Down at heel: no longer

I live in rural Devon, don’t drive a car, and have two dogs, so I walk quite a bit.

As a dog owner, I’m out a couple of times a day, rain or shine, and I also regularly head off on longer walks on Dartmoor, various Slow Ways, and chunks of the South West coast path.

Down at heel

At the end of June 2021 I bought a new pair of walking boots – my old boots were man-made, and had fallen apart at the seams.

New shoes

This time, I went for Berghaus Men’s Supalite II Gore-tex Waterproof Hiking Boots. They are nice and light, and really comfortable, even when I’ve been on my feet all day.

Wet feet

I regularly apply waterproofing to my boots but, towards the end of October, I started getting wet feet, even on short walks. On closer inspection, the reason was obvious: the heel of both boots was quite worn, and there was a hole in approximately the same place of each one!

Holes in both heels

These boots weren’t cheap and I was surprised (and just a little irritated) they were so worn, as I’d only* had them a few months. I didn’t want to throw away otherwise perfectly serviceable boots, so I contacted Berghaus to see if they could be repaired. I assumed I’d have to pay for the repair, unless I was prepared to do battle with a corporate complaints process.


I had a look at the Berghaus website, and quickly found their repairs service, creatively entitled Repairhaus. It never occurred to me that Berghaus would offer to repair my boots for free, so I was amazed to read the opening paragraph:

We make tough, long-lasting gear that goes the distance, but if it ever needs it, we’ll repair it as many times as we possibly can, free of charge whether you bought it from us, our stockists, or even if it’s a hand-me-down.

The next paragraph went into a little more detail:

We don’t care how old, how worn, or how weathered it is or even how many times we’ve fixed it before. We’ll repair your kit for free if we can, so you can reuse not replace, and together we can help fight climate change.

I submitted an enquiry through the website, and included a photo. Within a day Repairhaus emailed me back, saying they would repair my boots, and all I needed to do was to put the (clean) boots in the post and they’d do the rest.

A few days after that I received another email confirming receipt, and letting me know they’d be ready within a month.

Around a week later, there was one final email saying the repair was complete and that my boots would be back with me in a couple of days. Here’s the finished result:

Boots repaired by Repairhaus

I am really impressed with the positive stance that Berghaus have taken. There’s no quibbling or messing around:

Here at Berghaus, we’re really keen to keep your product going over land, not into it.

Happy customer

I was so impressed that Berghaus proactively offer a free, no quibble, repair service that I immediately bought another pair of boots exactly the same. I now alternate between the two pairs, and will be happy to buy Berghaus again in the future.


It’s true that my new boots had sprung a leak after only a few months but – according to the stats on my Withings Health Mate – I walked 1,363 miles between end of June and end of October. So it’s not all that surprising the boots needed a little specialist TLC.

Posted in Travel, Uncategorized, Walking | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Down at heel: no longer

Drawnalism Part 2 – the start of a journey

This is a slightly edited version of a post which first appeared on the Drawnalism blog as On the record.

In my previous post, I met Matthew from Drawnalism at a Knowledge Cafe, many years ago. This time, my relationship with Drawnalism moves from ‘having a nice chat’, to us actually working together.

Not a conference

One of the components of the BlueLightCamp flyer

An ‘unconference’ is a bit like a conference without a predefined agenda. Instead, attendees ‘pitch’ ideas to each other. The most popular sessions form the agenda. You only go to those sessions that genuinely interest you. For more info, see Unconference in a box, by James Cattell.

I regularly attend unconferences like LocalGovCamp and UKGovCamp, and sometimes help out. However, my perspective completely changed in 2014 when I co-organised an unconference.


A blue swirrl with the words BlueLightCamp 2014 and event hashtag #UKBLC14
Stickers based on the BlueLightCamp logo

BlueLightCamp brings together people who care about blue light / emergency services. It’s informal, and job titles are left at the door on the way in.

All attendees need is to have a shared interest in a topic. This means that chief officers, frontline staff, community groups, and others can talk directly to each other about topics of mutual interest.

Engineering serendipity

Another component from the flyer, re-usable for stickers (and blog posts!)

Unconferences increase the chances that you’ll meet people who are passionate about the same topics as you. These ‘chance encounters’ make it much more likely that ‘good stuff’ will happen.

The process is sometimes known as ‘engineering serendipity’, or creating ‘happy accidents’.

Drawnalism at BlueLightCamp

I already knew that Drawnalism would capture ideas in an entertaining and informative way. However, what I hadn’t anticipated was lots of reusable marketing collateral as well. For example, we knew we needed an event flyer, building on the existing BlueLightCamp logo. Here’s what Drawnalism came up with:

Drawnalism made each element available as separate images. This meant that we could repurpose them for the web site, social media, and event merchandise, like mugs.

Collector’s items: BlueLightCamp mugs

Top hosts

The Ordnance Survey team, led by Gill Blake, were brilliant hosts. For example, they printed and hung banners throughout the building.

The BlueLightCamp 2014 Organising Team (left to right):
Clare White, Simon Whitehouse, Mark Braggins, Sasha Taylor, and Christine Townsend of MusterPoint

Next up

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading. In my next post, I will talk about my first experience of Drawnalism’s In the Moment service.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Drawnalism Part 2 – the start of a journey

Drawnalism Part 1 – Knowledge Café

This is a slightly edited version of a post which first appeared on the Drawnalism blog as A Close Encounter at the Knowledge Café.

This is the first of a series of blog posts from a personal, but changing, perspective. This post explains how I first became aware of Drawnalism, way back in 2011. Did we even have electricity then?


Cartoon man surrounded by light bulbs
Ideas everywhere, but how do we convey what we think?
Image thanks to Drawnalism Ltd

I have always been interested in the flow of information and knowledge. Why do some ideas sit inside a person’s head and go no further, whereas others catch the collective imagination and go on to influence thinking across the world?

The answer probably begins with: ‘It depends…’

It depends…

Maybe it’s a brilliant idea, but the person whose idea it is has chosen not to share it, or perhaps they feel embarrassed, or lack self-confidence, or fear ridicule.

Also, in an organisational setting, do those at the top genuinely welcome ideas from ‘the shop floor’? And, is the famous ‘staff suggestion box’ (web form etc.) really all that welcoming?

Knowledge Café

Anyway, this sort of thing interests me, and in 2011 I helped organise and host one of David Gurteen’s Knowledge Cafés at Hampshire County Council’s HQ in Winchester.

If you haven’t heard of them before, Knowledge Cafés are relaxed, informal, gently and expertly facilitated conversations.

One of best ways to make sense of an issue or challenge and ultimately make better decisions is to bring a diversity of people together for a conversation in a Knowledge Café.

David Gurteen: the Knowledge Café Concept

The broad theme this time was ‘conversation in business’, and it involved lots of people sharing their ideas, and listening to others.

Small groups of people having conversations
The exchange of information in full flow. (Matthew is sitting on the far right of the picture).
Photo thanks to David Gurteen on Flickr

David encouraged attendees to meet and talk to as many people as they could, and to both listen and share. As a result, it was both an interesting and enjoyable experience.

Cartoon of a group of people
None of the characters appearing here intentionally resemble any persons living or dead. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental 😉
Image thanks to Drawnalism Ltd

One of the attendees I met was Matthew, who ‘doodled’ throughout the evening in a small notebook. He showed me his sketches, which brilliantly captured some of the nuggets of conversation.

Knowledge Pub

Man talking next to a pint of beer with a halo. Sign above reads 'Knowledge Pub'
A quick sketch from 2011
Image thanks to Drawnalism Ltd

As an aside, a friend joked that we should continue the conversation at ‘Knowledge Pub’ afterwards.

We did, and a small group of us have been meeting up around once a month for Knowledge Pub ever since.

Recap, and look ahead

The Knowledge Café format is a great way of exchanging ideas through conversation. In my next post, I will talk a bit about my first experience of working with Drawnalism.

Spoiler alert: I have used both In the Moment and Illustration services.

Man with a beard and glasses wearing blue shirt with tie
The last known photo of Mark Braggins wearing a tie.
Credit: David Gurteen on Flickr
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Data for the Community: New research for Power to Change

Power To Change: empowering people

Power to Change is an independent charitable trust that supports and develops community businesses in England. With an endowment of £150 million in 2015 from the Big Lottery Fund, Power to Change helps local people run community businesses.

“Our vision is to create better places through community business. We will use our endowment to strengthen community businesses across England. This means providing money, advice and support to help local people come together to take control. At a time when many parts of the country face cuts, neglect and social problems, we want to make sure local areas survive and stay vibrant. We do so by being bold, collaborative, open and informed.”

New research

In May 2017 Power to Change commissioned Giuseppe Sollazzo and myself to look at pockets of activity where data assets are being used locally.

When we met to discuss the project, Gen Maitland Hudson, who heads up Data and Learning at Power To Change, explained that they already had a good sense of the kinds of problems that people face when trying to use data at a local level, but were less clear about what data is already being used, and the extent to which it provides reasonably reliable information. Power to Change wanted to learn more about what is already happening around community data use, to help inform the targeting of future support.

Our approach: talk to those who know

Giuseppe and I both have extensive networks and, between us, know lots of data practitioners across a range of different sectors and locations. We drew up a long list of people to talk to, which we narrowed down to those we knew were actively using data at a local level. We then spent several months over the Summer conducting interviews. We originally anticipated interviewing around a dozen people, but ended up speaking to more than twenty to try and get a good cross-section from different sectors and locations.

Having completed the interviews, we wrote up our notes, pulled the various strands together into a spreadsheet, and tagged the conversations with a set of meaningful keywords and dataset names. We then analysed the results, and identified a number of common themes and a few similarities among organisations.

The report

Our report: Data for the Community, which was published today, uncovers pockets of activity around data, highlights some areas of difficulty, and identifies some good practices which may be useful to community groups wishing to produce and use good quality information about their neighbourhoods.

Posted in Data, Open Data, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off on Data for the Community: New research for Power to Change

Announcing Open Data Camp 5

This post was originally published on the Open Data Camp blog

We are delighted to announce that Open Data Camp is returning once again. Open Data Camp 5 will be the weekend of 21/22 October at Queen’s University Belfast, in the Computer Science building

The Computer Science building at Queen’s University

We are really grateful to Queen’s University, and the School of Electronics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in particular,
for letting us use their magnificent Computer Science building, and to Suzanne and Cormac from OpenDataNI for making such a convincing case for Belfast to host our next event.

In case you’ve no idea what Open Data Camp is, here’s a quick recap:


‘Open’ means that data has made available with little or no restriction on its use, as set out in a licence.


‘Data’, refers to text, words, numbers, images, sound and video etc. (Hang on, what’s the difference between data and information? See this useful explanation.)


‘Camp’ is a term commonly used to refer to an ‘unconference’, which basically means it’s an event with no predefined agenda – instead, attendees ‘pitch’ session ideas to each other.

“Open data is data that anyone can access, use and share.”

More info to follow

We will let you have lots more information in the coming weeks, which will of course include details of ticketing, travel and accommodation.

Photo Credit

Cormac McConaghy

Posted in Events, Open Data | Tagged , | Comments Off on Announcing Open Data Camp 5

Revisiting ‘free’ Twitter reporting and analysis tools in 2016

sketch1477833401787In January 2012 I wrote  Ten of my favourite reporting and analysis tools for Twitter. Lots of people commented and suggested their own favourites, so a couple of months later I wrote a follow-up, imaginatively entitled Ten (more) of my favourite reporting and analysis tools for Twitter.

I re-read both posts a few days ago, and tried out some of the links I’d not used recently. As expected, a lot has changed over the last few years.

In this post, I’ll revisit the two lists from 2012, noting what’s changed, what’s working, and what’s kaput.

Choose a subject

For all of the tools mentioned here, I’m going to see what they can tell us about Twitter activity for the hashtag #opendata. In case you’ve not heard of it, ‘open data‘ is data (like spreadsheets, files, videos, images etc) that anyone can access, use and share.

Before we begin

If you choose to try any of these tools yourself, you’ll need a Twitter profile, and – due to a change in the Twitter Application Programming Interface (API) – you’ll probably need to log in, and authorise the tool to access Twitter on your behalf. If you do so, please take care before agreeing to anything, and note you can easily revoke these permissions again via the apps settings in your Twitter profile:

22 tools?

Yes, based on the previous two titles, the total should add up to 20, but I tagged on a couple of extras at the end of my second post, so I’ve included them here as well.

  1. Sentiment 140

Sentiment 140 (which in my first post was called Twitter Sentiment) assesses the sentiment or ‘mood’ expressed in individual tweets. I’m generally pretty skeptical about automatically detecting sentiment in individual tweets, particularly as a tweet could be sarcastic or might be issued by a parody account, but a quick look can be useful to assess the overall mood on a given topic.

In this example, at a glance, the mood about open data appears generally very positive, with just 1 negative, 14 positive and 4 neutral tweets. From this single snapshot, I’d say that Sentiment 140 has summed up the mood pretty well, as open data is generally perceived as a good thing, but there’s still lots to do (like have a coherent set of standards).


2. Tweet Archivist

Tweet Archivist (which in the earlier post was called The Archivist) is presented as “Essential analytics for tracking and archiving Twitter.” In 2012 the tool was completely free, but functionality is limited to a snapshot in time, and there’s more available when you subscribe. This is what you now get when you enter a search term and hit “Try it for Free”.


It’s clear that this is just a snapshot, and you would need to subscribe for the list to be updated regularly.


Each of the headings on the right can be expanded by clicking the arrow on the right. Some of the word clouds potentially be quite useful as quick pointers to who the most active / influential users are, what other hashtags are being used. From this, you might note that opendata commonly appears with other hashtags, like #bigdata and #openscience, and that there are some particularly active opendata tweeters like @OpenDataSoft and @DSMeu.


If you find a heading interesting, you can click on the word or magnifying glass, and see more information. One aspect I really like about Tweet Archivist, is that it lets you embed the charts on your own web site if you wish to do so, or in a blog post like I’m doing here (note you can scroll down through the chart to see a list, which is clickable). It also looks like these individual charts are updated regularly, even with the free version.

3. Twitalyzer

Appears to be defunct, and the link times-out.

4. Hashtagify

I still use Hashtagify regularly, and I think it’s one of my favourite favourites. It’s basically a quick, easy and friendly way to explore which hashtags people use in conjunction with each other. From the front page, you type a hashtag and hit return. You’ll then be presented with a summary screen, and you can click between the tabs to see top influencers, how the hashtag is used over time, and individual tweets displayed on a wall.


I particularly like Advanced Mode to explore related hashtags, as in the screenshot below.  It can be really useful to know which combinations of hashtags people use when tweeting. In this example, I’ve started with the #opendata hashtag, then switched to advanced mode, and clicked on the SmartCities bubble to see all of the other hashtags which people use when they talk about Smart Cities on Twitter


Table Mode is another useful view – showing whether hashtags are increasing or decreasing in popularity over time.


All in all, there are some really good features available for free with Hashtagify, and it looks like there are many more available with the various subscription options. I’d personally welcome the ability to embed charts, but that doesn’t currently appear to be possible in either the free or paid versions.

5. Topsy

6. Topsy Social Analytics

Topsy, and it’s associated Topsy Social Analytics is defunct, and the link times-out, which is a shame, as the analytics used to have some pretty neat features.

7. tweetreach

tweetreach is still going strong, and I’ve used their service a few times over the years. This is an extract of what you see once you’ve selected a search term from the front page. You get a list of up to a hundred free, and thereafter you can buy a full report. You can also download the data or get it as a PDF report if you prefer. It’s fairly basic, but quite useful as a snapshot record.




8. Hashtags

In my previous post I described Hashtags as “a simple tool that allows you to specify a hashtag and see recent tweets using that hashtag”. That’s still very much the case for the free version, as most of the functionality is only available to paying subscribers. There really isn’t enough substance in the free version for it to remain on a list of free tools.

9. Hashmash

Defunct, and the domain is up for sale.

10. Favstar

Still exists, but I couldn’t find anything worth mentioning, and it wouldn’t feature on my list nowadays. If you like celebrity gossip, then maybe have a look at Favstar.

11. TweetGrid

Currently unavailable and the site says “Due to Twitter’s API changes, TweetGrid will be down for a bit. Be back soonish?”

12. Crowdbooster

Crowdbooster still exists, but only offers a ‘free trial’, so no longer counts as a free tool

13. Trendsmap

I’m pleased to report that Trendsmap is still a useful tool, which gives you information for free! In the example below – whilst there’s nothing relevant to my chosen hashtag open data – there are various tags and words displayed on a map for a chosen area. If you’re interested in Twitter activity for an area or region, then this could be really useful. In this example, there are quite a few tags and words which refer to running, and specifically the Great South Run, with a higher concentration near Portsmouth. If you find something which interests you, Trendsmap allows you to click on a word, and a selection of tweets associated with that word will be displayed on the right hand side. For a free tool, that’s pretty good! There is also more information and detail available to paying subscribers.


14. Tweetstats

Tweetstats offers to graph tweets for an individual profile. In my original post I noted that it takes a few minutes to generate the graphs, but that it was worth the wait. However, at the time of writing it’s been longer than half an hour with the message “magic happening”, so I am reluctantly concluding it’s no longer working (either that, or it’s a long term spell!)


15. Nutshellmail

Another one bites the dust. Sadly, Nutshellmail is no longer available.

16. Crowdfire

Crowdfire (formerly Justunfollow) is another tool pitched at individual users. I use it occasionally to see if there are accounts I follow which have stopped tweeting (in which case I unfollow them). There are various other facilities as well – recent followers / unfollowers, keyword follow etc – but I tend not to use them.  Crowdfire also offers to automatically send a Direct Message (DM) to new followers. Please do not use this as it is extremely annoying!


17. Bing twitter maps

Another one which is defunct.

18. Twitter profiling

The site still exists, but the tool no longer works

19. Addictomatic

The site still exists, and offers some results for a few news sites, but no longer works for Twitter (as it has not been upgraded to work with the new Twitter API)

20. Spezify

The site still exists, but only a few search results are displayed and I gave up waiting as the screen seemed to lock-up.

21. Twazzup

Twazzup offers real time monitoring of Twitter, and highlights the top keywords associated with a search term or hashtag. You can also hover the mouse over a keyword to see a list of tweets, with the keyword highlighted within individual tweets. This can be useful in finding out what’s going on in the world of opendata at a particular point in time.


22. Aaron’s Twitter Viewer

Site exists, but is unusable (returns an error message)

Surviving free tools

So, that’s 15 eliminated from my original list of 22. Here are the survivors as a simple list:

  1. Sentiment 140
  2. Tweet Archivist
  3. Hashtagify
  4. tweetreach
  5. Trendsmap
  6. Crowdfire
  7. Twazzup

So, only seven free tools which are still worth mentioning. That’s it for this post. In the next one, I’ll have a look around for new tools and add them to the list.

If you know of any great tools, please ping me a comment with a link and I’ll add it to the list.

Bye for now



Picture credits

Featured image The British Library on Flickr: Image taken from page 391 of ‘Memoirs of Bartholomew Fair … Fourth edition’ Slightly embellished to colour the bird blue.


Posted in Social Media, Technology, Twitter | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Pez Machines delivering self-driving cars, and other musings

This is the third instalment in a series of posts about transport in the future. The previous ones are:

  1. What does the future hold? [Transport]
  2. Thinking aloud: Back to the Future [of Transport]

I have no idea how many I’ll write on this subject – I’m still digesting comments, accumulating links and reading material, so there may be a few more yet.

More about self-driving cars

So far, I’ve unconsciously been thinking of UK and Europe, but there are all sorts of considerations when you look beyond that.

There are also practicalities like storage for self-driving vehicles when they’re not being used.

50 implications

Bromford Lab kindly shared my earlier posts on Twitter. When I had a look back through their timeline, I realised they had already shared some cracking articles. For example:

Wow, what a list! Compiled by Geoff Nesnow, there are quite a few familiar ones, but a load more which tweaked my imagination. For instance, consider the potential impact of driverless cars on traffic policing (7), auto insurance (8), and traffic lights (9).

The Luggage

Another one on Geoff’s list which really made me think was number 15 :

There will be many new innovations in luggage and bags as people no longer keep stuff in cars and loading and unloading packages from vehicles becomes much more automated. The traditional trunk size and shape will change. Trailers or other similar detachable devices will become much more commonplace to add storage space to vehicles

I’m sure it’s not what Geoff had in mind, but for some reason it made me think of Thunderbird 2.

I confess, I’m a Thunderbirds fan, and reckon it was ahead of its time in many ways. However, I suspect that, instead of one large pod, there will be many smaller pods, more akin to shipping containers, but which have their own power, and can fly…

Shopping channel

The last one on Geoff’s list I’ll specifically mention is number 34:

Local transport of nearly everything will become ubiquitous and cheap — food, everything in your local stores. Drones will likely be integrated into vehicle designs to deal with “last few feet” on pickup and delivery. Perhaps this will accelerate the reduction of traditional retail stores.



I rather hope small retailers take the initiative here – some have been remarkably prescient and resilient.

I confess, I’ve gratuitously included two photos* of my great grandfather, James Sinclair, who was a retailer in Orkney early in the 20th Century. He had a shop with premises, and also provided a delivery service, initially horse-drawn, and then deploying new-fangled automotive technology. If you’re interested, there are many fascinating images on the fascinating Orkney Image Library web site.

I can’t help but wonder what he might have made of this:

On the high seas

Back to shipping, this is another great share from Bromford Labs:

This article, written by Ben Schiller for Fast Company explores the implications of autonomous vehicles on the high seas.


Then there’s the recent news: Uber loses right to classify UK drivers as self-employed.

A major win for self-employed drivers – right?

But for how long, given Uber’s aspirations:


Pez machines

That’s about it for this post. I guess I better also explain that the ridiculous title for this post came out of a Twitter conversation with Annemarie of Common Futures. Annemarie made a serious point, to which I gave a silly reply.

Ok, not an entirely serious suggestion, but the idea of vehicles stored and distributed underground may not be entirely out of the question. Geoffrey Hoyle was thinking about that one back in 1972 in his remarkable book 2010: Living in the Future (link is to a BBC article about the book)20161028_134506


screenshot-2016-10-29-17-34-17Photo credits

Posted in Technology, Transport, travel | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Pez Machines delivering self-driving cars, and other musings

Thinking aloud: Back to the Future [of Transport]


Public transport comes in many forms

A few days ago, I blogged: What does the future hold? [Transport], in which I began thinking aloud about what transport might look like in the future.

It followed a Twitter conversation with John Murray and Caroline Robinson, and was prompted by Rob Price‘s article in Business Insider: Aggressive drivers are going to bully self-driving cars.

Damn, forgot Hyperloop…

There’s a new development on the horizon which I completely forgot to mention – Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, in which pods or capsules, suspended in low pressure tubes, whisk travellers from city-to-city, at speeds of over 700mph. This video from ColdFusion is a great introduction to Hyperloop.

It’s early days, but it appears that Hyperloop might be a real alternative to air travel over certain distances, and could potentially link-up with other forms of public transport, like high speed rail, and more local, personal-use alternatives like autonomous vehicles.
The second video, from Transpod suggests how the interior might look for in economy, business and private family pods.

Different perspectives – what about car enthusiasts?


Model T Ford – someone’s pride and joy

Since my earlier post, I’ve also read Autonomous Cars- Am I missing something? by Jim Reid in which he looks at autonomous vehicles / self-driving cars from the car enthusiast’s viewpoint. There are also some interesting comments at the end of his article, words to the effect that, for many, the very act of driving a car is a pleasure, the car is an object of beauty, and a source of great personal pride.

So why is it that manufacturers almost perfected the driving experience with man/woman and machine in perfect harmony that they then decide that ‘man’ no longer wants to control the machine they are inside travelling at speed. When has ‘man’ or ‘woman’ became so emotionally detached from the motor car that they WANT autonomous self driving cars?

I think I need to update my thinking, and accept that future transport will not just be about getting from ‘A’ to ‘B’; there’s more to it than efficiency, and doing our bit to minimise damage due to climate change: There’s also driving for pleasure, cars both as personal possessions, and as art-forms in their own right. The same probably applies to motorcycles.


I’m including an extract from my original post here, and updating it slightly to take account of these points (updates are in bold, italics).

I reckon, in 10 years time…

  • car ownership will no longer be the norm for most people* [for whom their primary reason for owning a car currently is personal transportation]
  • we’ll be able to book / summon a vehicle at will
  • options will include
    • people, basic transport
    • people, mid-range comfort
    • people, luxury, on holiday etc
    • single (expensive), multiple occupancy (mid-price), group travel (cheapest)
    • moving bulky goods (accompanied)
    • moving bulky goods (unaccompanied)
  • most vehicles will be in continuous use, except when they’re being charged and maintained
  • car parks will become prime development land
  • vehicles will be electric, of course, with long life, interchangeable batteries (if batteries are still even needed)
  • rail will continue to be popular, and will become better value once it is returned to public ownership. There will continue to be guards on trains, but not drivers.
  • vehicles won’t necessarily be on roads, though that’ll continue to be the norm for some years until self-driving airborne vehicles come of age and alternative technologies like Hyperloop are established
  • there won’t be a long term problem with aggressive drivers, as there won’t be [m]any drivers
  • * Very rich people will still of course continue to collect luxury cars and maybe even drive them on sunny days, and car enthusiasts may choose to retain their cars* to continue their driving pleasure

*Still wondering about ownership


Many transport options

I still wonder about car ownership. Sure, people who live in beautiful locations – and for whom the drive to work is pure pleasure – may well choose to continue to own their vehicle, but I suspect numbers will diminish in time, particularly as new generations find their basic transport needs met by ubiquitous, autonomous vehicles.

That’s it for now

That’s all for this post – I suspect I’ll need to do a few more updates!

Photo credits

The British Library Image taken from page 272 of ‘Gately’s World’s Progress:

Model T Ford via Wikimedia Commons,_1913.jpg

British Library Evans’s Road-Engine and Steam Boat

Posted in Transport, travel | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Thinking aloud: Back to the Future [of Transport]

What does the future hold? [Transport]

John Murray shared an interesting article this morning

The gist of the article is that – whilst autonomous vehicles can be instructed to take obey laws, follow rules, and react to environmental conditions etc – humans could  exploit that ‘weakness’ and ‘bully’ self-driving cars.

A conversation ensued on Twitter, some of which I’ve included here:

There were several separate threads, and I’m sure was only one example of many such conversations taking place elsewhere.

What started as a tweet sharing an article about the anticipated behaviour of a small number of drivers towards self-driving cars, swiftly morphed into a conversation about private versus public transport, planning, transport strategy, and climate change.

What’s the problem?

Phew! Where do you start? There are all sorts of factors, conflicts and complexities around transport, so the possibilities are endless. What follows is a quick brainstorm of some of those, in no particular order:

  • Car manufacturers want to maximise profit, so try to sell as many cars as possible, at the highest price they can
  • Car drivers value their independence, and are reluctant to use public transport as an alternative
  • In many places, public transport just isn’t good enough to compete with privately owned cars anyway (no service before / after certain times)
  • Councils are under pressure to cut costs, making them increasingly unlikely to subsidise public transport
  • Climate Change looms large – lots of pressure to cut emissions
  • Ownership of rail infrastructure, management, maintenance, and train operating companies is complex and full of conflicts
  • Poor links between different modes of public transport (rail, bus, tram, ferry etc)
  • People’s needs are complex and changing (young couple becomes couple with baby…young family…family with dog(s)…with disability…elderly couple etc)
  • Planning rules are slow and can be rigid
  • Problems vary according to geography, average income, population density etc
  • Local authority regimes have very different views about how to address transport issues
  • Technology is changing rapidly, and brings disruption at many levels
  • Technology also enables other forms of disruption, like the sharing economy (look at the impact of Uber and the like)
  • Governments come and go, politicians have to stand for election and rarely like to continue the policies of their predecessor (but even this could change…liquid democracy anyone?)
  • It’s a long list…add your own

So, what does the future hold?

jess_dixon_in_his_flying_automobileI’m personally convinced that the attraction of owning a car will diminish as the range of options improves. If you could step out of your door and be whisked away to where you want to go, for a good price, with the minimum amount of hassle, would you be tempted? Would it matter to you if that was called ‘public’ or ‘private’ transport?

I reckon, in 10 years time…

  • car ownership will no longer be the norm for most people*
  • we’ll be able to book / summon a vehicle at will
  • options will include
    • people, basic transport
    • people, mid-range comfort
    • people, luxury, on holiday etc
    • single (expensive), multiple occupancy (mid-price), group travel (cheapest)
    • moving bulky goods (accompanied)
    • moving bulky goods (unaccompanied)
  • most vehicles will be in continuous use, except when they’re being charged and maintained
  • car parks will become prime development land
  • vehicles will be electric, of course, with long life, interchangeable batteries (if batteries are still even needed)
  • rail will continue to be popular, and will become better value once it is returned to public ownership. There will continue to be guards on trains, but not drivers.
  • vehicles won’t necessarily be on roads, though that’ll continue to be the norm for some years until self-driving airborne vehicles come of age
  • there won’t be a long term problem with aggressive drivers, as there won’t be any drivers

That’s my quick effort. I fully expect to be proven wrong on many of these.

  • Very rich people will still of course continue to collect luxury cars and maybe even drive them on sunny days

Photo credit

This work is from the Florida Memory Project hosted at the State Archive of Florida

Posted in Technology, Transport, travel, weekly blog club | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on What does the future hold? [Transport]

Thoughts about Talk About Local #TAL16

Last Saturday I left the house in the dark, and caught the first available bus. It had to be something good to get me out of bed that early in the morning at a weekend.

It was…

#TAL16 – the hyperlocal unconference.

If you’ve not heard of hyperlocal before, it’s an increasingly popular form of journalism, produced for, and by, local people.

If you’re interested, there’s lots more detail in the 2014 UK Hyperlocal Community News collaborative research report.

Local, where?


Map of UK hyperlocal sites

I’m glad you asked – there’s a handy map of all known UK sites at It lets you zoom in and explore sites near to you.

If you want the data behind the map, that’s also available to download, thanks to Mike Rawlins.

If there isn’t a hyperlocal near you, then perhaps there should be…


An unconference is a bit like a conference, except there is no pre-defined agenda (and it’s a lot more fun). I’m a big fan, and have co-organised a few like Open Data Camp and BlueLightCamp, and helped out at others like UKGovCamp and GovCamp Cymru.

The Talk About Local (TAL) unconference has been running for years, but I’ve only been to one before. It’s co-organised by Will Perrin, this year assisted by Mike Rawlins. #TAL16 was hosted by Birmingham City University in the fab Curzon building.

Who was there?

It was a diverse group, including bloggers, journalists, students, researchers and academics.

Welcome and introductions

After the welcome, everyone introduced themselves. [Tip: you may find the audio is more useful than the video in the Periscope which follows]

The sessions

People interested in pitching a session queued up at the front of the room, and said a few words about their idea, which they also wrote on a post-it note. The post-it notes were arranged on the session grid, thereby forming the agenda.

I pitched a session, asking if open data is useful for hyperlocals. More about that later.

Who is your audience?

The first session I went to explored who the readers of hyperlocal and community news sites actually are.

Jerome Turner has been doing some fascinating research, some of which he kindly shared:

[gview file=””]

Jerome has been using every method possible to find out how people use hyperlocal, and exploring how it fits into everyday life. This includes face-to-face meetings, visiting local groups, surveys, desktop reviews, analysing Facebook etc.

I didn’t write much down during the session, but comments included:

“mix banal with other content: what’s the best Chinese takeaway….and what do you think of regeneration policy?”

“people may not be comfortable commenting on politics, but they’ll happily send in a picture they took of snow”

“Facebook is popular for hyperlocals, because it’s a place people already are”

There was also a really interesting discussion around what constitutes local, and how the answer depends on scale. For example, a loose paving slab affects my street, but a proposed airport expansion affects the whole city, whereas photos from Mrs Miggins’ class are specific to individuals.

The Unawards

TAL has a tradition of giving what have become known as unawards. These items are worthless financially, and yet are highly sought after and coveted by those who receive them. This year’s glittering ceremony was captured in full colour on Periscope, and highlights included a lifetime achievement unaward for Nick Booth

I was extremely surprised – and very pleased – to receive my very own unaward for banging on about open data a lot (or words to that effect).

Hyperlocals and open data

screenshot-2016-10-22-15-24-20Speaking of open data, I’m really interested in the extent to which open data is, or could be, used for information / news gathering and dissemination, and pitched a session to that effect. Umar Hassan also pitched a data-stories-related session, and we ended up attempting to cover both in a single session.

As you can see from the screenshot above, our timeslot was immediately after lunch, and we were up against some serious competition. I mean, who can resist a headline like “You Won’t Believe These Amazing Five Reasons People Start Hyperlocal News”?

Who visits open data sites?

We began by asking “do you visit open data sites, or download open data to use in stories?” The short answer was “no”, though some of those present had downloaded open data in the past.

That’s not to say that open data doesn’t feature at all – it does, it’s just that it might already have been packaged by intermediary sites. Some of those mentioned* included:

  • They Work For You
  • FixMyStreet
  • Open Charities
  • Open Corporates
  • Observatory of Economic Complexity
  • Public Health observatories
  • The Office for National Statistics (ONS) e.g. Census, neighbourhood statistics etc

I didn’t note them all, but the gist seemed to be that all the sites mentioned take data from various sources (including “the crowd”), and then package or present it in a way that enables the visitor to quickly and easily find what they are looking for.

There are also some useful resources to help people find local open data, including UK Local Government open data resources (Owen Boswarva) and Local Open Data Discovery (Steve Peters)

Actually, the Hyperlocal map I mentioned earlier is a good example of this point. Someone built a useful map which enables you to quickly find and access hyperlocal sites in the UK. The data has been made available with an open license, which means that any of us can use the same data and build our own maps should we wish to do so. However, the reality is that the vast majority of us don’t, as we’re too busy doing  our own thing.

The session sped past, and my notes are skeletal, so I’m hoping that others present might help fill in the gaps. I was left wondering if what’s needed is something like:

The Hyperlocal’s Guide to the Galaxy


Something to help translate data into human?

A guide which helps you find information (and supporting data) about a local area, without you having to start from scratch.

Perhaps with lots of charts – population, demographics, transport, health etc which can easily be embedded on local news sites – with the appropriate crediting, of course – and of course the option to download the supporting data.

As you can tell, I haven’t thought this through yet, and it may well be that there’s already something out there  which does this. If so, please comment and share links to any good stuff.

 Out of time

I’ve run out of time (and steam) for this post. if you’ve made it this far, thanks for persevering. I’ll just finish by signposting to a few other write-ups from the day:

#TAL16: Talk About Local’s Latest Hyperlocal Unconference

Talk About Local 2016 Round-up

Talk About Local Unconference 2016: hosted by BCU

* I’ve listed some of the sites mentioned during the session – not all of these necessarily make use of open data, but all make information easy to find

Photo credits

Babel Fish – Screenshot from Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy 

Follow-up comments (Twitter)

Posted in weekly blog club | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Thoughts about Talk About Local #TAL16