Tag Archives: innovation

Software for musicians – the art of engineering art

“There is no versioning – there is just the now” says Robert Henke; likening the true expression of digital music-making to the elder days of analogue mixing.

As tools and instruments overlap, what does that mean for how we generate music in the digital age using software?

He spoke insightfully, introduced by Gerhard Behles, another of the co-founders of Abelton, who also joined in the question session at the end of Robert’s prepared remarks.

And it was good thought-provoking stuff. But not one single musical example – which no-one seemed to find odd; and no examples of code or approaches to coding; ditto.

And a very interesting way of thinking about the issues – an expression of the psycho-philosophy of making music through coding – the constraints and complexity; inevitable compromises and how to code music without losing the point in the programming and the process.





Reflections on a Penguin Pool

“Data boils off our cities like aether from an alchemist’s still”

So said Matt Webb of BERG at Arup’s “The Penguin Pool”. He caught my attention still further by saying that we need to “treat data like a material” that it’s like wood; it can be made into new forms and transformed into new objects. He lost my attention later with the ‘Little Printer’ – but let’s come to that when we get to it…

I liked what he said about needing to make data more accessible and human; using techniques of presentation and visualisation to aid insight and interpretation; the presentation of complex data sets as human faces with different expressions and characteristics; the projection of a massive CO2 smoke ring as a representation of carbon footprint of a district heat/power scheme in Scandinavia. And the way he and his colleagues seem to be thinking about the issues looks good, the story he tells is engaging and insightful.

Another idea I really like is the BERGCloud – as I understand it, it’s a kind of integration layer between the looming “Cloud” of massive data objects and real things and people. No detail but a great concept.

I can’t avoid talking about the Little Printer. The presentation was so compelling that, when we got to the Little Printer, I just thought – ok, yeah, right. It wasn’t until later that I had second thoughts. It’s a small, cute looking printer that prints out onto a thermal paper roll (like the receipt printers in shops). It connects to the Internet and you can set it to print out reminders, lists, notes and so on. Doesn’t work for me – but hey; let’s assume it’s a demo of what the BERGCloud might be able to do.

Type as object – Arkitypo

The irony of 3D printing technology being used to print out solid versions of classic typefaces will not be lost on you.

It’s the work of Johnson Banks and Ravensbourne and it’s fantastic. Michael Johnson told us the story of how it came about.

What I like about it is the fusion of craft (typeface design) and technology.

And I remember setting type; composing stick, tweezers for fine point type, quoins, forme. And the smell of the ink and the sound when the impression is made.

If you get the chance to go to a ‘Penguin Pool’ – don’t reflect – just dive in!

And here’s an Audioboo made at the time:

TurningPoint Newcastle

INCA Seminar – Models for Next Generation Broadband

In collaboration with NYnet and Manchester Digital Development Agency
Sponsored by Fujitsu Telecom and the Nominet Trust

24th November 2011 Royal York Hotel, Station Parade, York, YO24 1AA

Transformational Digital Infrastructure (“TDI”)

Last week, Shaun Fensom and I went to Birmingham for CBN to talk to Digital Birmingham about NGA strategy and developments in the wider City Region. We realised during a sequence of discussions with regeneration specialists and others that there’s been ‘language capture’ going on. The telecoms industry, in it’s usual way, has used the ‘naming of things’ to confuse the picture. So ‘First Generation Broadband’ aka ADSL was never really ‘broad’, and Next Generation Access is undefined, largely. But we’ve got ‘Superfast Broadband’ now; well, some of us have.  So that’s all right then.

There’s an overfocus on speed. And a lack of visibility of connection quality, the need for symmetry, levels of contention, latency and jitter. In the past, in Regeneration and Planning ‘connectivity’ meant roads, airports and rail. The good news is that there is increasing realisation on a regional and City-regional basis that Digital Connectivity is increasingly important and needs to be planned in; and not left to the industry to not-deliver it.

So we need a new term. and Shaun and I agreed we would blog about it. So here it is. We need “Transformational Digital Infrastructure” – it’s not just about the technology. And it’s not some false polarisation of the “Pipes and/or Poetry” mafia.

It’s a much richer picture of the human and technical networks needed to bring about Digital Britain.

Dystopia, myopia, fatalism?

Can we ‘hack’ our way to Environment 2.0 or are we too Human 1.0 to cope?

Adam Greenfield’s talk at Futuresonic last week was insightful; how cities will look and how we will use them once networked sensors are embedded in pretty much everything, pretty much everywhere.   I liveblogged it using scribblelive here.  You can see the way he developed the argument and the way some of the tweeters to #futr09 reacted.

Photo credit: Aeioux
Photo credit: Aeioux

But what really galvanised the audience and set the tweets flying was an apparently casual remark right at the end of his session in response to questions.  What most of us thought he said was along the lines that sustainability wasn’t possible and we should all just do our best to make whatever time we have left valuable.


This rather punctured the somewhat gung-ho ‘tech can solve it’ bubble blown by Jamais Cascio in his heckled-by-a-drunk-person and subsequently much-blogged opening keynote.  You can see a liveblog by Martin Bryant here which gives you a ‘feel’ for the gala event.  The idea that we can ‘Hack the Earth’ in some massive geo-engineering intervention is a big, scary idea and was presented in a deliberately provocative  way.  It seems to me that we’ve already hacked the poor old Earth about rather a lot.   Tech-driven re-hacking of what is a deeply non-linear system where we’re not too certain we can model next week’s weather carries perhaps a few additional risks.  But rather than get dragged into that, what I really want to focus on was both the reaction to Cascio’s thinking and the much more stunned interpretation of Greenfield’s remarks as being ‘we’re all doomed and there’s no point trying’.

The false poles of optimism and pessimism

We got back to Greenfield’s remarks at the end of Roland Harwood’s session on Deciphering Trust in Networked Innovation where there was some discussion and I raised the issue of ‘the guy from Nokia’ when Adam’s name went right out of my head at the crucial moment (sorry Adam!).  The following extract from the indefatigable Martin Bryant’s liveblog illustrates the point:


And from then on, we ended up labelling those who believe that we can ‘fix it’ with the support of wizzy technology, like Cascio, ‘the optimists’ and anyone holding a negative view, like Greenfield, ‘the pessimists’.  It wasn’t really possible to develop the arguments from then on – the labels stuck and the polarity increased.  Which was inevitable, I suppose, but a shame.

Deal with it ‘in the now’

Greenfield was trying, I think, to make a much more subtle and nuanced point – that feeling we ‘might not make it’ shouldn’t stop us doing the right thing.  That the future vision of the City with its open sensor-based networks and connected people could flip into dystopia.  That ‘optimisim’ could actually be myopia and unwillingness to confront the reality of our situation.  There is much more to this than ‘hacking’ our way into the Earth’s geocode; Cascio points out the risk of hubris in that.  The idea that we have enough control of ourselves, let alone sufficient understanding of the potential system impacts of what we do, to be effective may be an illusion.  So perhaps, the best we can do, is deal with what we can deal with and make sure we keep our values in mind.

The Connected University – Driving Recovery and Growth

“Lord Sainsbury and NESTA are launching a report exploring the vital economic contribution of the UK’s universities today, 30 April 2009.

Lord Sainsbury, Hermann Hauser, co-founder of Amadeus Capital Partners and Michael Kitson, Judge Business School, University of Cambridge will debate the role of Universities in regional economic growth. Jonathan Kestenbaum, NESTA’s Chief Executive will moderate.”

I blogged the event live and my notes are here.

As a summary here is a wordle of my notes:


Three key areas for action

Lord Sainsbury highlighted three important things:

  • Increasing the scope for technical or business Universities to interact and link with SMEs – but not all Universities should have same mission.  Sainsbury argues that there will be a ‘Top 30’ of Universities who do ‘world-class’ research.  Other Universities  should not compete but differentiate themselves. It’s not necessary to ‘create new research’ – but we do need to improve the implementation of existing research.
  • The importance of science and innovation campuses – such as RAL, Daresbury, NIMH in St Pancras. Clusters of real expertise and these places can provide tremendous opportunities but it needs government drive to succeed.
  • FE colleges are important but neglected.  Government and RDAs need to focus on this.  We need a Further Education Innovation fund (like HEIF).

Sainsbury concluded by noting “We can’t predict which sectors new businesses will come from but we can predict that they will come from the high-tech clusters surrounding our Universities.”

Who was there and who wasn’t?

Consideration of the attendees (from the printed guest list) is instructive; representatives from the case studies were there; Cambridge, Southampton, Bristol, Bath, Newcastle, Manchester, Sheffield Hallam, Dundee, Daresbury. And I suppose it would be a bit odd if they weren’t there.  Others: Nottingham, Oxford Brookes, Queen’s Belfast, Wales, Bangor, Imperial, Liverpool Management School, Northumbria, Greenwich, Sussex, Ravensbourne, UCL.  Oxford present through Oxford Innovations.

Various representatives of the societies (Royal Society of Chemistry, the Royal…), RCUK, quangos and consulting odds and sods (like me).  A few venture capitalists.

Interesting to note the Universities not present and also the pattern of other attendees.  I assume (and it seems likely) that the Nesta invitation went out pretty widely.   Nesta has a good approach to openly promoting their events and in my experience, their events are very well run and the quality of speakers and debate is high.  For events of this type, the Nesta CEO, Jonathan Kestenbaum, is very active and visible.

Better Connections between the Universities and the economy is a UK strategic issue

Nesta is right to identify the importance of the connections between the Universities and the economy.  It’s a big issue for the UK and no matter how good we feel we are at it (and I’d say at best it’s patchy) we need to be better.  While there were representatives from HEFCE and DIUS, only 2 RDAs turned up (SEEDA and Advantage West Midlands) and no one from BERR.  No Government Ministers.

There was also much talk of the ‘Top 30’ universities. This seemed to raise a few hackles!  Eric Thomas from Bristol sounded a negative note by indicating that Universities are not ‘recession proof’ – look at what’s happening in the US.  And I think he was right in sounding a cautionary note as I felt that there was too much complacency in the room and too much of an ‘even keel’.

As far as Nesta’s report is concerned – it’s a very valuable contribution and a good source of ‘food for thought’.  But I feel Nesta ‘pulled its punches’.  I think that the evidence in the report could support a much firmer line from Nesta in pushing harder to define what the role of Universities will be in future as part of our economy, as Lord Sainsbury hinted in his remarks.  We are in the NBAU world – there is No Business As Usual and this needs to be true for our Universities just as much as it is for the rest of us.

The World HiTech Forum – Focus India

Inspired by Muhammad Farmer Director of ‘BITE’ (the British Institute of Technology and E-commerce) the forum and took place in London on 8 October 2008.

Shiv Shankar Mukherjee High Commissioner, Republic of India speaking of the role of government said

“The future skilled workforce of the world will be even more Indian than it is today” and called for better collaboration between India and the UK: “The UK is 3 or 4th largest technology provider to India. We need to deepen this collaboration.”

Speaking on ‘The Knowledge Gap’ Prof S Ramachandran, Vice Chancellor of the University of Madras, painted a contrasting picture of highly skilled people and poor people.

“While we produce a large number of graduates – it is the quality we are concerned about.”

He argued that India’s higher education system today does not produce all the skills required at the workplace and spoke frankly of the challenges faced by the Higher Education sector

“About 25% of our technical graduates are regarded as ‘employable’ – and while the others may be well educated, they don’t have the skills needed by the market.”

Here are more detailed notes of the event:

The Role of Government

Shiv Shankar Mukherjee, High Commissioner, Republic of India

Shiv Shankar Mukherjee
Shiv Shankar Mukherjee

India is still experiencing very high rates of growth. The future will be about moving away from the ‘heavy hand of government’ – liberalisation in India is as much about ‘mindset’ as it is about changing government or operational structures especially in innovation.

We all accept that technology change and innovation are key drivers of economic growth. Now we have self-confident global companies but we also have 300m of the world’s poor who need to see that the fruits of globalisation come to them as well. Nehru identified the use of science and technology for growth and this has continued. Diversity in India means we will have to constantly innovate.  Look at Japan and Korea as examples of the benefits of investing in education and technology.

India is emerging as a gobal R&D hub – over the past decade this has accelerated and contributed to economic growth. A large chunk of patents. Our advantage is the availabllity of highly educated english-speaking maths and science graduates.

The sustained growth of 8.6 to 8.8% over the past 5 years is as much about the development of commercialisation and research as it is about liberalisation.

“The future skilled workforce of the world will be even more Indian than it is today”

Skills and education are central – we produce more graduates every year than all of Western Europe combined. But while we have quantity, the quality is not uniform. We accept that this is a big challenge. The Knowledge Commission, which advises the PM, points out that while India has 300 universities, we still need 1,500 more if we are to meet the needs of the future economy. We will need to move very fast to improve provision and ensure quality. Skilled people are what we need and we need to get back to developing that. India is beginning to outsource to Mexico for example.

View from the Conference Centre
View from the Conference Centre

The role of government will continue to be central in terms of the priorities and spend on improving the spread of quality education across the land and to continue to provide the educated people we need. As well as the highly qualified people – we also need the ‘building blocks’ of technical and support workers – this is an area the state has allowed to become moribund.

“UK is 3 or 4th largest technology provider to India.
We need to deepen this collaboration.”

‘The Knowledge Gap’

Professor S Ramachandran – Vice Chancellor – University of Madras

Professor Ramachandran painted a contrasting picture of highly skilled people and poor people. “While we produce a large number of graduates – it is the quality we are concerned about.” India’s higher education system today does not produce all the skills required at the workplace.

“About 25% of our technical graduates are regarded as ‘employable’ – and while the others may be well educated, they don’t have the skills needed by the market.”

“Where we do produce good quality education this is also too expensive. If we want to sustain the growth we are seeing, we need to ensure access to high quality education. There is a potential for a ‘demographic dividend’ as we have large numbers of younger people. We can only turn this into an advantage if we can ensure the quality is good. Teaching quality is also an area for us to focus on. Need to invest more by paying good teachers better. The Knowledge Economy has to be supported by the update of core knowledge and update the curricula. Alongside the hard core of discipline knowledge, we also need to make sure we build on skills.”

A recent jobs fair which 30,000 students attended with 20,000 jobs on offer – yet only 25% of the students ended up in jobs. They lacked the skills needed by business – communications skills, verbal skills and synthesis skills were all lacking. It’s not that the students were poorly educated – they just weren’t what the businesses needed. This was a wake-up call and the University has worked closely with the Indian Confederation of Business to overhaul courses.

By 2010, we will have a shortage of 250,000 skilled graduates. And it’s very hard to find students who want to do a PhD and learn to develop new knowledge. Moral imperative for government to improve access to PhD courses through improved scholarships. Need improved support from Research Councils. While the education system is strong in the country we need to work hard to ‘fine tune’ it to the needs of both the economy and the need to generate new knowledge.

India needs 1,000,000 new teachers by 2010 – 2012.

Q – From the audience “What to do?”

A – Need to turn graduates as ‘job-seekers’ in to graduates as ‘job-providers’ of 5m graduates a year only 1m go into jobs. We need revolutionary reform to boost their confidence and make them more entrepreneurial and get them to generate new businesses and new jobs. Can’t happen overnight – the numbers are large but we need to make progress. The education sector is the most neglected and it’s difficult to attract teachers to teach – they don’t get paid enough. We have vacancies and they are generally applied for by teachers who are not qualified.