"The secret to your success is found in your daily routine."

(John C. Maxwell)

The many uses of autonomous vehicles

While I’m not a futurist, I am interested in predictions about the future that I didn’t expect… but, on reflection, are entirely obvious. I’m quite looking forward to (well-regulated, co-operatively owned) autonomous vehicles. I think there’s revolutionise life for the very young and very old in particular.

What I hadn’t thought about, but which a new report certainly has considered, is all of the other uses for self-driving cars:

“One of the starting points was that AVs will provide new forms of competition for hotels and restaurants. People will be sleeping in their vehicles, which has implications for roadside hotels. And people may be eating in vehicles that function as restaurant pods,” says Scott Cohen, deputy director of research of the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at the University of Surrey in the U.K., who led the study. “That led us to think, besides sleeping, what other things will people do in cars when free from the task of driving? And you can see that in the long association of automobiles and sex that’s represented in just about every coming-of-age movie. It’s not a big leap.”

I remember talking to one taxi driver who said that he drove former footballer Alan Shearer back home to the North East from the Match of the Day studio in London. Shearer would travel overnight and sleep in the cab so that he was home for Sunday breakfast with his family. Of course, with autonomous vehicles designed for that kind of thing (and, erm, others) that would be much more comfortable.

Source: Fast Company


Image CC BY-SA Florian K

Open source is as much about culture as it is about code

The talented Abby Cabunoc Mayes, who I worked with when I was at the Mozilla Foundation (and who I caught up with briefly at MozFest), was interviewed recently by TechRepublic. I like the way she frames the Open Source movement:

I like to think the movement really came together with The Cathedral and the Bazaar, an essay by Eric Raymond. And he compared the two ideas. There’s the cathedral, or free software, where a small group of people are putting together a big cathedral that anyone can come to, and attend a service or whatever. He compared that to a bazaar, where everyone is co-creating. There’s no real structure, you can set up a table wherever you want. You can haggle with other people. So open source, he really compared that to the Linux foundation at the time, where he was seeing so much delegation, so many people taking on tasks that would have been closed, in the cathedral model. So that idea that anyone can get involved, and anyone can participate, is really that key. Rather than just giving away something for free.

If you do an image search for Eric Raymond, you’ll find some of him holding guns, as he’s an enthusiast. I don’t like guns, nor do many people, but I’d like to think we can separate someone’s ideas about organising from their thoughts in a different area. I know some would beg to differ.

The interviewer goes on to ask Abby what the advantages of working openly are:

There’s a lot more buy-in from people. And having this distributed model, where anyone can take a part of this, and anyone can be involved in running the project, really helps keep the power not centralized, but really distributed. And so, you can see what’s happening to your data. So there’s a lot of advantages that way, and a lot more trust with the population. And I think this is where innovation happens. When everyone can be a part of something, and where everyone can submit the best ideas. And I think we saw that in the scientific revolution, when the academic journals started. And people were publishing their research, and then letting other people use that and build upon that and discover more things. We saw the same thing happen with open source. Where you can really take this and use and do whatever you want with it.

I think it’s important to keep linking and talking about this kind of stuff. Unfortunately, I feel like our cultural default is to try and take all the credit and work in silos.

Source: TechRepublic

What are ‘internet-era ways of working’?

Tom Loosemore, formerly of the UK Government Digital Service (GDS) and Co-op Digital has founded a new organisation that advises governments large public organisations.

That organisation, Public.digital, has defined ‘internet era ways of working’ which, as you’d expect, are fascinating:

  1. Design for user needs, not organisational convenience
  2. Test your riskiest assumptions with actual users
  3. The unit of delivery is the empowered, multidisciplinary team
  4. Do the hard work to make things simple
  5. Staying secure means building for resilience
  6. Recognise the duty of care you have to users, and to the data you hold about them
  7. Start small and optimise for iteration. Iterate, increment and repeat
  8. Make things open; it makes things better
  9. Fund product teams, not projects
  10. Display a bias towards small pieces of technology, loosely joined
  11. Treat data as infrastructure
  12. Digital is not just the online channel

There’s a wealth of information underneath each of these, but I feel like just these top-level points should be put on a good-looking poster in (home) offices everywhere!

The only things I’d add from work smaller, but similar work I’ve done around this are:

  • Make your teams and organisation as diverse as possible
  • Ensure that your data is legible by both humans and machines

But I’m nitpicking. This is great stuff.

Source: Public.digital

Is UBI ‘hush money’?

Over the last few years, I’ve been quietly optimistic about Universal Basic Income, or ‘UBI’. It’s an approach that seems to have broad support across the political spectrum, although obviously for different reasons.

A basic income, also called basic income guarantee, universal basic income (UBI), basic living stipend (BLS), or universal demogrant, is a type of program in which citizens (or permanent residents) of a country may receive a regular sum of money from a source such as the government. A pure or unconditional basic income has no means test, but unlike Social Security in the United States it is distributed automatically to all citizens without a requirement to notify changes in the citizen’s financial status. Basic income can be implemented nationally, regionally or locally. (Wikipedia)

Someone who’s thinking I hugely respect, Douglas Rushkoff, thinks that UBI is a ‘scam’:

The policy was once thought of as a way of taking extreme poverty off the table. In this new incarnation, however, it merely serves as a way to keep the wealthiest people (and their loyal vassals, the software developers) entrenched at the very top of the economic operating system. Because of course, the cash doled out to citizens by the government will inevitably flow to them.

Think of it: The government prints more money or perhaps — god forbid — it taxes some corporate profits, then it showers the cash down on the people so they can continue to spend. As a result, more and more capital accumulates at the top. And with that capital comes more power to dictate the terms governing human existence.

I have to agree with Rushkoff when he talks about UBI leading to more passivity and consumption rather than action and ownership:

Meanwhile, UBI also obviates the need for people to consider true alternatives to living lives as passive consumers. Solutions like platform cooperatives, alternative currencies, favor banks, or employee-owned businesses, which actually threaten the status quo under which extractive monopolies have thrived, will seem unnecessary. Why bother signing up for the revolution if our bellies are full? Or just full enough?

Under the guise of compassion, UBI really just turns us from stakeholders or even citizens to mere consumers. Once the ability to create or exchange value is stripped from us, all we can do with every consumptive act is deliver more power to people who can finally, without any exaggeration, be called our corporate overlords.

Rushkoff calls UBI ‘hush money’, a method for keeping the masses quiet while those at the top become ever more wealthy. Unfortunately, we live in the world of the purist, where no action is good enough or pure enough in its intent. I agree with Rushkoff that we need more worker ownership of organisations, but I appreciate Noam Chomsky’s view of change: you don’t ignore an incremental improvement in people’s lives, just because you’re hoping for a much bigger one round the corner.

Source: Douglas Rushkoff

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"One cannot in the nature of things expect a little tree that has been turned into a club to put forth leaves." (Martin Buber)

Identity is a pattern in time

When I was an undergraduate at Sheffield University, one of my Philosophy modules (quite appropriately) blew my mind. Entitled Mind, Brain and Personal Identity, it’s still being taught there, almost 20 years later.

One of the reasons for studying Philosophy is that it challenges your assumptions about the world as well as the ‘cultural programming’ of how you happened to be brought up. This particular module challenged my beliefs around a person being a single, contiguous being from birth to death.

That’s why I found this article by Esko Kilpi about workplace culture and identity particularly interesting:

There are two distinctly different approaches to understanding the individual and the social. Mainstream thinking sees the social as a community, on a different level from the individuals who form it. The social is separate from the individuals. “I” and “we” are separate things and can be understood separately.

Although he doesn’t mention it, Kilpi is actually invoking the African philosophy of Ubuntu here.

Ubuntu (Zulu pronunciation: [ùɓúntʼù]) is a Nguni Bantu term meaning “humanity”. It is often translated as “I am because we are,” and also “humanity towards others”, but is often used in a more philosophical sense to mean “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity”.

Instead of seeing the individual as “silent and private” and social interaction as “vocal and more public”, individuals are “thoroughly social”:

In this way of thinking, we leave behind the western notion of the self-governing, independent individual for a different notion, of interdependent people whose identities are established in interaction with each other. From this perspective, individual change cannot be separated from changes in the groups to which an individual belongs. And changes in the groups don’t take place without the individuals changing. We form our groups and our followerships and they form us at the same time, all the time.

This is why I believe in open licensing, open source, and working as openly as possible. It maximises social relationships, and helps foster individual development within those groups.

Source: Esko Kilpi

An app to close down your workday effectively

In Cal Newport’s book Deep Work, he talks about the importance of closing down your working day properly, so you can enjoy leisure time. Ovidiu Cherecheș, a developer, has built an web application called Jobs Done! to help with that:

This app is built on Cal Newport’s shutdown ritual concept from his book Deep Work.

The need for a shutdown ritual comes from the following (oversimplified) reasoning:

  1. Deep focus is invaluable for producing great work
  2. We can only sustain deep focus for a limited amount of hours per day
  3. To be able to focus deeply consistently our mind requires rest (ie. complete disconnect from work) between working sessions

It makes sense to me. So here’s how this app works:

You decide it’s time to call it a day.

You are guided through a set of (customizable) steps meant to relieve your mind from work-related thoughts. This often involves formalizing thoughts into tasks and creating a plan for tomorrow. Each step can have one more external links attached.

Then you say a “set phrase” out loud. This step is personal so choose a set phrase you resonate with. Verbalizing your set phrase “provides a simple cue to your mind that it’s safe to release work-related thoughts for the rest of the day.”

Finally, you’re presented an array of (customizable) pastime activities you could do to disconnect.

I think this is one of those things you use to get into the habit, and then you probably don’t need after that. Worth trying!

Source: Web app / Code

"Millions long for immortality who don't know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon."

(Susan Ertz)