There’s something in the wood shed

While installing a new stove, we wanted somewhere to store and dry logs. Handily, our garden shed was half rotten. Chopping it up and leaving the good half (with re-designed sides to let the air circulate) was a fun afternoon. Almost as satisfying as stacking the shed ready for winter.

During After
Before Logs! After

Changing rooms

Earlier this year, we bought six 5’7″ x 10″ x 1″ planks from Romsey Reclamation. After seasoning them for two months stacked up in the garage, plus a further month in the house, they were ready to sand and wax.

Oak. Bought as raw green planks, seasoned at home and now ready for sanding After sanding

A bit of work, but a whole lot cheaper (and more fun) than buying finished oak shelves.

The shelves form part of a some work we’ve been doing in our living room including a log burning stove.

Before Work Began Day 2 - Building the Chimney
Day 4 - Test Fire Plastered and Painted
Shelves Up All Finished - Cosy and Comfy ready for Winter

All cosy and ready for winter.

My LEGO studio

Here’s my LEGO studio.

My LEGO studio

The main desk at the front is two metres wide and has two levels; plenty of space to store things I need to have close at hand. On the left of the room are a bunch of fishing tackle boxes, drawers, trays and little boxes which I lift out and place on or under the desk as needed.

Four trays   Divided by colour, but sorted by type
Windows and small parts   Compartmentalised trays

On the right of the main desk is an IKEA Vika Veine hinge desk, which allows me to store projects in progress and keep things tidy.

On the right - lid open

Inside the desk you can see a couple of cutlery trays (which I also picked up at IKEA; Rationell Variera are nice and cheap). I’ve found it’s handy to have at least two of these; one for temporarily storing handfuls of parts ready to build and another to sort dismantled parts ready to put back into their respective drawers.

This right hand desk sits on top of a three IKEA Antonius drawer frames, each of which is filled with large plastic drawers.

Drawers and drawers of LEGO

Each drawer is quite big, so in order to store lots of different types of LEGO part, I have filled some of the drawers with small removable storage boxes. I had some Stanley organisers, which each have 10 removable compartments. Plus, if you ever need to travel with a selection of parts they can pop back into their carry cases for easy transportation.

Stanley organiser Small boxes of unique parts

Different people have different techniques for storing large collections. Some even stack their bricks and plates for efficient storage, which I’m fascinated by but have never really got on with. Personally, I’m a massive fan of the lots-of-little-drawers-and-trays approach.

There’s still a bit more sorting to do and (believe it or not) still a bit of room for more storage. I’m really tempted to add some by some Draper 12015 30 drawer organiser cabinets or even LEGO’s own cabinet.

Little Big Planets

Today, I’ve mostly been making polar panoramas. They please me greatly. Thanks to Dirk Paessler for a great tutorial.

Planet London

Great balls of grass   Planet Portugal

Planet San Francisco   New York Centauri

Trials HD

When Ian recently mentioned Trials HD I was hooked as soon as I tried it. If you have not played it, here’s what you’re missing:

Trials HD is, in short, brilliant. Staggeringly simple (controls: accelerate, brake, lean forward/back. You can’t even steer), easy to pick up (you can pass the early levels very quickly) and very very hard to complete (grrnnnnghhh). The race levels are great while the additional skill games are a lot of fun and act as a reward and incentive for medal hunting in the maps. Best of all is probably the level editor. I’ve already spent nearly as long making my own levels as I have playing the game.

Here are some big swinging balls and a glass bridge I made. Careful now.

That's no moon!    The glass bridge

Unfortunately, any custom maps you create can only be shared with your friends. I’d love to be able to play the best of what’s being created by everyone, but I don’t particularly want to clutter my friends list with strangers. I wish the developers had implemented (and, more importantly, could afford to run) a LittleBigPlanet style global content sharing system. Despite that shortcoming, Trials HD might actually be my favourite game so far this year. And for 12,000 Microsoft points ($15 / £10.20) it’s also great value.

Mustache TV

Mustache TV

Jesse Thorn kindly sent me a ‘Mustache TV‘ as a thank you for supporting Maximum Fun. (Disclaimer: I donate a small amount of money each moth. As you know, I’m a fan, and a card-carrying member of the Maximum Fun club and "a proud adherent of the principles of The New Sincerity").

Mustache TV’s lovingly detailed instructions include a scoring system (3 points for a clean-shaved man, 5 points for a lady, 6 points for a world leader) and it turns out to work quite well for games too. Lots of fun.

Mustache TV - Spaced Mustache TV - Mirror's Edge Mustache TV - The Wire

Holiday in Pembrokeshire

Back to work tomorrow after a great few days holiday. If you’re even in Pembrokeshire, I recommend St David’s, and Porth Clais. Between Thursday and Saturday the weather way very fine and we enjoyed long walks with the dog along the stunning Pembrokeshire coast.

Severn Bridge Bishops Palace at St David's Pigsfoot Lane Climbers Cliffs

Early Sunday morning, however, it turned not only very wet but also very very windy. Not a great combination when you’re sleeping under canvas, and we kept waking up slightly intimidated by the way our tent was being thrown around. Ray got out the camera to capture the moment (note the dog laying between our sleeping bags, 38 seconds in).

And about 20 minutes later, despite conducting emergency running repairs to the pegs and guy ropes holding us down, our tent had totally collapsed, with us inside it.

We had a lovely stay though, despite the final night. In fact, clambering out of an inside-out, soaking wet tent is a happy moment one that will stay with me for a very long time.

Guardian Activate 09

I went to Activate 09 today.

“an exclusive one-day summit providing a unique gathering for leaders working across all sectors to share, debate and create strategies for answering some of the world’s biggest questions.”

Activate 09

I was there for most of the day today, though I sadly had to miss a chunk of the afternoon. Here’s a taste of what I saw:

Werner Vogels, CTO, Amazon talked about Amazon Web Services:

  • Last century, all sorts of companies had to invest in generating their own electricity just to be able do business. Quickly re-fitted to take advantage of electricity as a utility when it become available.
  • The same is now becoming true for computation. Moving from capital expenditure to variable cost model.
  • Cloud computing: reduces risk, reduces startup time for new ideas, lets you pay for what you use.
  • [sales pitch for]

Clare Lockhart, co-founder and CEO, Institute for State Effectiveness, co-author with Ashraf Ghani of book ‘Fixing Failed States’, talked about government:

  • Re-rebuilding Afghanistan: the UN has no manual for building a government, and the World Bank has no manual for building an economy
  • An army and police force, paid for by tax, paid by a population who has security and justice, which requires… (it’s a circle)
  • Problems with Afghanistan: no money went to police (because it wasn’t ‘poverty-reducing’), railways (because the country was ‘too poor’) or higher education.
  • Many failed states are offline and off the grid. many won’t have electricity for > 50% of their population for 10 years
  • Citizen centered design. Citizens are interested in using the net for market pricing and the transparency of putting budgets online

Arianna Huffington, editor-in-chief, The Huffington Post talked about business and politics.
Arianna Huffington at Activate 09

  • Raw data can’t be viral. You have to translate it into something that people will share, that will ‘catch fire’.
  • Were it not for the internet, ‘Obama would not be president’.
  • Mainstream media suffers from attention deficit disorder. New media suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder.
  • You consume old media sitting on your couch. You consume new media galloping on a horse.
  • The cost of launching a new business is now so low that sometimes it’s indistinguishable from starting a new hobby
  • The next interesting business to watch will be one which… ‘connects in order to disconnect in a hyper-connected society’ (e.g unplug and recharge, remember the value of sleep..)

Nick Bostrom, director, Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute and founder of the world transhumanist foundation, talked about post-humanity and existential events. i.e. being wiped out by extinction or being left behind by the singularity.
Nick Bostrom at Activate 09

  • Some options for humanity: extinction, plateau of development, recurrent development and collapse, or advancement to post-humanity
  • Most significant dents in human population have been caused by ‘bad germs or bad men’ all the biggest risks are anthopgenic (i.e. caused by humans) rather than natural
  • 99.99% of all species that ever lived are now extinct
  • The Toba eruption 75,000 years ago may have reduced the population to ~500 reproducing human females
  • A ‘rather arbitrary definition’ of post-humanity: population reaches > 1 trillion, life expectancy becomes > 500 years, near-total control over sensory input for majority of people most of the time, psychological suffering becomes rare, … or something comparably profound
  • Singularity: an artificial intelligence explosion which leaves mankind behind. Proposed by John Von Neuman in 1958, developed by IJ Good in 1965 and subsequently by Ray Kertviel et al

Ed Parson, Geospatial Technologist (‘in-house geographer’ at Google) talked about mapping.

  • Ambient location finding, “the choice to know where we are”.
  • Our children will probably never know what it’s like to be lost. They will take this for granted. It’s no longer a big deal to know where you are.

Jon Udell, evangelist at Microsoft talked about an aggregation tool he’s been building at which shares local communiy events from eventful, upcoming etc, with links back to source.

Tom Steinberg, founder and director of mySociety threw away his talk about MPs expenses last night, and instead talked about new media vs old media: “this new media revolution is not the reolvution you’re looking for”

  • Joke: do you know the difference between the fall of the berlin wall and the twitter revolution in iran? The wall fell.
  • Amazon didn’t change the publishing industry by writing in industry journals about how the publishing industry could be better. It just starting doing things better.
  • What could change politics and society? 1 – the next generation of public servants could refuse to comply with current norms and conventions. 2 – or, radical change in computing which makes it harder to keep secrets. 3 – some sort of law that smuggles new ways of distributing and allocating power
  • Highly usable and simple credit card forms. (how did I buy that book? that was so easy! More people donating to obama because it was easy)

William Perrin, founder, Talk About Local talked about local campaigning using simple (and ‘unfashionable’) publishing tools

  • gets 300 unique visitors per week, but considering it’s intended readership is one small part of london, it has the proportion as a national audience of 1M+. i.e. getting the same audience proportion as Newsnight in his community/ward.
  • Perfectly normal people publishing effectively using unfashionable technologies, which percolate out into wider society. More examples: Sheffield Forum,, Digbeth is Good, Pits ‘n Pots.
  • Funding from C4 to train and support local community networks

Thomas Gensemer, managing partner and founder, Blue State Digital talked about how his agency ran Obama’s digital campaign:

  • How do you know you were effective? Because 80% of donations were raised by the online campaign
  • simplicity of giving, simplicity of volunteering
  • Blue State Digital previously worked on Ken Livingston’s mayoral election, and have worked with various trade unions, but contrary to some press reports, isn’t currently under contract for Labour
  • Ask yourself: if you had 100 of your supporters in the room, what would you ask them to do for you today? If you can’t answer that, forget about twitter, facebook etc
  • faking it is much worse than not doing it. Ted Kennedy isn’t on Twitter but it doesn’t mean he’s absent from online spaces. He participates in ways that are authentic and comfortable for him

Adam Afriyie, shadow minister for science and innovation on the role of technology in democracy, [and was the only speaker to read from a prepared speech]
Adam Afriyie at Activate 09

  • internet empowers citizens, raises expectations and reveals secrets
  • it’s not about whether you’re from the left or right, it’s about whether you ‘get it’ or you don’t
  • we need to meet expectations of transparency and connectedness without compromising privacy and security
  • conservative party has more friends on Facebook than labour and lib dems combined [useful metric?]
  • social media won’t clean up politics on its own.

Tom Watson, former minister for transformation

    Tom Watson at Activate 09

  • only 60% of government statistics are published [I’m not sure if this is a fact, an estimate or a joke]
  • civil servants who want to be on Facebook, Twitter etc at work should be able to be. It’s useful, and it shouldn’t be up to an IT or HR manager.
  • it is ‘totally unacceptable’ for the Ordnance Survey not to provide maps suitable for the digital economy
  • agrees with Adam Arfiyie that adoption and acceptance is a ‘generational issue’

Matt Webb, CEO, Schulze and Webb, as part of a panel, talked about design of digital and physical objects. [I always find Matt to be consistently quotable]

  • when my phone rings, it’s like a baby crying. I want my technology to be gossiping with me. I don’t want my washing machine to be a shitty flat-mate
  • we need to think about inviting products into out lives like inviting friends into our lives. Maybe our digital cameras are nosey. Maybe I have an abusive relationship with my email.
  • our consumption is out of proportion to our creation. This can start with putting on plays for friends and family, and knowing when our friends are around us so we can talk to them. I try to reinforce relationships with friends rather than meet stranger.

Charlie Leadbeater, founder, Participle / author, We Think / fellow, Nesta talked about African education and ‘learning from extremes
Charlie Leadbeater at Activate 09

  • we’ll learn more about the future of education not by going to where schools are, but where they aren’t
  • the biggest challenges will be in developing world cities. Cities with > 1m people, 86 in 1950, 550 in 2015
  • developing world says that Education (+ Technology) = Hope

Sugata Mitra, professor of educational technology, ECLS, Newcastle University talked about his hole in the wall experiments

  • children don’t need to be taught how to use it, or even the language: “you gave us a machine that worked in English, so we taught ourselves English”
  • clustering around a shared computer proves more effective than having a laptop each. Discussion and sharing key to learning. ‘self organised mediation environments’
  • “I’ve put some interesting information which is in English and very hard in the computer. Will you look at it?” 2 months later, they’d looked at it every day, and claimed to have “understood nothing”, but when pressed admitted “apart from the fact that improper replication of the DNA molecule causes genetic disease, we haven’t learnt anything”
  • children’s understanding of their own learning is different from our understanding of their learning

John Van Oudenaren, Director, World Digital Library Initiative, The Library of Congress talked about the World Digital Library though I failed to take more notes than that. The site looks interesting though.

Dr. R.K. Pachauri, chairman, IPCC & director general, TERI talked about the scary reality and significant risks of climate change. [and it turns out that it’s worse than we thought, thanks to James for the link]

  • internet is estimated to represent 5% of world’s total electricity consumption (more than half of which comes from computers). ICT sector contributes 2.5% of greenhouse gases
  • energy efficiency and changes in users’ behaviour can reduce these numbers significantly
  • but ICT can have positive impact: remote sensing, information dissemination, …
  • Ghandi: speed is irrelevant if you’re going in the wrong direction

Bradley Horowitz, vice president of products, Google talked about
Bradley Horowitz at Activate 09

  • Google Apps is ‘NSA’ (Google-speak for ‘not search or ads’)
  • There is no master plan for the internet. It’s made up of billions of contributions. It’s a gestalt. It’s more like an ant colony than anything else
  • Ideas (or ‘memes’) are being selected for in natural selection. Great number of web 2.0 startups have not survived [see Meg’s excellent post which illustrates this]
  • To double your success rate, double your failure rate” – Thomas Watson (IBM founder)
  • The importance of killing projects (the time wasn’t right for Google Lively) and protecting them (Wave team was ‘given free reign to develop a platypus’ outside the normal development constraints)

One of the interesting features of the day was having Twitter on-screen on the stage at various points during the day. Regular readers will know that I’ve long been fascinated by backchannels and how they’re used at live events. The tool the Guardian were using today (developed in-house?) and the way they were using it is probably the most mature and best example of using Twitter at a conference I’ve seen to date, for three reasons.

Firstly, it wasn’t using a totally automatic feed; it allowed for local moderation, i.e. the stream was curated, with spam, off-topic and overly negative or offensive content all weeded out. The aim was to publish everything that enhanced the conversation. Meg Pickard explained the approach: “Curation for public view applies a filter which helps signal v noise” because “open access publishing to public screen is a red rag to plenty of bull“.

Secondly, several Guardian staff were present in the room and on Twitter, informally ‘hosting’ the Twitter discussion by answering questions, re-tweeting key points and generally being interesting and interested participants.

Thirdly, the Twitter stream was not shown on-stage continuously, and was only switched to when the main screen wasn’t in use with another presentation. This worked very well, with the gaps between sessions and the during questions became the obvious and appropriate moments when the comments and observations from Twitter came to the fore for the people without open mobiles or laptops.

Twitter at Activate 09

This meant a totally open back-channel continued as normal on Twitter, while the appropriate stuff was also highlighted for the hallowed ground of the stage at the right times.

I didn’t ask which, if any, of the Guardian staff twitterers were doing it formally, and which were just volunteering and helping out because they were there and it felt like the right thing to do. Perhaps a bit of both? Either way, it all felt pretty natural and was very effective. Meg, Chris, Kevin, Simon (and probably others I’ve missed) were all able to answer questions and either provide or relay additional info from the room (nice example from Simon regarding when the video will be online).

Regardless of whether you think the culling of one particular negative comment was justified and sensible or just an overly knee-jerk and defensive moderation decision, the fact that Chris and Meg were willing and able to join the discussion undoubtedly stopped the issue from escalating and overtaking the backchannel, and I noticed that it was immediately appreciated too.

Overall, the use of Twitter was excellent, and has given me plenty of ideas. Most of all, I’d like their code. :-) Instant update: Chris says they’ll be open sourcing the Twitter code next week. Hurrah. Oh, and says it again in the comments below. Double hurrah.

More links:
Guardian Activate 09 [programme, speakers]
‘#activate09’ Twitter hashtag
‘activate09’ tag on Flickr
‘#activate09’ images via Twitcaps
my photos

Second screen: this works for me

It’s Wednesday, so it’s Apprentice night again. Tonight I’ve been using Visible Tweets on an open laptop next to the TV.

Apprentice - second screen

Ray was complaining about motion-sickness with Twitterfall running in the background. Visible Tweets (thanks to Andy for the tip) is a nice alternative.

Eye-catching, simple and beautiful in full screen mode, it’s less comprehensive than Twitterfall but does show a selection of recent tweets at a pleasing pace. Here how it looks:

Say hello to my little friend

My wife and I bought a (nearly) new car recently.

New car New car New car New car New car New car

It’s a Citroen C1. Citroen says it’ll do 51-72 mpg, which is about 500 miles on one 35 litre (£30) tank. So far, this seems pretty accurate.

It’s cheap to tax, too (£35 this year, which will go down even further next year to just £20).

Its little 3 cylinder, 1 litre engine is quieter and more civilised than I expected. For driving around town, and short journeys to the station, it’s perfect, and even short motorway trips are OK.

Clarkson says

In many ways, it’s the spiritual successor to the old 2CV, that poisonous upturned bathtub favoured by the sort of hippie who’s currently handcuffed to the tow hook of your Land Cruiser.

Rachel owned one of those upturned bathtubs when we first started going out together, and they’ve always had happy memories for both of us.

I like the C1. I like it a lot.

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