Thanks to the giants upon whose shoulders I stood

Once upon a time (1966 was the first time), I'd learn a programming language and then apply this knowledge to whatever problems were chucked my way. As I've got older, I decide what I want, then go online for help in doing it. Okay, it doesn't make me a professional coder but I learn plenty along the way and end up with a website that I'm in charge of and can change at the drop of a hat.

Without Google and the World Wide Web, Lord knows what I'd have done. But, thanks to them and all the places they led me to, I have a site which, while falling short of elegant, does what I want. More importantly, I hope it gives its visitors an enjoyable and useful experience.

This post isn't about the website, although you may need to know that it's epocselet.com in order to understand some of the comments below. This post is about recognition of all those people and places I discovered on my journey. Without their help, I would still be trying to learn JavaScript or PHP from scratch.

Here they are, in order of the number of hits I recorded in my Firefox History file. First the top ten (the first three were on tap continuously):

Hits

??? Microsoft ExpressionWeb4 was an invaluable website development environment.

??? W3C's Markup Validation Service. As the name suggests, it checks the validity of web pages.

??? Firefox Web Developer tools – especially Web console and Debugger.

230 stackoverflow A marvellous forum which covered pretty much everything, including PHP, JavaScript, HTML5 canvas and colour drop-down menus.

131 w3schools.com An online reference manual which I referred to for JavaScript, HTML5 Canvas, HTML colours, JS programming tips/demos and string parsing.

101 JQuery Radar Plus Mehdi Tazi adapted Ryan Allred's Radar Chart. I adapted Mehdi's. Figuring out how it worked was like solving a giant puzzle.

 55 The PHP Manual and source of everything.

 51 Radar Chart JQuery Plugin Ryan Allred's original code.

 29 Plusnet's 'friendly' area. I used it for CGI and PHP hosting stuff.

 28 SitePoint is a great source of web-building help. I used it for Canvas, HTML5. PHP, JavaScript, Radio button array and 960 grid stuff.

 

Now for the rest of the top 20. They may be lower in hit count but they were no less valuable – a single hit would often point me in the right direction:

19 Mario Lurig's PHP code checker came in handy when the PHP would stall.

 7 Maths Is Fun took me back to schooldays to remind me about radians, sines and cosine. I could remember 'sohcahtoa' but couldn't remember what practical use to put it to.

 6 tuts+ explained the 960 grid system, but also explained other things, including HTML Forms.

 5 The jquery learning center does what it says on the tin. I used it as a reference for scopes, arrays and operators.

 5 960 grid system. I found the 960 24 grid system perfect for laying out the web pages (and, often, changing them quickly.)

 4 A simple guide to HTML came in handy for checking how to include JavaScript in HTML.

 4 Six Revisions is a website hints and tips site. I used it to read about the 960-grid-system and HTML5's canvas (on which the charts appear).

 4 Chris Pietschmann kindly explained how to colour dropdown items in an HTML form.

 3 Chris Wiegman showed how to dig out the correct IP address for a visitor. (If you're with a hosting organisation, you're still fairly anonymous though.)

 2 Home & Learn helped me a lot with understanding how to work with the HTML5 canvas.

 

Other honourable mentions should go to:

Google Analytics – which keeps an eye on visitor behaviour.

The many people who looked and commented as we went through. I guess some would prefer not to be named, but you'll know if you were one of them. A big thank you to you. I learnt something new from every single discussion.

Finally, my partners in crime Dr. Bill Nichols and Martin Banks.

It's been a blast. It made me remember why I loved programming. But also taught me that I could never make a living at it these days.

Thank you all for five very interesting months.

A quickie on Python

Python logoCall me mad, but I've been learning the Python programming language.I needed a quick way to modernise masses of old HTML documents.

In the end, I decided it was quicker to use TextPad's powerful facilities to do that job, rather than learn a new language to do it. However, by then I had seen that Python would be a great way to write a pilot of a new program.

Thinking that I should get the newest and shiniest version, I installed 3.4 and, with the help of the online Python Tutorial and Michael Dawson's Python Programming book, started to crank out some useful little programs.

All very well, but then I realised that I could shortcut a lot of tedious work by using some cloud-based information but discovered from programmers and the cloud host's technical info' that they still prefer Python version 2. Grrrr.

Moral: do a bit more digging before taking the plunge. Version 3 may be the future, but version 2 is definitely the present as far as integration is concerned.

I'm now mugging up on the differences between 3 and 2. Oh well.

Silo (or Solo) – Collaboration – Social

I've lost count of how many years I've been dipping my toe into the collaboration waters. Certainly, it goes back at least to Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) thirty years ago. By 1988 this was formalised into a time/space grid, so that you had remote/colocated on one axis and synchronous/asynchronous on the other. Not a bad way to characterise many of the collaboration and social tools that abound today.

I mention all this because Agile Elephant's David Terrar invited me to a Future of Collaboration Conference triggered, in part, by the opportunities created by the convergence of cloud, social and mobile technologies. (To my mind, this equates to a transformation in reach and convenience.) Each speaker had ten minutes or so to share their vision. This was followed by a Q&A session and networking. The audience was also made up of industry people, so I expected the bullshit factor to be low. And it was.

Given my background, I wondered what I would learn. Let me list the participants and their roles, and then I'll tell you what I ended up thinking. I'll spare you the blow-by-blow details.

David Terrar chaired the event.

Speakers:

Jon Mell, Social Leader, IBM UK
Alan Patrick, Agile Elephant
David Moore, SAP
Simon Levene, Jive
Janet Parkinson, Agile Elephant
Chris Boorman, Huddle

Questioners (apart from David Terrar and me):

Phil Wainewright, Diginomica
Lucinda Carney, AdvanceChange

Baker Tilly, chartered accountants and business advisers, provided the accommodation and refreshments. (Lovely, thank you).

The first thing I noticed was the lack of evangelism, thank goodness. Quite often you turn up at these events and they're more like a religious revival meeting than a pragmatic look at business needs and applications. Okay – one chap said work should be fun, but he got a slight ribbing for that from some of the others. Work could become pleasant, fulfilling or rewarding maybe, but not fun. God forbid. (Mind you I quite often have fun when running training workshops, so I have some sympathy with his point of view.)

While 'email' and 'social' can be good in the right context, neither is much cop as a sole collaboration strategy. In fact two people branded email 'the enemy' of collaboration and another branded social on its own as 'a waste of time'.

Previous events have banged on about the need to change a company's culture or boasted of coming 'disruption'. Utterly unhelpful. This isn't how stuff gets done. Far better to introduce collaboration tools which fit business needs and, if possible, integrate it with what exists. Do this in a few key areas (with board level support, of course) and things start to catch on as others see (or are told about) the business benefits of these new ways of working.

Social – people communicating openly and freely (with business intent, of course) – isn't going to happen without trust and that doesn't come without knowing each other (usually through at least one face-to-face meeting, but relationships can form through voice, video and even, dare I say, email).

As collaboration, then social, activity spreads vertically and horizontally through an organisation, culture change will follow. When it extends beyond the company boundaries to partners and customers, it will alter the way the organisation listens, responds and collaborates. Silos will be breached and individuals will become more aligned and harmonised with business drivers.

Everyone – the company, the workforce, partners, customers and prospects will benefit. That's the promise. And it sounds good to me.

And now I'd better go, before I'm accused of being an evangelist.

Crowd-sourced elearning from mylearningworx

Do you have expertise and passion in a subject? Would you like to share it with the world? For free or for money?

mylearningworx officially launched itself yesterday. The event was marked by an e-learning workshop for the many friends of the company and the beta testers. You can read about it in Kate Graham's blog post.

Now you can see what my last post was about. One of the people behind the company was my publisher at Information World Review. Knowing my penchant for software and training, he asked if I'd like to give the system a whirl. That's how I came to make Tebbo's Kick Ass Writing Class.

Like many SaaS systems, this one is under continuous improvement. It's finished enough to enable people to upload pre-recorded courses. You'll find quite a few on the website ranging from free (like mine) to £50. Low prices should mean plenty of customers. Revenue is split in favour of the author. Free courses are an ideal way to establish the author's credentials.

The site lists all the courses. You can scroll through them, search them or see them by category. Authors can assign courses to multiple relevant categories to maximise the chance of them being found.

The people behind mylearningworx expect e-learning professionals to adopt this platform for hosting their private and public offerings, quite apart from the hoi polloi like me who'd just like to share a bit of useful knowledge with the world. (Although I'm being encouraged to do something more substantial.) They have plans to expand to Australia and have Spanish, German and French versions too.

I think that's probably enough from me. Except to say that I like what I see, I know it's not perfect, but they are listening to (and acting on) feedback from their growing community. If you're at all interested in this sort of thing, mylearningworx is certainly worth a look.

 

Why this blog has gone quiet

In December 2010, I wrote a blog post called "The Last Post?". Since then, I've been so busy helping two start-ups, that I barely lift my head above the parapet for my own social media. But I do blog, Tweet and post to Facebook occasionally, if I feel something is worth sharing.

The two startups are Blue & Green Tomorrow, which started life as a "Use your money to make the world a better place" magazine and 6Connex emea which provides a virtual conference, exhibition, meeting, training and collaboration service.

The first kept me busy as launch editor from July 2010 to May 2011 and I joined the second in June 2011.

Blue & Green Tomorrow continues as an online publication under the same publisher, but with a new team, while 6Connex emea will make its official debut in January 2012. (The team has been working with customers and prospects 'under the radar' since it was formed in 2010 as Big Ideas Inc.)

So there you are, if you've come to my blog expecting frequent and interesting new posts, I'm afraid that's not going to happen. But if you subscribe to the RSS feed, then if I do burst into print on my own account, you'll be the first to hear about it.

Update (24/12/2015): I’ve moved the blog off Typepad to here.

Thank you for reading this far.

David

An evening with PR/Marketing Guru, Larry Weber

Back in May, I trotted off to meet with marketing/PR guru, Larry Weber and a bunch of other interesting people, including Jack Schofield (IT man at the Guardian for donkey's years and erstwhile competitor – we both edited PC magazines in the early eighties) and Bill Nichols an academic and marcomms/reputation consultant who, when Jack and I were competing, was Clive Sinclair's PR man. They were both on the speaker panel with Larry. The other notable people were in the lively audience.

The occasion was the UK launch of Larry's (then) most recent book: Everywhere. It's about social networking being at the heart of the future of business. He calls this 'anytime, anywhere' access the the fourth wave of computing. (I ought to know what the three earlier waves were, but I've forgotten. Maybe it was brains, internal networking and internet, or something.)

No surprises so far then. But I don't think Larry set out to surprise us particularly. More that he wants to share his familiarity with the subject matter in a non-frightening manner. After all, the people who really need his insights are those who are probably the most fearful of openness, transparency and genuine dialogue. You might think of them as the 'command and contol' brigade. While this has its place, it's probably not where the rubber of the corporation hits the road of the marketplace.

Sorry, I should be talking about Larry's evening. (And, if you're wondering why it's taken me so long, it's because I was suddenly pitchforked into a new company and I've been more than a tad busy. My conscience was pricked by a Facebook post about his recent presentation to the Public Relations Student Society of America. The headline of the post was "Social media's impact bigger than television's.")

At his book launch, he predicted that, by 2015, "you'll be hard pressed to find any newspapers or nightly news on TV." He says, "TV ads have got to die sometime." He may not always provide answers but he knows how to provoke fresh thinking. Let's hope the revenue replacement doesn't put the TV companies even deeper in hock to corporate sponsors.

With regard to the Fourth Generation thing, he told the story of how he sent off for brochures from all the prospective colleges for his daughter. She didn't look at one  of them. She'd already done her research online. Except she didn't refer to it as online. When Larry once said to her, "I'm going online", she replied "Oh Dad, we don't go online any more. We just are." Online, that is. And a lot of people reading this will know what she means. If you're not one of them, then it's likely that his book will interest you.

Another thing he talked about was Innocentive. Companies give it problems and money and it gets its community of 'solvers' to apply their brains. Larry gave examples of $100,000 here and $25,000 there. It's all online (of course). And the winning contributor exchanges their IP for the cash. That's a great commercial application of crowdsourcing. Related to this were his comments on how social networking allows for the intense, focused, sharing of knowledge. I think his book goes further and talks of micro-segmentation of the internet so that you can find a community and go deep into just about any subject that interests you.

He is very clear that successful companies (especially consumer-facing) will have to become radically transparent, be willing to share and also to stand for something that will resonate with customers and prospects. Core values that permeate the company's business. Larry doesn't claim it will be easy, but he sprinkles his conversation with stories old and new of how companies have turned on the proverbial dime. Dell, of course. BP to a certain extent. And so on.

I was quite taken with the idea that, "big sites will die under their own weight." He said this because he believes that all the power is now in the network. Not sure that a behemoth like IBM would totally agree with this sentiment, despite its strong advocacy of social networking values. With statements like this, the evangelist in Larry seems to pop out of the closet. (My views of evangelists are here.)

Let's turn to one of the other speakers, Bill Nichols. He scored a hole in one for me with his observation that "People respond to emotion and fairness."

I have the sense that the former has been faked and the latter missing for a long time.

If Larry and Bill are right, we would seem to be heading towards a better and much more harmonious world.

Let's hope so.

Track what’s important with paper.li

To my (slight) shame, I periodically purge the list of people I follow on Twitter. I simply don't have the time to read the minutiae of some of their lives, despite the fact they occasionally come up with worthwhile gems.

Now, I've discovered a way of getting the best of both worlds: I can keep up with the more interesting/useful Tweets from whoever I like while keeping down the number of people I follow in Twitter itself.

So, three cheers for paper.li – a free service that builds online daily newspapers: from a Twitter user and the people they follow; from a twitter list; or from a hashtag. It looks for Tweets that contain links and publishes an extract from the destination, crediting the Tweeter at the foot of the piece. You can click the headline to go to the original article/site

Paper.li earns its money from small display ads dropped into your newspaper.

Paperli

'envirolist' is my Twitter list of people who specialise in environmental and ethical stuff.

You probably can't see the detail in the above picture, but it has a 'trending topics' cloud and a live Tweet stream from the people in the list over on the right.

I currently have two papers running and I can create a further eight. My two are paper.li/tebbo and the one above, paper.li/tebbo/envirolist.

As a quick way to catch up on what's going on, paper.li is a corker. It requires minimal effort to set up a paper and it will even announce each new edition to your Twitter followers if you want, complete with the inclusion of some contributors' names.

Envirolisttweet

[Update Sept 7: I switched the notification off two days ago. While no-one had complained to me, paper.li updates were beginning to annoy some Twitter users. This could only get worse as the service became more popular. Today, the company has changed the notification to top story only and it has dropped name plugs. It helps, but if anyone wants to follow my papers, the links are in my Twitter bio. I'm not switching notification back on.]

With paper.li's simplicity comes a lack of flexibility but, once you start complicating things, you have to start learning stuff. This turns (some) people off.

As it stands, paper.li reminds me of my first encounter with Google – it was a shock to just see a text box and a search button. And look what that led to…