Category Archives: technology

The perfect Christmas present – the gift of time

Mondaine watch

I guess in this ‘time poor’ era we could all do with an extra couple of hours a day, but in the meantime for me, a new watch will have to do.

For some years I have aspired to own a Mondaine watch. Based on the iconic official Swiss Railways clock-face, they are simple and elegant. The design with its distinctive red second-hand have indicated the famously punctual Swiss trains at their stations for more than 60 years.

So I was more than a little surprised, and extremely happy to be given one as a Christmas present from my partner. Especially as I hadn’t mentioned my interest in owning one.

Canary Wharf ClockIf you want to see an example ‘in the flesh’ in the UK there is a little cluster of them at Canary Wharf in London Docklands.

My intellectual property expert colleague Phil mentioned that the design was the cause of  court case between Mondaine and the giant Apple computer company. The story was covered by the Daily Mail website in October and November of last year.

Bet Apple wish they could turn the clock back: Swiss firm accuses iPhone 5 of copying their iconic face design.

Apple ‘paid £13million to Swiss national rail operator’ after using its iconic clock design without permission

There is some irony here, as this was the same time that Apple was suing Samsung in the United States for copying elements of the iPhone screen design.

 

Mondaine clock face

Image from DailyMail.co.uk

The secret doors of the British Library

BL DoorsBefore you get too excited, this is not a post about our collection of ‘naughty’ books. I have been at the library for seven years now and have yet to discover where they are located (not that I have been looking you understand).

This is about a secret contained within – not behind the doors of the British Library. At the entrance to each of the seven reading rooms in the St Pancras building stand pairs of impressively large wooden doors.

Colin St John Wilson who made the architecturally controversial building his life’s work, demanded only the best materials for the fixtures and fittings. Consequently the sheer weight of the Canadian oak that these impressive doors were constructed from, meant they could not be opened by ordinary mortals. This created something of a dilemma as the opening of the building  approached. I’m afraid I can’t prevent images entering my mind of stereotypically puny academics and weedy librarians breaking into a sweat, as they struggled with these mighty doors in vain.

To address this actually rather serious accessibility issue, building engineers came up with an ingenious and virtually invisible mechanical solution to the problem.

A small copper wire is curled in a spiral around each door handle. When grasped by a visitor the natural electrical charge within their body triggers a switch which is located in the door hinges. This powers an electric motor to push the door open. However this action is silent and so subtle that almost no one notices the assistance they are being given by the mechanism.

As a fan of ergonomic design and Cyborg Anthropology, I am impressed by this clever solution.

So the next time you encounter one of these magical doors, I suggest you touch the handle and stand back to give yourself time to admire this technological marvel of the British Library.

Making your website mobile friendly with Telnames

Business_Startup_logo

Once again the Business & IP Centre had a stand at the Business Startup Show (this year bigger than ever and moved to Olympia). Although not quite the same draw as Caprice Bourret or Brad Burton, the session I ran with Julie Hall from Women Unlimited was full to bursting.

I always try and find some time to get around the exhibition and see what catches my eye. This year it was Telnames, a new service that claims to ‘create a mobile site that you own and control within minutes’. With the rapid take-up of mobile internet use, I can see the potential for a service like this. According to their website, by 2013 more people will use mobile phones than PCs to get online, and research indicates that 6 in 10 visitors will leave a mobile-unfriendly site.

The man I spoke to was an ex Yell employee, and explained that Telnames has ambitions to become a big player across Europe. I wondered how they would convince small business to pay for an additional service. His answer was simple – £14.95 a year all inclusive. My response was at that price it is a ‘no-brainer’, which by coincidence is the term they use on their home page.

It will be fascinating to see if this service really takes off in the way the salesman predicted.

Telnames_screenshot

Yamasaki YM125 motorbike – the ultimate in brand flattery

Yamasaki--logoThey say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and I think the Yamasaki YM125 may well be the ultimate expression of that in the biking world. Yes, I’m back on my favourite topic of motorbikes again, but this story is all about trademarks and branding.

This rather unexpected brand name takes me back to my early youth, when the British Bike industry still ruled the world, but Japanese imports to the UK were just beginning. Needless to say the old British Bikers would have nothing to do with these young upstarts from Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Honda. Their short-sighted criticisms would often be expressed in dismissive pithy phrases such as ‘I wouldn’t be seen dead on one of those Jap-crap Yamasakis’.

So it is something of an irony that China is beginning its inroad to the established Japanese market hegemony with this portmanteau word based on two of the biggest Nipponese brands. Even more so, the bike spearheading the attack is a copy of the best-selling Honda CG 125. You can make your up own mind how much of a facsimile the YM125 is, by looking at the photos below.

Although not yet available in the UK,  Bike Magazine recently imported one in ready-to-build crated form. After two hours putting it together they weren’t entirely impressed by the build quality, but they were by the on the road price of £896, and the 95 miles a gallon fuel consumption.

Certainly Richy1986, who posted this critical review on Review Centre listing 25 faults, was not impressed with his bike. Yamasaki YM125-3 – Cheap Rubbish!!!

Yamasaki--125-3

Honda-CG-125

 

 

Computing in the Clouds for Small Business

Many thanks to business and technology writer Carlo Pandian for contributing this post:

Everyone uses cloud computing services and many of us have been doing for some time – even if we weren’t entirely aware of it!  From Hotmail to Facebook, cloud computing has been a helpful tool for millions of people the world over to manage their personal lives and communicate with friends across the globe.  Cloud computing solutions for small businesses have however, been taken up more slowly, despite offering huge benefits.  Small firms in particular have most to gain from “the cloud”   So what is cloud computing and how can you benefit?

cloud-server

A typical cloud server

What is Cloud Computing?
Hotmail is a good example; it offers online access to your email account and allows you to access emails from any computer with an internet connection.  Unlike a desktop email software package all the data and any updates are dealt with remotely.  This is cloud computing in a very small nutshell.  New services, deliverable via the cloud, have been developing rapidly in the last couple of years or so.  Now, most software that you can install on your own computer can be found in cloud form.  From online accounting software, to media applications, the range is growing every day.  This has, in large part, been thanks to the rapid improvements in broadband capability in the last ten years and also to the explosion in popularity for mobile computing.   These days, if it can’t be done on the go, then it’s probably not worth doing!

File Share and Back Up
Data back up and online document storage is essential tools for most businesses and is now available in cloud form.  In the old days, data back-up meant a memory stick, or even (the horror, the horror) a floppy disk.  This type of storage was extremely vulnerable to loss, theft or damage.  Remote back up via an online platform removes these risks at one simple stroke.   There are an increasing number of providers who can offer online document storage and sharing options; Google Docs is one well known and well trusted brand, but there are other choices.  Check out Carbonite for a low cost and flexible option or Dropbox, which has been established for a number of years and is a firm favourite with many users.

Money Managing
Online accounting software offers incredible flexibility to small firms and the services on offer from Intuit are worth looking into.  Intuit is a world leader in providing small business solutions and the company’s range of accounting software is available in the old fashioned desktop variety and in the cloud version.  The latter allows small firms to keep records up to date and produce invoices on the go.  Most small business owners will immediately see the advantage of secure, online storage for their accounts along with the huge benefit in terms of time saving that cloud computing offers for those whose business keeps them out and about.

Small Screen Solutions
Online video conferencing facilities have been with us for some time now and there are a number of different providers.  SKYPE is well known and established in the field, although it has been designed specifically with the personal market in mind.  GoToMeeting is a good example of a more business focussed product in the cloud conferencing world.  There’s a free trial on the system and a range of different options to fit the needs of small, medium or larger businesses.  The basics package allows you to work effectively with colleagues or clients across the globe, while additional packages include one specifically designed to deliver training online, live and interactive.

The majority of cloud software available online comes with a free trial period which will allow you the chance to assess the usability of each system.  For many small businesses using cloud computing solutions will free up not only space on your hard drive but the most essential asset you have – time. From online accounting software to video conferencing the world of cloud computing frees up time for small businesses to grow.

Author Bio
Carlo_PandianCarlo Pandian is a business and technology writer and blogs on entrepreneurialism and latest technologies covering everything from user manuals on QuickBooks Online accounting software to tech driven organisational change. In his free time he likes cooking Asian and Italian food and inviting his friends for dinner.

The future of motorbikes is electric

Kawasaki kr1-sI normally leave the coverage of all things patent related in the capable hands of my colleague Steve van Dulken and his Patent Search Blog.

However, Steve is not the keen biker I am (nor the owner of the best motorbike ever created). So he is unlikely to have come across this story in the latest issue of Bike Magazine.

It is about a patent for an electric motorbike from Honda in Japan. And I have to admit I struggled to read all 19 pages of the patent application. But my understanding of the innovation, is the use of smaller electric motors located near the rear axle. This avoids the need for a traditional chain to provide motive power from the engine to the rear wheel.

The point of this story is that you can use patents as a form of market research. It is unlikely Honda would go to the trouble of protecting this idea if they weren’t planning to launch an electric motorbike in the near future.

You can read more at the Espacenet website. US Patent: US8028785  (B2) ― 2011-10-04 ELECTRIC MOTORCYCLE or European Patent: EP2168858  (B1) ― 2012-06-06

Honda_electric_bike

Honda_electric_bike2

 

 

Playback Rewards, a success story in the making

playbackrewards-logoMost of the inventors and entrepreneurs we help in the Business & IP Centre realise that it takes hard work and patience (and some luck) to become successful.

For Alistair Kelman the man behind Playback Rewards it has taken three years of seven day weeks with no holidays.

I have often seen him working in the Centre, and for the past couple of years he has been giving me regular progress reports on his patented invention. These updates have been an alternating mix of positive and negative news, as hurdles appear and then are overcome. Or amazing opportunities arrive, but then disappear again.

Alistair_KelmanThroughout this roller-coaster of events, Alistair has remained positive, and bounced back from setbacks (an essential ingredient for an entrepreneur). He has also taken a flexible and pragmatic approach to commercialising his invention (another necessary requirement – but sadly rather too rare for inventors).

For the last few months I have been waiting for permission from Alistair to talk about his invention on my blog, and now he has given me the green light. I am excited because Playback Rewards has the potential to be our biggest success story so far, by far.

Alistair started working on his ideas for revolutionising television advertising at the Centre at the beginning of 2009. He filed his first patent later that year, which was granted in February 2011. He then worked for months, almost on a daily basis at the Centre, developing, researching and refining the commercialisation of his invention.

In late 2010 Alistair ran out of money for his patent. But managed to persuade Stephen Fry to put in a little to keep the project on the road. As you can see from the video Stephen recorded ???, he liked Alistairs’ ideas and wanted to help. Then on Christmas Day 2011 his company was mentioned in an article in the Sunday Times.

Five months later Playback Holdings Ltd won a place in the semi-finals of the CISCO BIG awards, where it stands the chance of winning $100,000 for the business. Alistair feels that which everyone should know about this amazing programme.

As part of his entry for the CISCO i-prize competition Alistair has made a video Magic in your pocket which explains how the service would work.

On 6 July Playback Holdings Limited starts its Series A  fund-raising via an Financial Services Authority (FSA) approved crowdsourcing  platform called Seedrs. This innovative investment method allows ordinary people to invest between £10 to £100,000 in any of the start-ups on its platform.

The full story behind Playback Rewards, and where they are going is on their website www.playbackrewards.com.

Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Forward-thinking Fashion

Tonight’s excellent Inspiring Entrepreneurs event looked at different approaches to ethical, environmentally-friendly and sustainable fashion.

Rather than seeing ethical fashion as an add-on, our speakers are taking advantage of new technology and practical innovative business models to make them more creative and also sustainable in the long-term.

Tonight was run in partnership with  London College of Fashion’s Centre for Fashion Enterprise (CFE) and Designer-Manufacturer Innovation Support Centre (DISC).

DISC-image

Christian Smith is Corporate Responsibility Manager at ASOS, and has an MSc in Environment and Sustainable Development from UCL. His work at ASOS includes measurement of greenhouse gas emissions, helping the company to understand its impacts and opportunities for improvement.

Annegret Affolderbach is designer and founder of Choolips, who revive  ancient textile traditions. She is passionate about sustainable fashion, and the exciting and potent future it presents for global fashion. Her range is now sold through the ASOS Green Room.

Annegret spent a year and a half after graduating collecting ideas on Post-It notes trying to work out how she could use her talent to make a positive difference to fashion in the world. She also felt the need to be inspired for her whole business career, rather than a short term goal.

Annegret spent another year travelling and listening, visiting the Gambia to learn about Batik, and how the local producers thought about their lives and impact on their local environment.

She was determined to create a product that would be harmonious to both the producers and consumers of the products, and started with just two simple dresses.

Electrobloom flowerMark Bloomfield with a background experience of designing wearable accessories for brands such as Vivienne Westwood, Matthew Williamson and Asprey, talked about developing his own jewellery business, Electrobloom.

This has been inspired by how the worlds of nature, art, technology and science collide, he produces unique jewellery designs using 3D printing technology.

Eleanor Dorrien-Smith is the founder of PARTIMI, and graduated from Central Saint Martins with a BA in Fashion and Print. She has worked for Mary Katrantzou, Tata Naka, John Galliano and Eley Kishimoto before setting up PARTIMI. After creating a capsule collection for US retailer Anthropologie, the PARTIMI ready-to-wear collection was launched in 2010. The PARTIMI collections are defined by striking prints, a distinctive personal narrative and an environmental edge.

The evening was chaired by Melanie Frame, Sustainability Manufacturing Developer at London College of Fashion (DISC). Melanie is part of the DISC project to support fashion manufacturers and designers to innovate their production process. Melanie has been involved in various sustainability projects helping small businesses to set up sustainable and ethical practices.

A question about the concentration on sustainable supply lines led to a fascinating discussion about the speaker’s views on what sustainable fashion means to them.

For Mark it was about recreating a made-to-order type of personalised shopping experience, which gives a more engaged experience for customers.

For Christian improving the welfare of the environment and fashion producers are an important new additional part of the business model, from the traditional success measures of company share price and market share.

He talked about how the Green Room at ASOS helps breakdown the enormous challenges of sustainable fashion into bite sized chunks, making it more manageable. Also telling the story behind the product is another way of engaging customers and staff.

He gave several examples of innovation and change:

The discussion ended with a transparent discussion of producer pricing and markups that are common in sustainable fashion.

My colleague Fran Taylor who organised the event has written an excellent review of the evening on her Creative Industries blog .

The ingenious Tapsell gates of Sussex

Tapsel_gate_at_St_Andrew's_church,_Jevington

Image from Wikipedia

On one of my regular wanderings up on the South Downs, I recently chanced across an intriguing type of churchyard gate.

For my undulating perambulations I often carry a day-pack filled with waterproofs, extra layers and ‘emergency rations’ (in my youth I was a Boy Scout, so ‘Be Prepared’ is my motto). So conventional gates are an unsatisfactory ergonomic experience.

The most common obstacle is the stile, which often involves an unsteady climb and descent on frequently wobbly and slippery planks of wood. Kissing gates appear more straight-forward, but the hinges are often rusty, and half the time your rucksack gets snagged as you squeeze through the narrow gap. Then there is the traditional five-bar gate, which if new, requires Herculean strength to prise the spring-lever open, or once old, has collapsed on its hinges and has to be lifted out of the mud and dragged open and closed again.

As you can see from the photo above the Tapsell gate is a much more ingenious device, as it balances on a central spindle. The gate opens with the slightest of touches, and can be pushed right round so it comes to rest on the fixed stops of the gate posts in a closed position. In effect you only ever have to open the gate, and you never have to wait for someone coming the other way as they can pass by on the other side simultaneously.

According to the little leaflet I picked up in Jevington church written by Rosalind Hodge, the Tapsell gates even allow coffin bearers to comfortably pass on either side without breaking step. Apparently, the bearers could even rest the coffin on the gate if they needed to pause before entering the churchyard.

Sadly, very little seems to be known about who invented this style of gate or when. The most likely source seems to have been a branch of the Tapsell families of Sussex, some of whom were carpenters.

For me, the most intriguing thing of all about these gates is just how few there are. Currently only six examples survive, but it seems not that many were made even at their peak.

This brings me neatly back to a regular discussion I have with inventors. So often they assume that their great idea must be entirely new because they haven’t come across it before in the shops. I explain that of the seventy million or so patents registered in the UK, only a tiny minority ever actually became commercially successful.

The sad truth about inventing (or any innovation come to that) is having a good idea is not nearly enough. I fact I would say it is the easy bit. The hard part is proving the commercial viability of the idea (usually to understandably cynical investors), and then find a way to market it successfully.

Too many follow the path of Ray Kinsella the character played by Kevin Costner in the film Field of Dreams, “If you build it, he will come”. And this proves to be very much the exception rather than the rule.

Organizations Don’t Tweet, People Do by Euan Semple

euan-sempleYesterday evening the British Library hosted a book launch for Organizations Don’t Tweet, People Do: A Manager’s Guide to the Social Web by Euan Semple.

Instead of a speech, Euan was interviewed by Richard Sambrook a friend and college from their days together at the BBC.

Here are my notes from the evening followed by my selections from Euan’s book:

  • The development of the internet and social media present a unique opportunity for social change – Euan considers this a phase change in society.
  • Euan wanted to be part of that change for his children’s sake.
  • He felt that when he was at the BBC, the World Service was a role model for the rest of the organisation. There people rubbed along together from all departments and levels sharing information. Other parts of the BBC were much more hierarchical and stuck in their silos.
  • A lot of the use of early collaboration technologies were simple tools to help people find out answers to simple questions, such as ‘does anyone know a fixer in Poland’, or ‘how do you claim for petrol expenses’.
  • On a wider level introducing these collaborative tools helped to create a shared understanding of corporate issues.
  • Euan recognises that the control issues for social media for many organisations such as law firms are non-trivial, but he believes they will get there eventually.
  • Finding your own ‘authentic voice’ through blogging is so much more valuable than writing endless management reports written in “management bollocks”, to a set formula,  which no one actually reads.
  • Euan describes his idealised vision of future corporations as ephemeral meritocracies.
  • He wonders if it is unreasonable to expect people to be able to, or want to have their own voice. And thinks that education and corporate structures have led to many thinking they don’t. But he believes that ultimately everyone wants to have a say in their lives.
  • The barriers to social media are not about age, but about open versus closed approaches to the world.
  • He believes the internet and social media is the next big story after 18th century religion, early 20th century fascism and communism, and late 20th century capitalism.

The tweets from the event have been Storified here.

A more detailed summary from the Strange Attractor blog by Suw Charman-Anderson.

Book coverReview of Organisations Don’t Tweet, People Do

The book comes in 45 Bite sized chapters, each with introductions and summaries. And in fact each chapter can be purchased individually in electronic format. Euan’s idea is to make it as easy as possible to spread the message to those who remain unconvinced by the benefits of social media.

An essential read for anyone with a connection to social media in the workplace (which means everyone), it is very wide ranging, quite philosophical at times, and always passionately personal.

Euan makes a strong case for the democratising benefits of adopting  social media and collaborative tools.

However, my experience of both successes and failures to introduce these technologies in various workplaces, makes me think that Euan is somewhat naïvely optimistic (an accusation he is aware of, and attempts to address several times in the book).

He ended the engaging question and answer session by saying he thinks it will take up to fifty years for the change to fully occur, and this strikes me as more realistic.

Here are my highlights from reading the book:

What is the book for? It is not a “how to” book nor, I hope, is it cyber-utopian vision of the future….I prefer to think of it as a collection of ideas that… can make the web more understandable and useful in the world of work.

Growing up onlineWe will only be able to take full advantage of the networked world if we grow up, think for ourselves, and take responsibility for our lives and our actions. I am not naïve. I know that, at least to begin with, truly thinking for yourself and saying what you think with any degree of authenticity is a big ask. It may never happen for many people. There may just be too much at stake and too much to take into account for a politician or someone in a corporate setting to really be authentic.

Don’t let the techies ruin the party…keep things out of the hands of technologists as much as possible. Some of them aren’t so bad, and some of them are re-inventing themselves…if there is a single biggest block to making social media happen encountered by my clients in large organizations it is with their IT department.

Ten steps to success with technology:

  1. Have a variety of tools rather than a single system.
  2. Don’t have a clear idea where you are headed.
  3. Follow the energy.
  4. Be strategically tactical.
  5. Keep moving, stay in touch, and head for the high ground.
  6. Build networks of people who care.
  7. Be obsessively interested.
  8. Use the tools to manage the tools. E.G. Blog about blogging in your organisation.
  9. Laugh when things go wrong.
  10. Unleash the Trojan Mice. Don’t do big things or spend loads of money. Set small, nimble things running and see where they head.

Anarchy versus controlSomeone once called me “an organizational anarchist” and I have to admit I was quite chuffed at the description and took it as a compliment…. What I am talking about here is not complete free reign for individuals … I am more interested in the possibility  of all of us taking full responsibility for ourselves and those around us – the ultimate in democracy.

How about moving democracy inside the firewall instead of outside it?

Bosses who don’t get itIf you can’t get support from your boss, see if you can get support from their peers. Find senior people who get what you are trying to do and enlist their support … Keep talking to them in their language about what you are doing and why – even if they occasionally glaze over!

Collaboration and trustThere is a lot of “collaboration software” out there that is really just the same stuff that failed to deliver data management, information management, knowledge management  and is now failing to deliver collaboration. In fact a lot of the tools labelled as collaboration tools actually work against effective collaboration.

Blurring work boundariesThe blurring of the inside and outside raises issues both for us as individuals and organizations we work for. For us it means that we have to take more responsibility for whatever lines we draw between work and non-work.

PR and marketing under threatI believe that marketing and PR are professions at real risk of disintermediation by the web. We will need people to do our marketing for us less and less as we use the tools in everyday work and start to have more effective conversations between ourselves and our customers.
Help your staff to become your best advocates. Give them the tools and the insights to become your ambassadors online.

The Return on Investment of social media – … I am becoming more robust about the ROI question and turning it back on those who ask it. What is the ROI of the way we do things now? … Where is the competitive advantage in preventing staff from using these tools to build and maintain the networks that develop their knowledge and their ability to get things done. Where is the competitive advantage in allowing your competitors to embrace these changes before you do and potentially re-inventing the industry you are so rigidly clinging to?

Online indiscretionsMuch has been made about recruitment teams searching Facebook and LinkedIn to find prospective candidates and the damage supposedly done by online indiscretions. In some ways this is an anachronistic attitude coming from people who don’t themselves engage online. People are becoming much more robust and open in their online lives. Besides, what is so awful about these supposed indiscretions? Rather than worrying about photos of potential recruits drunk at parties, I would be more worried about people who appeared to have something to hide. In fact I would be less likely to employ someone who hadn’t been indiscreet as a student!

Deal with management fearsOnline …You can’t hide behind your status or your pomposity. In fact being remote and pompous will severely inhibit your attempts at effective communication on the web.

So the answer is to help those who are disapproving or pompous in reaction to what is happening on the web. Don’t dismiss their reactions or sneer at them but make it easier for them to relax and say what they think. Show them the ropes and hold their hands rather than ridicule them as they discover  for themselves the fast changing world they have felt excluded from.

Develop guidelines-not rules, collaborativelyDon’t start with rules. Learn to use your tools, and see how people make them work before you cast too much in stone.

Use Trojan miceSet up small, unobtrusive, inexpensive, and autonomous tools and practices, set them running, and cajole and nudge them until they begin to work out where to go and why.

Don’t feed the TrollsThe best way to deal with trolls is to befriend them. Even the worst of them are human.

If your critics have shown the energy to engage, and can then be turned around to be supportive of you, then this sends a very strong signal to other dissenters.

Radical transparencyIn fact online I recommend that people assume that if you have written something on a computer then someone else will at some time be able to see it.

Does this mean you can’t write about anything? No, but it does mean you have to think harder bout what you are writing, where, and why.

Blogging as therapyBy writing about the workplace you become more thoughtful about your place in it and what it does for you.

My favourite quote in the book comes from Vint Cerf, one of the ‘fathers of the internet’. When asked by a journalist if the internet was a good or a bad thing, he replied, “It is just a thing. Whether good or bad depends on what you are doing with it.”

Euan ends the book with his final blog post at BBC after 21, years about the importance of love at work.