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Sharing and commenting on things I see that I find important.


Raspberry Pi Zero unboxing video

1 min read

I found out this morning from people in my super-secret Slack channel that the Raspberry Pi Foundation has launched the Pi Zero. It's a computer that costs just $5. In fact it's so cheap they're giving it away with The MagPi this month!

After going to the gym this morning, I made a beeline to WH Smith and purchased a copy. When I got home I made an 'unboxing' video which, essentially, is me just ripping it off the front of the magazine.

Enjoy! :)


Some thoughts on 'Ex Machina' (2015)

2 min read

SPOILER ALERT: don't read this if you haven't seen the film yet, and intend to.

I've been mearning to watch Ex Machina for a few months now. I don't go to the cinema by myself, so train journeys are usually the only times I get to watch films in which my wife wouldn't be interested.

To be honest, I'm not sure what I was expecting from the film. Probably explosions and special effects. Instead, what I found was a really philosophically-interesting dive into what counts as 'personhood'.

There's so much in the film to discuss. The brilliant creator who has to numb his genius with alcohol. The part where Caleb questions his own humanity and cuts himself. The 'ship of Theseus' moment where Ava reconfigures herself from other AI's body parts.

At the moment I feel like we're at a juncture where we want to collectively show how 'human' we are by expressing emotion. Even interviews with footballers after matches focus on how they feel.

What I thought Ex Machina did really well was show that even an AI that seems to express emotion can still, at its core, be cold and calculating. There's something intensely amoral about Ava and the way she stabs Nathan before escaping. This is framed in the strapline to the film as there being 'nothing more human than the will to survive'.

The audience is left thinking, of course, that there is something very un-human about Ava's lack of empathy for Nathan's death and Caleb's incarceration. We sympathise with her own 'imprisonment' but actions like Ava's are usually reserved for villains.

I'd love to teach a course about what visions of the future can tell us about the present. There's a whole host of movies I'd use to teach philosophical concepts to those arriving blinking (and philosophically incoherent) into adult life.


Notes from a small Mediterranean island

4 min read

I'm writing this from San Lawrenz in Gozo. It's perhaps the best place of which you've never heard. While it's getting towards thick coat weather back home in Northumberland, out here it's well over 20°C every day. In fact, right now I'm under a parasol to prevent my skin getting burned.

Last year, in early 2014 while I still worked for Mozilla, we had planned to relocate here for six months. It didn't work out in the end and we've since moved on - both literally and figuratively. It remains my second favourite part of the world (albeit of the parts I've visited so far).

Heading on holiday with your family is different from going on holiday with your wife. Last time, we were here for a long weekend to find a suitable house to rent and to figure out things like schools, tax, and transport. The children stayed back in England with my parents. Around the logistical stuff we spent time talking, drinking coffee and eating cake.

This time each day is simultaneously more relaxed and more structured. You have to be when looking after kids. Have they got enough sun cream on? How much sugar have they had today? When was the last time they had a drink of water? There's always an element of lazing around the pool, but even that is tempered with a vigilance to ensure they don't drown on your watch.

One of the most insidious things to happen to the family holidays over the last 10 years is always-on email. As this quotation from Bill Murray (found via Patrick Rhone) points out, holidays are for things outside of your usual routine:

“Everyone needs to take a vacation from the sort of automatic things you do, you know. The automatic things you do are basically those things that keep you from doing the better things you need to do.” (Bill Murray)

This holiday in been climbing rocks with my son, playing cars with my daughter, and playing cards with my wife. While they're not spectacularly 'different' things, they're qualitatively different from the automatic stuff I do at home.

It could be argued that typing this with my thumbs while my kids play in the pool (supervised by my wife) constitutes an 'automatic thing' I ordinarily do. Maybe so. But writing and reflecting is a useful creative act. It's not checking my Twitter feed, Medium stats, or interacting via Slack. In fact, I've removed those three apps from my iPad Mini while I'm here.

Instead of deciding not to pack any electronic devices, the difference here is one of emphasis. My focus is on researching places we might visit (using the Web), sharing what we're up to with family (Path), and playing the occasional asynchronous game with my wife (Words With Friends). 

I'm not checking any email while I'm here. The accounts have 'out of office' auto-responders turned on, and I've deactivated them in the settings on all devices. Being on holiday is as much about mindset as it is about location.

I very much enjoy reading but it takes a while for me to unwind enough to enjoy the kind of books I really enjoy reading. Right now, about half-way through our holiday, I've reached the second level of holiday relaxation. There's at least one more level, but that (in my experience) requires at last two weeks away in a tent. The first level, of course, is waking up in a bed other than your own after successfully negotiating the travel from your home to your destination.

When I'm at the second and third levels of relaxation I read philosophy. Or, at least, works that could be considered 'philosophical'. This time I'm diving, somewhat arbitrarily, into Simone de Beauvoir's work, 'The Ethics of Ambiguity'. I, fascinated by the topic, and it is, in fact, the subject of a paper I wrote with my thesis supervisor a few years ago, and a chapter in my book-of-the-thesis. 

Every time I'm away from home for pleasure rather than business I think about the serendipity, random left-turns, and seeming acts of fate that brought me to this point. I'm satisfied with my life and am perhaps happier than I have ever been up to this point. Neverthreless, these days I'm worldly-wise enough to 'make hay while the sun shines' - financially, physically, and emotionally.

Right, I'd better go. My kids are asking me to join them in the pool. While I enjoy writing for public consumption, there's no comparison when it comes to the joy they bring me!


17 rummage box links

2 min read

Image CC BY-NC-SA Michael Coghlan

I’m going on holiday tomorrow. So, other than trying to cram these links into the TIDE podcast episode I’m recording with guest co-host Oliver Quinlan tonight, I can’t do anything with them in the near future.

Instead, I'll dump them here. Consider it akin to a 'rummage box' at your favourite bookstore, but one in which you're guaranteed to find a diamond in the rough. They're in no particular order:

  1. Write like you talk
  2. How Salad Can Make Us Fat
  3. Why I Ditched Evernote for Apple Notes—and How You Can, Too
  4. Samsung has created a new flexible battery that can make your smartwatch last longer
  5. This Is the Battle Over Policing the Deep Web
  6. Superfeedr
  7. Drake Disco
  8. Introducing Twitter Polls
  9. Amazon’s $50 Fire tablet reviewed: Surprisingly, it doesn’t suck
  10. Austerity was a political choice. Now it’s starting to look like a bad one
  11. The 50 Most Popular MOOCs of All Time
  12. 'They show up every day and do the work'
  13. Facebook Meets Skepticism in Bid to Expand Internet in India
  14. Comprehensive school system 'better and fairer'
  15. Our Skin Is Covered With Invisible Stripes
  16. The World’s Most Beautiful Library Is In Prague, Czech Republic
  17. Alternate Realities

Hope you found something you liked! :)

Image adapted from an original CC BY-NC-SA Michael Coghlan


Edit your damn profile

1 min read

Medium is the latest (kind-of) social network that people are joining en-masse. So every day I wake up to notifications that people have started following me. Great!

The question I then face is who should I follow back? Sometimes it's easy because I know the person who's followed me — either offline from events, online through other social networks, or both.

But if I don't know someone, all I've got to go off is their profile. I don't particularly care what people look like or what their name is. What I'm really interested in is what they do. How would following them add value to my life?

If you sign into Medium using Twitter, it pulls in your bio from there. I'm not sure about Facebook. Either way, you should ensure you have a short description of who you are and what you do.

Otherwise, what context is there for people making a decision as to whether you're worth following?

Here's what to do. It's easy:

Edit your damn profile

There you go. Now you have no excuse. Get on it! :)


Perhaps I'm getting old, but...

2 min read

rise and shine

I turn 35 soon. My wife, a full nine weeks older than me, has already reached that exact mid-point of her thirties.

This is the first birthday I'll approach feeling the same age as my chronological years. Up to this point, I've always felt slightly older than I look. Now, with greying hair but a leaner, fitter body than I've had in a while, 35 feels about right.

My daughter is four. She's just started school properly. At that age, things are experienced on a much more visceral level. Building work on our house has meant us spening the last few weeks staying at my parents' house. Now the work is nearing completion she'll stop sharing a bedroom with her brother and move into a room of her own. 

To cope with all these changes in her life, she's taken to carrying a toy dog around with her everywhere. The dog, of course, is a kind of comfort blanket. But it's got me thinking. As adults, we too have connections and comforts that can soothe us. A great example of this for me is music. Like many people, I find certain songs have a huge emotional resonance, while others evoke a very definite sense of place.

Instead of stumbling upon these touchstones, I’ve begun to actively seek them out. For example, I’ve read how some people my age have found tea rituals helpful. I experimented by investing in a glass teapot. Now, I’ve built into my day watching jasmine pearls and chamomile flowers unfurl. It’s wonderfully relaxing.

My aim with seeking out rituals and routines is to build a centredness, a stillness in my soul that allows me to be the best, most authentic version of myself. It also increases my overall capacity to get things done. As I've grown older, I've found that the biggest impediment to success is less to do with talent, and more to do with emotion.

Image CC BY-NC-SA Chau Tu


Micro-learning? You mean the stuff that it's easiest to automate.

1 min read

I saw these tweets within five minutes of each other this morning:

The top tweet links to an article by the entrepreneur behind an edtech startup. The bottom one is by my mate Dave Stacey, an educator.

In the article the entrepreneur defines what his start-up is focusing on in the following way:

Micro-learning is learning in short, focused bursts of information. For example, a typical micro-learning activity could be viewing a flashcard, memorizing a word, listening to a short podcast, watching a brief video or answering a series of questions in a quiz.

That's great, but it's just the easy, low-hanging fruit. Let's call it what it is: the stuff easiest to automate. Hardly revolutionary.

Edtech can do better.


Open badges are not open if they're kept in silos

1 min read

Today, in the Open Badges Google Group:

Today I received a badge from Oracle via Acclaim (Pearson). My understanding of an "open badge" is that it is transportable, yet I am having trouble taking my badge with me - right now it seems my only option is to display it on Acclaim's website. Has anyone else had experience with Acclaim?

And so it begins...


Working across the Hype Cycle

1 min read

Gartner Hype Cycle

The chances are that, if you're reading this, you're familiar with Gartner's Hype Cycle. It's a way of "representing the maturity, adoption and social application of specific technologies." It is, of course, what I'd call a 'convenient fiction' in that it approximates how technologies are adopted, but should be placed in the same category as long-range weather forecasts.

Gartner Hype Cycle (detailed)

Recently, I've been thinking about my working habits and how I get frustrated by either dealing with cutting-edge stuff or less interesting mainstream stuff. Perhaps one approach would be to try and spread my work across the Hype Cycle. This would mean for some work I'd be working near the 'Technology Trigger' part of the Hype Cycle, whereas for other I might be working in the Trough of Disillusionment.

So long as everything I'm focusing on is mission-based, there's no reason why working across the Hype Cycle wouldn't be an interesting challenge. It's certainly something to think more about.

Oh, and for those interested, according to Gartner, 'open micro credentials' is right at the top of 'Peak of Inflated Expectations'... ;)


Popcorn Time for Android TV (pre-release)

Just a quick one to say that there's an upcoming version of Popcorn Time for Android TV that works pretty flawlessly and which you can grab here. If, like me, you've got a Nvidia Shield TV, you want the link that contains arm64 in the filename.

It's a pretty stellar piece of work. Not only does Popcorn Time show up in the main menu (rather than via Sideload Launcher) but it integrates at a system level, replacing the Google Movies & TV recommendations (which are, frankly, rubbish).