Open Or Closed

fantastic london cyclesuperhighway

fantastic london cyclesuperhighway

This week TFL has approved the building of the longest segregated cycle superhighway in any major city in Western Europe. In the same week I got to meet Antony Lau, the director of cyclehoop, and it make me realise that a new transport system is emerging in London. I can’t help wondering: why is all this great stuff happening now?

Obviously, hard work and determined campaigning has play a major part, but I think other important factor might be found in a throw-away comment made by Mayor of London Boris Jonson that caught my attention:

“The people working in the new IT industries take the built environment into account when they are thinking about where they want to live. The amenities that cities lay on are really important to these people.”

Boris Jonson thinks tech professionals are likely to provide the most economic growth and tax revenue in the future.

It’s fascinating that Boris is so explicitly courting the tech sector. Not only are many of the people, working in new technology industries having an impact on the infrastructure municipalities lay on, but ideas these guys employ are starting to transform how we think about every aspect of our lives including: parking.

I have dabbled with hacking. Hacking to me is simply the act of taking a locked system or product and opening it. The fun only starts when you void the warranty.

My Kindle: Pimped on a shoot at cafepress

My Kindle: Pimped on a shoot at cafepress

Products are the tip of an iceberg. Manufactures sell you something, with one intended use in mind. That’s fine but, however talented the designer; they have never walked a mile in my shoes, so they don’t know what it is like to be me.

Amazon kindle has bundled a load of bits and bobs together in order to solve their problem. They want to reduce the friction, and enable me to buy books from them much faster. I am very happy to do so. I spend more money on books with Amazon via kindle. I love reading e-books on kindle. However it quickly became clear to me that Kindle was purposefully depriving me of some functionality, so kindle is a closed system and that is sad.

Clearly, if open, the kindle could enable me to produce more, as well as consume more.


As a TV producer I use a document called a “Call-sheet”. It is a working document that has everything you need to know: contact details, and where everyone has to be at any point. It is a manual that tells you how this film is going to be filmed.  These documents have a half-life. Everyone gets one at the start of the filming but most people’s jobs require them to have their hands full i.e. cameraman.



Call sheets get put down, and left places, one guy borrows another guy’s call sheet, before you know it the whole team is operating from just one. Printing more out at the start of the shoot only seems to make them disappear faster.

Additionally, all the documentaries I work on are very facts based. Every word that comes out of the presenter’s mouth has been referenced twice. Eventually the presenter disagrees with some wording. At that point an argument ensues and people ask to see the source material. I have to dive into a folder full of references, and produce the relevant supporting document. You can put those on kindle as pdf’s but they look crap because the text is tiny.

So I ‘hacked’ kindle. I found a way to get my documents on my kindle in the appropriate file type. This was wonderful. The kindle drops easily into my breast pocket, the battery last for a month, and it can be read even in dazzling equatorial sunlight. It is amazing; you never seem to lose the device that has all your treasured fiction on it.

SDA taken time to make sure we have it right.

SDA taken time to make sure we have it right.

An esoteric example: But in the right hands, the hands of a person that can bend kindle to their will it is a much better device for displaying reference material in the field than say the I-pad: Which has screen glare, and a battery life of a couple of hours.

As soon as the kindle came into our lives, it started to be discussed in relation to the I-pad. My colleagues and I started to talk about the relative merits of the kindle as a platform for our very specific type of work.

Experiences you have in one domain colour other domains. Once you have jumped on @iFixit to work out how to replace a kindle screen, you jump online to work out how to fix a minor problem on your bike or car.

The emergence of online platforms means we have started to see platforms everywhere in the physical world. This bike hangar isn’t just a place to put bikes overnight. It is an aggregation point for all the people on the street that ride bikes.

As a platform the bike + hangar transport system starts to reveal some properties that the car transport system doesn’t. Once you can see that an I-pad isn’t simply a superior kindle, you can start to see that the car isn’t just “better” than a bike. They have different properties that make them more appropriate to certain use cases.


Time to tinker

Time to tinker

The mantra of hackers is “if you can’t fix it you don’t own it.” If a product will last you a life time and can be passed from father to son like a wrist watch, you can feel confident you own that item. If inbuilt obsolescence means, it will break in 3 years like an Epson printer, then is that really ownership, or is it in fact an expensive service agreement?

I have started to look at purchases in terms of how accessible they are. If something is essentially a closed system like a car: My feeling is pay per use. Closed systems strap on the shackles but open systems expose you to a world of possibility.

Barely a day goes by now, where you don’t find some new incredible open technology: @habitrpg, @arduino , @sonic_pi, @Raspberry_Pi, @preyproject and most recently for me: @novenakosagi

I get the impression that there are vested ‘closed’ interests that don’t want to see London become easily navigable by bike. Unfortunately for them, the wealth creators of our digital future are highly mobile and won’t sit in shackles.

I think that’s why we are seeing a step change and lots more progress, because the people growing our economy are so used to getting their own way. If the world isn’t as they wish it to be they will, hack it and make it so.

ps this is my new favorite opensource thing:


Feel, Felt, Finally

I have been reading one of those ridiculous self help books.


I have been wading through it, trying to work out what is credible and what is just hot air that needs to be discarded.


One part of this book talks about how to deal with people who are unhappy. The first example of this that I thought of was the conflict between drivers and cyclist. I have been round the Car/Cyclist debate a few times and now find the predictably of this conversation, to be a bit dull.


There are more drivers than cyclist, but cyclist tend to have been to this circus before. So the question for cyclist is:


“What is the quickest way I can process this guy and move on with my life.”


Next time I get into one of these debates I am going to test this Idea: Feel Felt, Finally.


Anger always follows hurt. Even if you feel that the driver in question isn’t justified in their railing against cyclists, you have to acknowledge that their emotions are real. The way to do this is to empathize:


E.g. “I know how you feel. I remember driving in oxford, and become increasingly irritable, because I kept have to overtake someone on a bike who kept running lights and then slowing me down.”


Felt: I know a lot of drivers feel this way. Some of my friends who drive and don’t cycle have told me that the find it hard to understand why cyclist ride in the road.


Finally: But I cycle habitually now because it is the fastest way of getting around London. I cycle in the middle of the road because it is the safest place to be. I am normally doing around 15-20 mph, and the breaks on my road bike are average at best. If I don’t cycle in the road, I get court in pinch points and it puts me in the strike zone of opening car doors. I am also traveling much faster than any car on average, so it is impossible that I am actually slowing anyone down over all.


The idea is that, feel and felt, disable the competitive feeling toward you. Finally, then lets you explain, why you have more information than them.


What should happen: They should offer up a third party to blame. “They should let drivers know that”


If they continue to argue with you, I think you just have to give up and move on to another topic. You have done your bit for cyclist everywhere.


We need Balls not Shoulders

I just heard Ed Balls on BBC Radio 4 saying: “those with the widest shoulders should pay the most for the NHS”. As someone who has always been prone to physically broad shoulders, I resent this metaphor. I am certainly happy to pay my fair share: but what about those with the widest stomachs?

We need people to look after themselves in the first place. So what about this, your council tax is linked to some agreed annual metric of health: perhaps: VO2 max (fitness), Waist circumference/hip ratio, and resting heart rate.

If the cost of the NHS continue to rise as they are, it will bankrupt the country. But the cost of the medication is incidental. The REAL cost is time.

The true cost is paid by the ill in lost years of healthy living. People want to be fit, healthy and empowered. They want to be in control of their own bodies.

It seems much better to me to use money in the short term as a big stick to give people the motivation to look after themselves.

Talking about where the money is going to come from after the event, is like throwing gasoline all over your house and asking your partner if we are up to date on the insurance payments? Because we are going to need some cash to pay for a hotel”: Far better to leave the petrol in the can and not light the match in the first place?

Health risks

Societies ills

In the developed world the most common causes of bad health are self-inflicted.

Shared responsibility for health is humane, cost effective and maintains people’s dignity.

I don’t want my credit score checked before an ambulance is willing to take me to hospital. Nor do I want that for anyone else.

The key word is responsibility. You are free to smoke as much as you want: To eat badly, and to drink like a fish. Some people will get away with that life style, but most won’t.

Why not ask the people who we can see, through measurement, are rolling the dice with their health to put their hands in their pockets and dig a bit deeper, to hedge against their current life style?

I don’t think there even needs to be compulsion: If you don’t want to play by these rules: Opt out. Eat what you want, drink what you want and never break a sweat. Just don’t expect everyone else to pay for your meds, implants, and monitors.

Then we can have a real discussion about public health. We can talk about the route, rather than the proximate causes of bad health. Perhaps we need to tax sugar and some fats. Perhaps we should subsidies fresh vegetables. I am pretty sure a pending massive counsel tax bill will get people focused on their health. It could be the best thing that ever happens to us. Terning a long term public health issue into a short term personal financial issue is the best way to get everyone to cut down on the pork pies.

Before after

Me: Now and Then

I will never forget my harajuku moment that led me to lose 3 1/2 stone. It is personal to me, but it was the result of measurement and observation. Sometimes the bravest thing you can do is tell a friend what they don’t want to hear. It has been convenient to dodge the rising tide of obesity & diabetes. The proposed mansion tax is yet another stalling tactic that avoids us having the necessary awkward discussion.

I am all for redistribution: When there something heavy to carry, as a guy with big shoulders I am the first to throw it on my back. It makes me feel happy and valued to help others.

But health isn’t one of those examples: this problem isn’t being shared its being duplicated. In general the poor pay first with their bodies, and we hope we can get the rich to pay later with their wallets.

Shoulders: Is the wrong part of the Male anatomy to use as a metaphor. When talking about the NHS, really we need to be talking about testicles: Having the Balls to say to people, don’t smoke, don’t eat like an idiot, don’t drink like a fish do get off your arse and on your bike from time-to-time, it’s in your long term interest.

Not having an honest debate about the causes of ill health is patronizing and massively underestimates people’s capacity to change. Most ordinary people have an extraordinary capacity to change their lives. That’s not sophistry: Most people have the capacity to astound you. It’s tragic to leave that human potential untapped because of a few difficult conversations.

The NHS must always be there at the point of need. I don’t want to have to swipe my card, to make the back doors of the ambulance open. There is no need for that to ever happen.

An ambulance is acute medicine. It isn’t the golden hour of acute health care that is crippling the NHS: it’s the mounting cost of chronic long term illness. We can’t let scare mongering about acute situations; prevent us from having honest discussions about chronic and preventable illness.

So sure, fund the NHS with new counsel tax bands, but here’s an additional idea that will reduce the bill and prevent all the suffering and drug side effects in the first place. Make the new counsel tax bands waist bands. Oh and don’t spend the money on drugs in the future, (jam tomorrow). Spend it on fresh vegetables today.


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Bromley: How to get a bike hangar on your street

Bromley: Bike Hangar. Cycle Hoop

Bromley: Bike Hangar. Cycle Hoop

I live in crystal Palace and this map shows where it is quicker for me to get to on my bike than by public transport. Clearly being able to use a bike to get about is a massive advantage.

I had no idea that these Lambeth Bike hangars existed until one day I was moving something large for my company Wine Rides with a cargo-bike.

I had left the cargo bike locked to a sign post, while I went in to get something, one of my neighbors, must have been in a terrible rush, or suffer from crippling agoraphobia because rather than speak to me they left a note stuck to the bike politely asking me to not lock it to the sign post outside their house.

Place: Faster to get to by bike for me.

Place: Faster to get to by bike for me. What aboutyou?

At that point I had a sudden realization: Why is it that there is so much parking for cars as a matter of course in residential neighborhoods, and why isn’t there a single parking bay for bikes on this street? There must be other people like me who live here and cycle. And from time to time, they must entertain guests that arrive by bike as I do.

I live in a flat, on the fourth floor of my building. My neighbors in the flats bellow have been putting up with me carrying bikes up our narrow stair case for way too long scuffing the walls as I went. So the lack of bike parking, didn’t just affect me and my wife it was having a knock on impact on the people we live with.

This led me to discover the Lambeth Bike Hangar. They deal with all the issues above: They are secure overnight bike parking. They take up half a car parking bay and provide space for 6 bikes.

If it is sited on the carriageway then you need to get council approval. Once installed a house hold can have two bike parking spaces within the Hangar. In our case Bromley Counsel used a transport budget, and paid the capital cost of the Hangar (aprox: 3K).  We’ve paid £30 to rent our bike parking bay for the year and an additional a £25 refundable key deposit.

If you want a Hangar on the carriageway as I did then you have to accept that this becomes a “political” endeavor because of the loss of car parking. You are going to need to build support for it on your street.

I wrote a letter to my neighbors and stuffed it through all the doors on my road. As a result I got one email from someone who didn’t want it. And about 8 from people who were supportive. In this letter I think it is important to introduce yourself and set out what will be lost: Half a parking space. If you don’t do that, people won’t trust your intentions.
You can then explain why it will be a valuable addition to the road. It is also important to state that it isn’t just the cyclists who benefit: the people they share properties with will also be better off.

When there are email responses: encourage people to put their details on this map

Once there is a head of support: find out who your counselor is: Write to them and ask for a meeting. The pitch to the counselor is that it is something they can point at and say they have done. It is a tangible improvement they can make. There aren’t many things left that politicians can do to make a “visible” difference. My counselor was great and it was nice to get to know them.

They will navigate the internal structures of the counsel for you. When the counselor is on board, they will help you find the people in the council who will benefit from getting one of these installed. They do exist, the councils have budgets for sustainable transport, and a bike hangar is a good use of that budget.

This is where the greatest variation in time occurs: all you can really do is keep emailing your counsellor and encourage them to keep badgering other people on the council to push it through. It’s basically dictated by when various people get together for regular meetings. So long as you put the ground work in and there’s evidence of support on your street. They will get on with it quite quickly.

I had to send three emails to my councilor, so it wasn’t much work.

There will be a consultation. The council will write to everybody on your road and asked them to respond. Being organized at this point and re-contacting the people who responded to your letter will be a huge help here. It gives your allies in the counsel the evidence they need to get it past the resistance.

By that point you want it to be a no-brainer for the councilors to give it the okay.


Key things to remember:

• This is not the first one, there are loads in Lambeth. This is nothing new.

• Where they exist they are VERY popular.

• They are no uglier than any other piece of street furniture. There is no problem installing them in conservation areas.

• The will ask why you can’t have it on your property: You need an answer for that.

Finally: If you do want one of these then Fairness is fundamental. Without whingeing and always being seen to be reasonable: you have to frame it in terms of what’s fair: 6 people get bike parking for half a car parking space. It’s an accident of history that cars can park all over the place, and that is “normal”. Cars spend 90% of their existence parked, we only want bike hangars because our bikes are in constant use.

Once you have one there is no looking back: I love ours. We have even repainted all the walls in our hallway. No longer do I need to lug a wet bike up the stairs on my shoulder. I am getting to meet the other cyclists on my street! Now I don’t know what I would do without it.



Vision not Villains

The UK has an election coming up, across Europe right wing groups are protesting and the pace of technological change is accelerating exponentially. We have been beguiled by the changes of the last 20 years. This has meant that everyone, particularly our politicians have stopped offering us a vision of the future. No-one wants to be made to look a fool by doing so. That isn’t good enough. Without a coherent vision of the future it is impossible to feel anything other than disillusioned with politics.

During the coming election the one thing we need to do is force all political candidates to be in the “future business”.

A major character fault of mine is that I tend to see human agency where there is none. I look for external human agency when in fact the actual culprit is me. The classic one is that I put something away, and forget that I ever tidied it up. I think that either my wife has moved it or that it has been taken by someone. In the end the missing item shows up months later at some unexpected point.

Recently I have been using my computer to keep track of things. Hayley asked me if I could help her and try and remember what foods I had used up, I knew that this would be a big problem for me. Luckily I knew how to make this problem go away. I need a tick list, so that when I used the last of the butter, all I have to do is tick it off.

The next problem was where to locate a list of all the food items that we use. I knew exactly where to find such a list: Google. As a result it was really easy for me to “systematize” our shopping list using some very common computer packages, two minutes of googling and a table drawn up in MS Word.

The attached table has made our online food order much easier. I printed the table off and laminated it. We stuck it to the fridge and we cross items off with a board marker when they get finished, or we are on our last pack. If something isn’t on the table, then we just write it in the margin. As the most common items are in the table, there are never more than a few exceptions so this system works great.

What does my OCD have to do with the UK general election? The point is that information technology has permeated even the most mundane aspects of our life. Including my battle leave a supermarket with what i need and not a load of other stuff.

The most important economic issue of the last 20 years has been technology. I don’t see any reason to think that this wouldn’t be the case in the next ten years. Which is why it is totally unacceptable that our politicians dodge this issue: They need to tell us what the future holds and how we can set society up to handle what is coming. It’s not an easy job, but it is their job.

The reality is that we all like story’s that have a villain. UKIP and people like them in the past offer an obvious human agent. They are blaming migrants for our problems.

Have you heard the one about the Banker the Rumanian, the Dailey Mail Reader and the packet of biscuits? ‘There is a packet of 12 biscuits, the banker leans over and grabs 11 of the twelve biscuits. He looks at the Dailey Mail reader and says: “you better watch that Rumanian: he is eyeing up your biscuit.”’

The banker is also another mythical villain. He isn’t real. At least people like him are probably less prevalent and 2 dimensional than the debate may lead us to believe.

We have a level of complexity in our society that most if not all of us can’t handle. When things go wrong we want to thump someone; be that someone who didn’t grow up on your street or anyone with more money than you.

Whilst those things might make you feel good: The guy who says: “I would put the bad guy in the stocks” is selling you a pup: The profile of the villain we are looking for is mythical. We may as well have a show-trial and put the Disney villain Ja’far in the dock. It will take the whole of the next parliament to find anyone who fits the bill, oh and we still won’t have a coherent vision of how the world is changing and what we need to do about it.

My butter wasn’t stolen by a Romanian or a banker: I forgot to order it because I was riffling around the infinite labyrinth of my laptop looking for an invoice I didn’t file properly.

Romanians didn’t steel British Jobs: From what I can see, about 50% of the till staffs in the supermarket are now robots. I have only taken cash out at the bank over the counter on a couple of occasions in my life; there is rarely a human teller involved. I didn’t even need to type this Blog: I can dictates it into my machine will type it all down with near perfect accuracy. So if working class voters are worried about Romanians they shouldn’t be. They should be thinking more about the flood of  office workers who will be displaced by robots and will need to find work in the trades.

The world is changing and we need politicians that have a clear, coherent ideas about: what, how and when those changes are going to take place: If they can’t tell us that story first: then they don’t deserve our vote.