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: