Monthly Archives: December 2007

Egypt ‘to copyright antiquities’

One thing I have learnt from my exposure to the subject of copyright since joining the British Library is to quote an expert, “it’s complicated”.

Which makes me wonder how the Eqyptians plan to implement this new international law.

According to the BBC news website, Egypt’s MPs are expected to pass a law requiring royalties be paid whenever copies are made of museum pieces or ancient monuments such as the pyramids.

Zahi Hawass, who chairs Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, told the BBC the law would apply in all countries.

sphinx with copyright logo  Pyramids and Sphinx Retroactively Copyrighted

Secrets of a successful entrepreneurs

I have been listening to yet another thought provoking show from Peter Day. This time it is from his GlobalBiz show on the BBC World Service.

He was visiting the BridgeClimb experience in Sydney, Australia, and talking to its founder Paul Cave.

He talked frankly about the importance of customer complaints to his business and how he aims to continuously improve and grow their service. One of his biggest challenges was to change staff attitudes so that when they receive a criticism or a suggestion, it is seen as a positive thing. He wants them to celebrate when they get feed back of a negative nature, because this allows them to work out how to change and improve their service to address those comments.

He also outlined his secret to becoming a successful entrepreneur; “You need drive thrust, vision and follow through.”

Most business take a lot longer, the pockets need to be deeper than expected, and you need to be very very resilient. You have got to have an enormous determination, an obstinacy to proceed in order to make a business happen.

Also the subject is best taught by ‘pracademics’, and that some of our best entrepreneurs are not polluted by education. Many of our professions, particularly law and finance are about reasons ‘why not’.

Finally, entrepreneurs have the ability to see around a corner, when there isn’t a physical way of doing so. They sense what is there in a way that many of us are unable to do.


Virtual world 0 – Real world 1

On Saturday I was fortunate enough to be able to attend what is considered to be the local derby of Arsenal vs. Tottenham Hotspur at the shiny new Emirates Stadium. After a slow start it turned into a very entertaining match for the 60,000 fans of both teams. Just after half time Arsenal scored the first goal of the match and the whole stadium erupted, to the extent that I could feel the stand shaking beneath my feet. Such a visceral experience came as a surprise.

On the way home through the new St Pancras station I was musing on the continued popularity of live entertainments, both sporting and music, when my thoughts were rudely interrupted. It was the screeching sound of Punch emanating from a Victorian style booth, surrounded by an entranced crowd of children and parents.

Here was another example of old technology (according to Wikipedia, Punch and Judy date back to the 16 century) still being popular with today’s generation of internet and video consumers.

Real Web 2.0 Benefits by Richard Wallis

One of my favorite presentations at the Online Information 2007 Conference was Real Web 2.0 Benefits by Richard Wallis Technology Evangelist at Talis.

He started with the most simple and yet comprehensive definition of Web 2.0 shown below.


In case you hadn’t worked it out from his slide, the answer is Web 2.0 applications are identifiable due to their ’round corners’.

He also ran through quite a few live internet demonstrations which is always a brave thing to do in front of the critical Online audience.

Finally he showed what has to be my current favourite library related video on YouTube. It shows a mediaeval monk getting assistance from his ‘help desk’ to overcome the  challenges presented by the brand new technology of the book from his trusted scroll.

An unexpected sight at Online Information 2007 Conference

I arrived rather late to one of the sessions at the Online Information 2007 Conference so stood at the back. I was somewhat surprised by this sight amongst the various bloggers and  ‘Twitterers’ in the audience. Even in these days of metrosexual men, the hairy arms (which are hard to make out in my blurry phone video) were unexpected.

When Things Start to Think by Neil Gershenfeld

This is one of my favourite non-fiction books which I reviewed when it came out but have updated.

When Things Start to Think by Neil Gershenfeld – 1999

When Things Start to Think coverThis amazing book by Neil Gershenfeld the director of the Center for Bits and Atoms at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was so futuristic when it was written in 1999 that we are still waiting for many of his predictions to come true.

The book was written while Gershenfeld was the co-director of the Things That Think project at the MIT Media Laboratory. Here he was exposed to futuristic technologies on a daily basis and so gained an insight into the world of technology to come.

For example if you think the current state of computing is pretty advanced, what about a computer in your shoe that can communicate intelligently with others ‘wired’ footwear when you pass by on the street? Or the printer which produces three dimensional ‘printouts’ which will be your personal desktop factory.

My favourite chapter concentrated on the future of the book (surely a topic close to many of our hearts). He describes an electronic book containing around twenty or so pages of digital paper ‘printed’ using computerised ink. The text and images can be refreshed from the inbuilt memory or downloaded from the internet. The pages are fixed on the page and don’t disappear when the power is turned off. The real challenge for the technologists is to produce a page that has the readability as existing printed text. Gershenfeld spends several pages detailing just what a fantastic medium the ‘old’ technology of the printed page is for acquiring information. A book can contain a vast amount of information, you can jump to any page almost instantly, your can read it in the poorest of light, it needs no power and it is remarkably cheap when produced in large volumes.

I like the way the books is written in a chatty non-technical style with lots of clear and simple explanations, which is a rare ability in a technologist. Also, despite having seen quantum leaps in computing in over the years Gershenfeld realises there is still a long way to go before computers can be regarded as intelligent. Humans shouldn’t have to adapt to computers – it should be the other way around. For instance does your computer even know when you are sitting in front of it, let alone what kind of mood you are in, or how hungry or tired your are.

However I believe that Gershenfeld does fall into the scientists traditional mistake of thinking that we will reach a kind of technological nirvana. He fails to note examples from history where scientific developments have been abused to the detriment of humankind. For example, on the one hand we have nuclear power and genetically engineered medicines but on the other nuclear bombs and chemical warfare.

Jimmy Wales talks Wikis at Online Information 2007

I am just starting to catch up from the week that was Online Information 2007 and will be creating a few blogs from my notes.

First of all was the keynote speech ‘Web 2.0 in action:free culture and community on the move’, from Jimmy Wales of the Wiki Foundation on Tuesday 4 December

Jimmy WalesWikipedia is a registered charity which cost $1 million in 2007 and forecasted to cost $2-3 million in 2008 which is amazing considering it is now the 8th most popular website in the world. Even in Iran it is the 14 most popular.

It has expanded to over two million articles in English, but has over six million in total.  It has 14,000 articles in Hindi. But when you consider that there are 280 million Hindi speakers, it still has a long way to go.

Jimmy said that Wikipedia will remain true to encyclopaedia base and not include articles which you would not expect to find in a general purpose publication.

Minority interests are covered through the development of Wikis such as the Muppet Wiki with 15,000 articles and Wookieepedia (yes, Star Wars is the topic here).

For me the big story is the development of Search Wiki – an open source search engine will all decisions in the public domain. Fast Company Magazine in the U.S. described it as “Google’s worst nightmare”

Intellectual Property in the Digital Age

I greatly enjoyed our Round table breakfast on 21 November to discuss Intellectual Property in the Digital Age hosted by our Chief Executive Lynne Brindley.

Tracy Chevalier author of Girl With a Pearl Earring gave a concerned speech asking how authors would be paid in an increasingly digital age. She referred to a cousin who never pays for music as they can download everything they want for free from the Internet.

One of the speakers pointed out that Intellectual Property is not a actually property in the sense that it can be shared without loss to the author or creator. Compare this to a house or a shoe and the difference is immediately apparent. He claimed that much of the confusion around IP law stems from this fundamental difference. This was a completely new insight for me.

Lynne Brindley said that the debate on intellectual property is too heavily focussed on teenagers, music and the consumer industries, and that we should realise that many areas of our society, culture and economy are impacted by IP law.

Rufus Pollock from Cambridge University, who was in the audience, described a study he has undertaken which showed that the optimal term for copyright should be around fourteen years. This is substantially shorter than any current copyright term and implies that existing copyright terms are too long.

Social Enterprise – Inspiring Entrepeneurs

The evening after the Teenpreneur event we held one focussing on Social Enterprise.

The speakers were Tim Campbell, founder of the Bright Ideas Trust, Sophi Tranchell, managing director of Divine Chocolate, Zarine Kharas, founder and CEO of Just Giving, Kresse Wesling, director of EAKO, Babaloo and Bio-Supplies.

All four speakers were truly inspiring, starting with Tim Campbell racing through his talk and questions before rushing of to speak at another event. He was very complimentary towards Sir Alan Sugar, and explained how supportive he had been during their two years working together after winning the first Apprentice series.

Sophi_TranchellSophi Tranchell explained the story behind Divine Chocolate, a brand I can personally vouch for as I buy it regularly from our British Library shop. From it’s foundation nearly ten years ago it experimented with a new business model in which the co-operative of cocoa farmers in Ghana owned shares in the company making the chocolate bar. These farmers now own an incredible 45 per cent of the company since The Body Shop made the decision to donate its shares to them.

They are now ambitiously taking on the American market in primarily to generate more sales which will bring more benefits to the farmers who grow the cocoa pods.


Teenpreneurs – Inspiring Entrepreneurs

I have finally found time to catch up on the events I attended during the hectic Enterprise Week 12-18 November.

The Teenpreneurs event was fantastic with Fraser Doherty, founder of Superjam, Emily Cummins, inventor of the solar-powered refrigerator, Ben Way, serial entrepreneur and founder of The Rainmaker, Wilson Chowdhry, CEO of AA Security.

The most memorable story was from Ben Way who recounted the time when venture capitalists knocked on his door wanted to know how much money he wanted to start a web shopping comparison site. His mind racing but with a cool demeanour he asked for £25 million. The investors said that was the amount they had to offer, so the deal was done. Even more remarkable was that Ben was 17 years old at the time. However with the bursting of the dot com bubble of the late 90’s he ended up with nothing. On the same day he appeared in the Sunday Times Rich List under Robbie Williams he could not afford to buy a tube ticket.

SuperJamThe most impressive speaker was Fraser Doherty who had begun experimenting with business ideas from a young age. By 14 he had persuaded his Gran to share her jam secrets with him and soon started making it himself. He is now 18 years old but came across as the most mature person in the building that evening.

He described some of the ups and downs of his business progress, including having to go right back to the drawing board after Waitrose rejected his initial brand and packaging.

Fraser has a blog to enable us to follow his remarkable career.