The Technology Diet

It’s been a great summer and after two weeks in the Turks and Caicos Islands, with everything inclusive, it’s time to lose a little weight.  I’ve been thinking about how to approach things, as in the past I’ve been less than successful at anything other than the 5:2 diet.  It strikes me that as a technologist, technology could provide the answer at getting good results.  That to me means, measuring and monitoring and understanding the physics of how the weight loss process works.  So, here’s the first stage; monitoring.


For weight monitoring I use Withings scales, now sold as Nokia Body+ since the acquisition.  These scales provide high accuracy, multiple user tracking and uploading of data automatically to their web application, Health Mate, which has also been Nokia branded.  Data is also available online, through the Nokia website.  The upgraded (version 3) release of Health Mate also claims to be able to track pulse, but it’s done through the rear iPhone camera, which really doesn’t work and certainly isn’t practical for during workouts.  Compared to the Withings version, the Nokia rewrite of Heath Mate is pretty awful.  I don’t understand why they couldn’t have simply taken the previous version and refactored the UI, but there you go.

Blood Pressure

I monitor blood pressure weekly using an Omron device.  I’ve thought about upgrading to a Withings for the automated recording, but I couldn’t see the point of paying just for the automation when I have a perfectly serviceable device.  Recordings are intermittent, but around 1-2 weekly.  Data is kept in a spreadsheet and graphed up in Excel.

Apple Watch

I previously recorded pulse and sleep through a Jawbone UP3, however the rubber wristbands kept breaking so I eventually abandoned them and moved to an Apple Watch 2.  The watch is great for keeping track of pulse, both at rest and during exercise.  It also records specific exercise details, including exercise time and calories burned.  All of the data gets uploaded to the iPhone App.

Bringing it Together

With Apple introducing the health app, most data is starting to get centralised.  As yet I’ve not seen this working fully, because weight data is not being moved over from Withings/Nokia.  Obviously BP details have to be entered manually, but that’s not too much of an issue.

With all the data to hand, the next stage is monitoring and looking at progression.  A subject for another post.

The Olympic Lie

Five years after the close of the London 2012 Olympics, the BBC has reported that despite the promise of more engagement in sport, the lasting legacy of the games has seen no rise in participation of exercise for the general population.  The promised dream of an games that would reignite people’s interest in keeping fit has turned out to be a lie.

I remember when the results of the hosting country were announced, with London and Paris head to head to win.  When we knew that London had won, we thought it would offer an opportunity for us to visit an Olympic games for the first and possibly last time.  How wrong we were.  Tickets couldn’t be purchased without using a VISA card, as the company were a sponsor.  The only way to get a ticket was to bid for way more events than you ever could hope to attend, then sell back the places you didn’t want.  That meant taking a risk on spending thousands of pounds with no guarantee of recouping that money.  We bid for around £600 as we had no VISA credit card (only debit), and taking a risk of spending more seemed too much.  In the end we won nothing.  What was more annoying to see was people from other countries easily buying tickets for events.  It’s clear the games was organised purely as a money making venture to bring tourists and money into London.  In the end we left the UK and spend 3 weeks of the games in Australia.

Now, if the government’s intention was to make money, then fine, but the Olympics was always sold on the legacy of the games and how it would create more inclusion in sport.  Call me cynical, but at the time I could see that was never the intention.  UK Plc simply wanted to swell the coffers with more tax money.  According to the BBC article, Sport England were given £1 billion to spend on developing sport at the grass roots.  Yet this year and last we’ve experienced how that simply isn’t happening.  Both of my sons were lucky to play football, one to a high level in Luton’s academy program.  The youngest was “dropped” by his team and has struggled to find a team.  This year he has nothing.  Teams are folding.  Coaches don’t return phone calls or emails.  The local Bedfordshire FA couldn’t find a lit torch in a dark room and have no organisation in place whatsoever to help those looking to find a team, other than an out-of-date list of coaches and phone numbers.

If the government really wanted more participation, they should have looked at how sport was being played (or not) across the country and encouraged certified organisations like the Beds FA to meet targets for inclusion.  I imagine none of this has been done.  We’ve missed an opportunity and a chance that won’t be seen again.  So the next time the government tries to sell a great “social plan” like the Olympic games, treat their motives with a touch of cynicism; it’s much more likely that the cynical view is the right one.

The Relief of Not Commuting

With the price rises announced today, more people than ever will be in the £5K club – those who pay £5000 or more to travel into the capital.  For many years I either took the train into London or drove around the M25 to get to the office.  I have to say it was never a pleasure.  On the train I took the time to read and in many journeys to write some of the first blog articles I ever wrote.  In the car I was limited to listening to podcasts, which at the time were tedious to manage as I had to cut them to CD.

What’s sad about the current situation is the fact that so much of our GDP is based out of London.  Fewer and fewer people can afford to live in the capital, so the price of housing has pushed out, enveloping more towns and cities and increasing the journey time for commuters.  The BBC article indicates that now 3.7 million people commute for 2 hours or more every day.  Just think of the wasted time and effort, as well as the stress, the cost and the impact on the environment.

So what is the solution?  Look at Milton Keynes and Cambridge and you will see areas where commerce and healthcare have boomed.  Although these areas are successful, they also are suffering growing pains.  Traffic in Cambridge is awful and house prices are eye watering, despite many new builds.

It’s clear we need more centres of excellence, more locations where firms can establish their business and draw from local talent pools.  The government has made efforts with institutions like the BBC, establishing a new base in Manchester and pushing production out to the regions.  So, why not encourage businesses to do the same?

Unfortunately part of the problem is the need for infrastructure.  Rail is privatised, telecoms are privatised, so without additional investment from the government, no money will be spent to seed new areas of innovation.  Privatisation is leaving the UK hamstrung – or the government has to admit privatisation hasn’t worked and fund development themselves.

It would be nice to see the UK government finally accept that building the economy can’t be left to market forces.  Concentration of work opportunities in London is a mistake and will restrict future growth.  Will wake up and smell the coffee?  I doubt it.

Fixing the Problem of Social Media

Unlike a huge section of the population, I don’t have a Facebook account.  I did have one, but chose to delete it many years ago, once I realised how much the company was abusing the personal details of those using the site.  I think my decision was further vindicated with the stance Facebook has taken regarding being classed as a media outlet, which they clearly are.  The company curates content that appears in front of users and surely any curation process classes it as a media organisation.  What’s worse is the way in which the curation is done.  Decisions on taste and decency are made arbitrarily buy Facebook, based on a set of standards and a manual they follow.

Following yet another awful terrorist attack in London, the UK government has started to go after the social media giants, promising stricter requirements on their operation.  I’m not holding my breath.  What could governments actually do in order to regulate content published on sites such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter?


An obvious step is to implement validation of all content before it is published – basically moderation.  Each video or other content not easily validated by software, should be validated before being made available.  The social media companies will of course cry foul, saying how hard it will be for them to police every piece of content, however this is where these companies find themselves and they have a moral responsibility to fix the problem of which they are the cause.  In line with other industries (like banking), restrictions could be relaxed for validated accounts, a validated account being one where additional ID verification has been provided.

Naturally the sheer scale of the task involved in watching and validating every YouTube or Facebook upload would be enormous, however just because the problem is hard (and potentially costly), doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.  We should not step away from our principles of wanting to prevent morally questionable content being shared with millions of people.


So what is the basis of a definition of morality?  Ask people around the world and you will get different views.  Clearly the view on women’s rights of someone from Saudi Arabia will be radically different from that of someone in the United States.  However there are (hopefully) a set of common values we can all agree are acceptable, such as not threatening to kill someone, not posting videos of people being killed or taking their own life, other types of violence and certain types of pornography.  Outside that core (and I’m not defining it, just giving some examples), then the boundaries become blurred.  The way to find out what is acceptable is either for social media sites to follow country rules on publication that exist for media organisations or simply to ask their subscribers what they feel is right or wrong.


Will the social media giants change their approach?  I’m not hopeful.  There’s a natural aversion to change, driven by the business model of social media and that’s the way in which revenue is generated from customer data.  You the user are the customer, with Facebook and others selling your private data to companies, mainly through targeted advertising.  The last thing these companies want is to slow down their viewing hits because hits = revenue.  Personally I say, so what?  If Facebook has less revenue, the world will not end tomorrow, but we all might feel better about ourselves knowing we did the right thing by pushing unwanted content off the Internet.

The Impracticality of Banning Laptops on Flights

Today I read yet another news article that indicates the US is considering a total ban on cabin laptops for any flight coming into the US.  Whilst I see the need to protect against certain security exposures, placing a total ban seems both impractical and damaging to the US economy and reputation.

I travel a lot, perhaps around 10 times a year, all international and mostly long-haul.  My travel is business-based as I have clients outside the UK and attend many non-UK events.  As I work in IT, a laptop is an essential tool of work.  I need to be able to work on the move, which means more than simply responding to emails.  I’m continually writing documents, preparing presentations, testing software products and even writing code.  I cannot imagine travelling without a laptop, which I now do even on family holidays (a result of being self-employed).

The Issues

If the US bans laptops in the cabin, how will that affect me?  First, I won’t be able to work on a flight.  That might not seem like a bad thing, but with 10-12 hours in the air, using some of that time for work is really beneficial.  On UK carriers there’s no opportunity to connect via WiFi, so airtime represents an opportunity to get things done undisturbed.

Then there’s the security issue.  Hold luggage isn’t secure; the US requires luggage to be unlocked or to be secured with a TSA-compliant lock that US authorities can open if they wish.  Your suitcase may as well be wide open.  Bear in mind that all hold luggage is being screened, then ground staff know exactly who packed a laptop and who didn’t.  It only takes one unscrupulous member of staff to start taking the occasional device from luggage and we have a problem.

So what is that problem?  Well, first there’s one of insurance.  How quickly will insurance companies move to limit their liability by removing laptops in the hold from coverage or limiting claims to one a year?  Very quickly.  There’s also the issue of data security.  Who has encrypted the contents of their laptop?  Is your laptop secured with a password?  How easy would it be to defeat the password security and gain access to your data?

There’s also a major risk with placing laptops in the hold and that’s the stability of lithium-ion batteries.  Most devices use Lithium-ion these days and we all know the batteries can become unstable if damaged.  Look back at the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 ban, issues with headphones exploding and you can see the risk of hundreds of batteries could pose.  Baggage handlers aren’t renowned for their care and diligence when placing bags into the hold of aircraft and it would only take one device to get damaged and risk taking an aircraft down with an on-board fire.


If we don’t take laptops, what are the alternatives?  At least one airline is offering first class passengers a laptop to use in-flight, which is nice, but not hugely practical.  It might be possible to place documents on a USB stick to edit them while in the air, but a temporary laptop isn’t going to give access to your email.  Other than basic Office products, it’s also unlikely that a loan laptop will have a wide range of software tools.  There’s also a housekeeping issue; will you remember to clean your files from the device when you return it?  One other interesting scenario; using a shared device represents a security compromise.  Imagine if some unscrupulous previous passenger has placed a key logger or other malware onto the shared laptop that either compromises your files or uploads them when the device accesses the Internet.  Do you need to bring and install personal virus scanning software too?

Assuming we don’t have access to an on-board laptop, then we need to take our data with us.  That’s potentially possible with portable media, or we could use a sync-n-share platform like Dropbox and web-based email.  There’s also a need to find a device to use at the destination.  That may or may not be easy.  Of course you could just risk it and put your laptop or other device into the hold and see what happens.

Industry Revolt

I’m surprised we haven’t seen any kickback from the airline industry to these policies.  There’s a huge risk to business travel if a ban like this were implemented.  However the airline industry could solve the problem relatively easily.  At check-in, business class desks could accept laptops into secure (electrically shielded) containers, locked by the airline before the flight, but kept in the cabin.  After landing the cases are unlocked and the contents returned to the customer.  With relatively few business passengers compared to economy, this could be offered as a free business/first service or a chargeable economy one.

If the ban does come into place, I’m sure the airlines will be creative to find a way of charging us all.  In the meantime, ensure your devices are secure (have encryption and strong passwords), make sure your data is stored or backed up from your device (e.g. Dropbox, SaaS-based email) and check the options with your insurance company.

Happy Flying!


Challenges 2017 – How Am I Doing? Update #1

Here we are in early February and time for a first update.  It’s been hectic and only two of the challenges are getting somewhere.  First, I’m down 4.5 kilos or 10lbs since the start of the year.  I see this as a good gradual weight loss for the period.  What’s the secret?  There is none.  I did mostly Dry January and simply cut back on things like crisps and other snacks (although I don’t particularly snack a lot).  Exercise was average, with increased knee pain I’ve not been walking that much.  In terms of the challenge, I’m technically 25% through, but in reality I’ve 75% yet to go.

On the startup front, things are progressing quickly.  I’ve been in Israel again and had lots of promising conversations.  The idea is forming well and now it’s a case of writing more software and developing the solution into a more viable proof of concept.  More on that as I get closer to the goal of raising money.

What about the rest?

  • Gym visits – none, need to push through the knee pain and get back.
  • Cycling – not started yet although that’s not surprising as the weather has been terrible.
  • Learn Japanese – not started.
  • More cooking – I’ve been doing as much as usual so this needs more effort.
  • Build my social brand.  I’ve been a bit lacking here, with not much in the way of posting.  One to work on.


Challenges 2017

It’s always good to have challenges in life.  I’ve always strived to achieve more than I am (at any one point) and it’s one of the things that has driven me over the years, especially having worked independently for most of my career.  This year I thought I would document my 2017 challenges and see how I shape up over the course of the coming year.  The term “shape up” might be more than appropriate for at least one of my efforts.


  • Lose 50lbs.  There’s no doubting I need to lose weight and it’s been a constant battle for me.  The excuses are the same as everyone else; busy lifestyle, too much work to do etc, and in reality in years gone by that could have been true.  However working from home, I have no excuse.  I have the kitchen on hand and can make anything I want.  So, the challenge is to get to 50lbs less by the end of the year than I am now.  It’s not a huge target, but more likely an achievable one.
  • Do 100 Gym visits.  It doesn’t seem a lot, but getting to the gym regularly with an average of twice a week will help with the weight loss and increase overall fitness.  The regularity is the key thing; keeping a constant twice weekly schedule.
  • Cycle 50 miles.  This doesn’t mean 50 miles in total, but 50 miles in a single journey.  I managed it before when I completed the London to Brighton race for charity.  It’s time to get on the bike and do something again.


  • Learn Japanese.  I love languages, but only managed to get to speak French (and obviously English) fluently.  I can understand and do some Spanish and German too, but in reality not that much.  Japanese fascinated me years ago; in 1988 I started an evening class but had to give it up as I started to work away.  Let’s see what I can achieve 29 years later!
  • Cook more.  I really enjoy cooking, including baking and trying food from around the world.  This year I want to make more time to get focused on using even more basic ingredients, cutting out what little processed food we eat and generally trying out new ways to increase our vegetable/meat ratio.


  • Found a Startup.  In 1998 I founded a music company and acted as the Technical Director (CTO nowadays).  It was a great time, with lots of stress, but great opportunities to do creative things.  This year I’m on the cusp of founding a new startup in the data management area.  My professional goal for 2017 is to make this a success.
  • Build my Social Brand.  I’ve been blogging since 2003, travelling to events since 2009, but not really focused hard on making my social brand a success.  Although I can’t complain, there’s room for improvement and that’s the second half of my 2017 professional goals.

This doesn’t seem like many new or improved things, but of course underlying each one are specific separate tasks.  I’m going to try and produce an update each week to talk about my progress.  This will include talking about what was easy, what was hard and how I managed to achieve some these 2017 goals.

UK Privatisation Hasn’t Worked

Today I received a letter in the post informing me that my already expensive broadband was going up by another 6.6%, well above inflation by any measure.  There doesn’t appear to be any real justification in the letter for this change, simply a restatement of the service I already receive.  I am fortunate to live in an area that was fibre cabled to the property by NTL (acquired by Virgin) in the late 1990’s.  Today I have an unlimited 200MB/s service, which means we stream content, download and generally access services without considering the amount of data we use.  I also have a backup service on Zen Internet with fixed IP addresses that is a work connection for VPN connectivity to the lab and other things (like public cloud).  This service is a mere 7Mb/s. I am never going to stop paying for my 200MB/s service!

Our exchange has conflicting views on whether it has been unbundled or not.  Some websites say it has, with 21CN available; others indicate that Zen isn’t available from the exchange, even though I have it.  Only Talk Talk and Sky offer LLU services from our exchange (allegedly), while uSwitch shows up to 76Mb/s from SSE, a deal that actually is only 17Mb/s when you redo the availability checker.

Broadband provision is a mess.  For years, no company went up against BT and NTL/Virgin Media in our village because the BT service couldn’t complete.  BT saw no reason to invest in our exchange.  Virgin Media can increase their prices whenever they choose as there is no real competition.  BT was privatised in 1985.  We’ve had broadband since 1999.  Why is competition still not there, some 30 years after BT became a private company?  Now the government is having to invest money in the infrastructure to bring broadband to the masses.  Unbelievably, BT is in most cases the preferred bidder (link – search on BT preferred Bidder Broadband for more examples).  The government is effectively giving money to a private company to roll out a service they should have done in the first place.

The solution here was quite simple.  Create a new government owned company, invest the money directly, competing against BT and the other providers.  Once rollout has been done, float the company and let the market acquire it.  This would stimulate competition in a stagnant and lazy market where the regulators don’t want to use their powers.  The UK continues to lag other developed countries.  Without positive government action, the lag will continue to increase.


Personal Development

Working in IT is great fun.  I love technology (always have) and can remember my first programming exploits on the Commodore Pet 64 around 1979/1980.  One thing I learned early on with this industry is that things never stand still.  In fact technology changes so much that someone once told me 25% of our IT knowledge becomes irrelevant each year.  Have 4-5 years out and you’re almost starting from scratch.  While I think that’s an overestimate (because experience also counts for a lot), I do think there is a real half-life to any technology learned.

So what does that mean?  Well, looking at news articles like this (link), you’d think that IT was in decline.  But that’s far from the truth.  In reality, large corporations are simply getting rid of staff that have experience in technologies that are less relevant to their core business.  These people don’t get retrained, but are “let go” and new employees are hired.  It’s a cyclic shift that happens across the industry all the time.

What the numbers in the above article show is perhaps the churn at which new technologies are coming along and being adopted in the industry.  This is something I’ve focused on over the years, with a huge investment in learning new technologies.  There are many things I never work with at all (like programming languages, mainframe), but did add to my overall work experience and development.  That said, the time needed to keep up with new technologies seems to increase each year.

Many people might think this phenomena is new, but that’s far from the truth.  Alvin Toffler described in his 1970 book Future Shock many of the experiences we have today about technology and information overload.  Professional development is important for everyone and a lifelong task.


I enjoy reading and go through a reasonable number of books per year, with a mix of fiction, non-fiction and work related stuff.  If I had to pick genres, I’d say I like Science Fiction (standard for technical people), horror (the likes of Stephen King) and some fantasy, although that’s pretty much restricted to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels.  I do also read some autobiographies and “self development” books, but that isn’t the majority of my reading content.

I always try to encourage our children to read, but that increasingly seems to fall on deaf ears, as their time is split between demands for sport (thankfully) and electronics, such as the Playstation.  For me the ability to get engrossed in a story and believable characters is what reading is all about.

I’ve set up a page to list my recent books, plus a like to buy them on Amazon.  Much of what I read now is on Kindle and in some ways I feel saddened by the demise of physical copy.  However, in reality I rarely go back to a novel again; they sit on the bookshelf for years until the filtering process sends them off to the charity shop for recycling.  So check out the list and feel free to make recommendations!  I’m always looking for new authors and series to get into.