Video interview about Olympic IT

BCS interview image

The British Computer Society/Chartered Institute for IT has posted an interview with the Metropolitan Police’s Director of IT, Stephen Whatson, who’s been tasked with the IT infrastructure for the Olympics this year.  Includes some interesting comments about the preparation and decisions made. Video embedded below (Flash player required).


Source: BCS – Video interview: Olympic IT, Apr 2012

Friday fun: TED talk from 2023

TED Talk 2023

Ridley Scott and Damon Lindelof have created a TED Talk of the future, featuring a character from their upcoming movie Prometheus (that may or may not be a prequel to Alien, sure looks like a prequel from the trailer).  You could argue it’s nothing more than advertising to help promote the movie, it could be equally fitting as a promo for The Terminator. But it does demonstrate the power, for good or ill intent, in delivering a strong and well-prepared speech.

Damon Lindelof also did a Q&A blog post discussing the thinking behind the idea

In really, really good science fiction the line between the science and the fiction is blurry.

Prometheus takes place in the future, but it’s a movie about ideas, and I just felt like it would be really cool to have one of the characters from the movie give a TEDTalk.

I can also highly recommend his favourite TED Talks in the article, I think Ken Robinson’s was the first I watched many years ago.

Here’s the TED Talk from the future:

Peter Weyland at TED2023: I will change the world

Link to the related blog post: Writing a TED Talk from the future – Q&A with Damon Lindelof

And link to my favourite TED talk: Ken Robinson ‘Schools kill creativity’ <- quite apt reminder given a new report just out in the UK stressing the need to encourage arts as much as maths and science in schools.

Growing thicker skins

Shut Up!

At the start of the month came the news that a teacher was suspended over comments made on Facebook:

in which she said she felt like a “warden” overseeing “future criminals.”

Now, if you were the parent of a child attending her school, you might not be impressed with the comment. But before storming the school gates, perhaps pause for thought first. Did it warrant a suspension versus a warning about talking shop on Facebook and looking into what caused the comment?

Organisations continue to struggle with social media tools like Facebook and Twitter, whether it is using them as part of work or coping with their use outside of work.

And so do individuals. We are all going to have to develop thicker skins as our lives become increasingly transparent to others and our foibles get exposed to a much bigger audience than ever happened in the past.  But it goes both ways. More fool the HR department that bins a candidate because they did something stupid and posted it online in their youth. They should worry more about those with an opaque history.


The value in honest headlines

Browsing Techmeme today, there were two threaded headlines for a story about AT&T increasing its early termination fees.

Techmeme Headlines

To repeat the two headlines in the image:

  • An Open Letter to our Valued Customers
  • AT&T Hikes Smartphone Early Termination Fees…

Which one do you feel inclined to read first?

For me, an organisation can only use a sentence containing the phrase ‘Our Valued Customers’ when they are giving something back, of value, to said valued customers. On the Social Media Monopoly board, AT&T PR does not get to go past Go or collect £200. A more honest title of ‘Changes to our early termination fees’ would have been much better.

Click Here to view more posts on Social Media

Present to make a difference

I blame Presentation Zen

Lipstick on a pig

…for all the attempts to make bad presentations good by following PZ’s excellent advice. If you attend a conference these days, chances are you’ll see a presentation without any bullet points, or slides containing a full page image and “a single dramatic phrase”. Or no words at all. Or no slides. Nothing wrong with any of those methods, if they help make a difference.

Have you ever watched one of those adverts? The type that are quite mesmerising, with a carefully chosen soundtrack, voice over and visuals? That when you think about them afterwards, you have absolutely no idea what the advert was for? Same principle.

The strength of a presentation always comes down to its message. Visual design can certainly help delivery but is no substitute. And sometimes the simplest of techniques are all that you need:

Hat tip to Presentation Zen for sharing this clip used by the author of Made to Stick. Along with Presentation Zen, they are two well-worn books on my shelf that I highly recommend to anyone wanting to improve a presentation. Just don’t forget the message.

Simple usability

Message to attach a file in Gmail

I’m currently living inside Gmail for all email as a problem with my ISP settings is giving Outlook some headaches and it can’t send/receive email for the moment.

I clicked Send on an email to a client this morning, and up cropped the above message. Yes, I had indeed talked about attaching a file and not actually attached it. Hardly the first time for me 🙂 But that’s the first time an email client has stepped in to help. The feature may have been around for years for all I know, I normally send attachments via Outlook.

Today, by simply having a trigger that checks the content of an an email and if it includes the words ‘find attached’ then the email should also have a file attached, Gmail saved my butt from another ‘Yikes, did I forget to attach the file…?’ moment.

Usability isn’t just about going ‘oo’ and ‘ah’ over a more intuitive interface with touches and swipes or a beautiful design that makes you stop and stare. It’s about technology being a help rather than a hindrance, often in ways you don’t (need to) know about until the right time or situation occurs.

Fierce Conversations

One of my weak spots has always been how to handle difficult conversations. Whilst at Microsoft, there was a great talk titled ‘Fierce Conversations’ that I found to be a real help. It was delivered by Susan Scott and based on her book of the same name. Here’s a short summary of that talk.

3 big ideas:

  • Our lives succeed, or fail, one conversation at a time
  • The conversation is the relationship
  • All conversations are with, and sometimes they involve, other people

When people say ‘don’t take this personally’ what do they really mean? Of course we are going to take it personally, otherwise what’s the point? If you need to have a difficult conversation, (e.g. one that makes you worried enough to start with ‘don’t take this personally’) the first 60 seconds are crucial.

  1. Name the issue (and keep it to one! Shame on you if there’s more than one issue been left too long to fix)
  2. Give one specific example to illustrate the issue
  3. Confess your emotion – shows that you are involved/affected by this issue and hence need to resolve it
  4. Say what you feel is at stake – honestly, no matter how difficult. It gets attention
  5. Confess what part has your DNA on it – what you contributed (or didn’t) to create this issue
  6. Say “I want to resolve this with you/we need to resolve this” – shows you want to move forward together, not point fingers of blame
  7. Invite the person to give their take on the situation – and shut up! Don’t defend or argue, just listen.

Tips on what not to do…

  • Avoid the ‘sugar coated spit ball’ approach where you are supposed to start with something nice before delivering the bad news. People will start putting on the armour whenever you start a conversation with something nice… Nice things should be part of every day conversations, not saved up for when you need to deliver some bad news! Are you paying a sincere compliment, or doing textbook ‘good news – bad news’?
  • Don’t put pillows around the message to avoid hurting feelings (including your own). You can’t avoid emotions so keep them open and the conversation honest
  • And the opposite to the pillows – don’t walk into a room, pull the pin, throw the grenade and exit without pausing to witness the carnage caused. Take responsibility for the emotional wake you leave. (Emotional wake is covered in much more detail in the book, this talk focused on the first 60 seconds)

“Fierce conversations take us to a place where we are moved to act.”


Filed in the library under: Talks

You’ll melt your brain

Another re:post worth sharing. Cultural Offering covers yet another article claiming computers and the Internet are ruining our brains – You’ll melt your brain.

The post includes a couple of great quotes:

“Will Twitter make us communicate in 140 characters or less? Not a bad idea, now that I ponder it”

I’ve written about these concerns before. Baroness Susan Greenfield is particularly vocal about how terrible the Internet is for our brains. See Do Books Matter? and Misleading Analogies. What frustrates me the most is that she is supposed to be a professional academic. Instead of predicting doom and gloom for our brains and spouting off opinions about people who use technology (in a recent interview, she dismissed people who use Twitter as the sort of person who likes to tell their mommy they’ve changed their socks, in an old interview she assumed teenagers flirting over the Internet are averse to human contact “eewww fluids”), come up with some unbiased evidence and fact-based research. In Do Books Matter? I questioned how someone like Baroness Susan Greenfield would have reacted to the invention of writing. Cultural Offering goes one better and comes up with a quote to show this is not the first time in history experts have reacted negatively to new technology:

“…he [Plato] says that if we depend on writing, we will lose the ability to remember”

Click Here to read the full post.


The Simple Stuff of Great Presentations

I don’t often do a direct re:post of another blog, Twitter and Google Reader make it too easy to just share the link. But here’s a great post by Nicholas Bate worth sharing whether you’re on Twitter on not.

It never amazes me how so many presentations fail to meet the bar. The latest classic trap appears to be using stunning graphics without content. A beautiful design makes a good presentation stick in your memory. It does not improve a poor one. With a bad presentation, at most people might remember it had pretty background images.

So here’s some simple tips to deliver a great presentation. It would be rude to re-print the list because there would be nothing left to link to. So here’s the first two tips:

  1. Start on time. Whatever.
  2. Finish on time. Whatever.

Click here to read the rest.

I was only going to print the first tip, but the second is equally important if not more so. If you are not the last presenter of the day it is rude to take up the next person’s time, treating their presentation as less important and less worthy of the audience’s time than yours. And if you are the last presenter of a long day, chances are you’ve lost the audience 30 minutes before the end anyway. Deliver a short compelling speech and allow plenty of time for questions. If still engaged, you’ll finish the day with a great discussion. At the very least, you’ll have a grateful audience leaving on time.

Most people, when forcibly told they have 2 minutes left try speaking really really fast to get through the 20 slides they still want to present. Fail! Nobody will remember a single one of them. (And I confess to making this mistake delivering a TechEd presentation a few years ago, lesson learned via the feedback forms.) If you are running late with your presentation, wrap it up with a short summary rather than rattling off the remaining slides you don’t have time to present properly.