre Broadband is coming’ said a BT engineer to me who came to fix my broken phone line. Maybe, but at the moment all I can see is an empty box in preparation for it. Are we going to get the same issue in our village, that only a few will be able to enjoy it until it reaches capacity when it is finally enabled? And has the very presence of the cabinet thwarted any plan from an alternative fibre provider from investing into connecting up our village?
SKY and TalkTalk through their partnership with CityFibre have already started to look at rolling out Fibre to the Home (proper Fibre Broadband) and I believe will be looking to bring up to 70,000 homes online in York. Vodafone has a national fibre network that they own through their acquisition of Cable & Wireless. What Ofcom need to do is allow BT to do what they do best and enable everyone else to build and develop their own technologies to the home. They need to ensure that we have a level playing field; already other providers such as City Fibre, IFNL and Gigaclear have managed to build their own fibre networks on private investment. We can then let history decide if BT’s focus on a copper phone network was the right choice.
WED • 26 AUG 2015
The internet going around in circles
Another area that looks to be reverting back to the good old days is the internet, well actually retail. For many years we have been told about the death of the high street as retailers move online or new online only retailers set up shop. However with the internet comes downsides, notably the issue around same day delivery, testing goods and returns. Some of these issues are looking to be resolved with Amazon recently announcing same day delivery. But for those of you who have sold items on eBay or tried to return an item bought on the internet, the hassle of having to find packaging and posts goods is tiresome to say the least.
Today news comes that Ebuyer (a great resource for cheap electronics) is losing their MD over a disagreement about the direction of the business. He believes the business needs to look at opening up high street stores and the rest of the management team disagree. However having the ability to distribute goods directly to customers and upsell through a personal interaction is a benefit long lost in the world of the internet. Even the likes of Amazon are desperately trying to work out their high street strategy as they look for new areas of growth. Who would have thought that a company like Argos would have had the right model for an internet sales goliath like Amazon?
So I don’t think the high street is dead, it is just being reinvented as we look to regress from the internet (as far as retail is concerned) and look to do what we used to do, but only better.
THU • 16 JUL 2015
An old idea reinvented
I have longed to build my own home. Using old and classic materials such as oak and stone I would love to build a 'grand design' with modern twists while making the most of all available technology. For years I have talked to friends about the idea of taking a retired German submarine battery (apparently they aren't allowed to run a nuclear fleet) which has seen service and needs to be replaced and putting it in the basement of a new home. This would then power the house with clean, consistent energy while solar and wind could be utilised to top it up. Very similar to a UPS deployed within a datacentre environment. Now though Telsa has beaten me to it and commercialised the idea.
They say the simplest ideas are the best, and the idea of having a battery storing energy created locally is probably a very simple one. The challenge however has always been the battery technology itself, but with Telsa's advancement in developing new lithium-ion technology the product does look to be consumer ready. Also with the new Gigafactory going live shortly Telsa's ability to ship many units at such a competitive price should see high levels of adoption. Especially in the U.S. where grid reliability and access can be less reliable than we are used to.
So will it be a success? I hope it is, and hopefully I will be able to deploy such a pack in my home when I eventually manage to build it. I am not sure how effective it will be in existing homes because of the necessary rewiring that will need to take place but I am sure like any technology there will be early adopters. Can it change the world? Well actually if adoption is high enough then I think it could make a difference. Our ability to store energy is the biggest hindrance with solar and wind energy and I think this might be the shot in the arm it needs.
WED • 10 JUN 2015
Have Microsoft gone mad?
For Microsoft the continuous battle from Apple, without any significant inroads into the mobile space, the concept of trying to persuade customers to upgrade to Windows 10 is a challenging one. With the duff Windows 8 turning people away from Microsoft, me included, Windows 10 needs to once more gain dominance on the desktop. That way Microsoft can at the very least hold onto their valuable MS Office income while also providing leverage to Xbox and mobile devices.
It is a bold move and one that I suspect will see Microsoft continue on its route to move into a rental income model. With the successful Office 365 converting customers to a direct relationship with Microsoft, partners, and importantly their margins, are being squeezed out enabling Microsoft to return further profits to the business. Maybe this is the start of the end for Microsoft charging customers upfront for software and future models will rely wholly on an opex model. That will devastate their revenues globally but probably increase profitability, so a move that investors can support.
I don’t believe for a second Microsoft will continue to offer Windows 10 for free, I believe the offer is only available to customers with a Windows 7 or 8 licence and for a limited time. I assume the majority of income still comes through the sale of new devices although that market has been devastated by the growth of tablets and smartphones. Maybe it is just a sign of Microsoft moving with the times.
THU • 04 JUN 2015
The Speed of Change
Our parents saw it as a key investment in our education and it was an introduction to an industry that has become my career. Back in the days of the 1990’s our first machine had 8 MB RAM, 500 MB Hard Drive, Windows 3.1 and an x386 processor. There was even a ‘turbo’ button on the front. Who, by the way, would sit there with this not engaged? Anyway I spent many a happy hour deleting everything on the machine, having to reformat it, taking it apart and putting it back together again. I have built my own machines until recently and take great pleasure in specifying all the hardware and bringing it to life. I even started my own company do this while as school.
So it was yesterday evening that I found myself building my brother’s machine when we thought about how far the industry has come. His machine now sports eight cores (processors) at 4 Ghz, 32 GB of RAM, 4TB of hard drive space with SSD technology and a graphics card with 2GB of dedicated RAM and a dual core processor. Even his operating system can’t cope with the power and we have to now look at upgrading that as well.
They have been saying for a number of years now that Moore’s Law can’t continue. But with new advancements being made continuously I think we should be considering development speeding up, not slowing down. Even in our industry who would have through speeds of 100 Mb/s are achievable using a copper phone cable when 10 years ago we thought 0.5 Mb/s was fast.
TUE • 12 MAY 2015
Mobile networks begin to innovate
But one aspect of owning a smart phone that lets it down is its ability to make voice calls. I don’t know quite if it is the phones fault, or over congested networks as adoption reaches peaks and everyone spends their time updating Facebook rather than making calls. Suffice to say I find I suffer a number of drops a day, better on EE than Vodafone, but nothing I had on my trusty Nokia 7210 (that only had the Worms game).
So I was surprised when I came across an option on my iPhone to enable ‘Wifi Calls’ which when enabled allows EE to connect to my phone over whatever WiFi network I might be connected to. I know apps have been around for a while that lets you use O2 or other networks over Wifi, but I wasn’t aware it was part of the phone and seamlessly registers to EE in the background. No longer am I searching for signal, especially in my office which seems to behave like a big faraday cage keeping all mobile signals at bay.
It is an amazingly simple feature, but complex I am sure behind the scenes, but one that has given my mobile a new lease of life as I don’t have to suggest to anyone that I speak to that they should call me on the landline. At the moment I understand the feature only works with Apple and Android phones and with EE in the UK but I am sure more will follow in the coming months.