Dan Lyons at HOME

HOME theatre has a history of supporting technology as well as the arts, even though this side of its personality may not be as well publicised as the others. I’ve previously seen Martin Bryant (formerly of The Next Web, now of Tech North) giving his round up of the best new apps and technological developments on the horizon. As well as these regular informal chats, HOME is also host to Thinking Digital Manchester, which is a digitally focused TED-like conference. In another string to HOME’s technological bow, head honcho of Thinking Digital Herb Kim, brought Dan Lyons to HOME for a Q&A.


Dan Lyons by Max Jeffrey

Dan Lyons was a writer on techie smash hit Silicon Valley (trailer here – there’s some bad language though, so fair warning), where he presumably drew on his not-all-that-positive experience of working in the marketing team at HubSpot. The Q&A was in support of his new book Disrupted: Ludicrous Adventures In The Start Up Bubble.

Dan spoke on the instability and “window dressing” involved in working at a start up, how the flashy and prevalent ‘free beer Fridays’ and office fuseball tables were there to distract employees from their low wages.

Dan stressed how little VCs care about the products and services that start ups provide, and how they are more concerned with growth and growth only, regardless of how it is achieved. The cycle of VC funding and IPO (Initial Public Offering – otherwise known as ‘going public’), doesn’t seem to have products, consumers and least of all employees, best interests at its core.

Dan also spoke about how his age affected his experience at HubSpot and how HubSpot staff specifically spoke about how weird it was that he was literally twice the age of the average employee (26) and how  they could use this as a marketing and promotional device. In a recent interview with Forbes, he spoke about hearing people at the company actually say “young people are smarter”, and that they were actively only looking to employ youdisrupted-covernger people.

One of the most worrying aspects of this for me is the idea of ‘culture fit’. Dan talked about how employees have to fit into the culture of a company, which is understandable to some degree, but he noticed that this was being used as a short hand for employing only people who would perpetuate the ‘bro’ culture.  People who would go out and get wasted at staff drinks on a Friday night, or be free to run all night hackathons. Companies that operate this way are then made up of the same kind of people, and that ‘bro’ culture permeates the entire company. He talked about being at one particular meeting and looking out onto a see of youthful, white male faces, and how worried it made him. Companies are made weaker by only employing one ‘type’ of person. Fitting into a culture is one thing, but seeing a product or service from a range of perspectives and angles can only strengthen a company, and choosing to perpetuate this mono-culture is damaging and outright prejudiced. Hear Dan talk about this specific issue in this Fortune interview.

Dan was an engaging and relaxed speaker and his book is funny and horrifying in equal measure. Definitely recommended reading for anyone who is curious about tech start ups.


A new tool: Quip


I’ve recently found a new tool that I’m trialling to help working collaboratively on files. There are lots of new-ish tools that facilitate group working, such as Slack and Asana. I’m a self confessed Evernote addict, and cannot imagine my life without it. But nothing quite links all of these things together, and a lot of the time I find myself talking about changes we’re going to make on a file, but still having to store and edit the file elsewhere.

You’ve probably gathered that I’m a bit of an app nerd. I love trying new things and finding better ways to solve daily problems. One of the main problems we have in the Library is document sharing and collaboration. Our shared drive acts as a repository for files, but in terms of functionality, it is basically a digital bin.

What we need is something that allows us to work collaboratively on files, in real time, with chat and comments built in, so there’s no awkward switching between email chains and Word documents. Something with a more intuitive way to track changes, too.

Enter Quip. here are some of it’s lovely, wonderful features.

  • It allows you to create an area for your team, where you can collaborate on documents in real time.
  • It gives you a nice subdomain so it’s easy to remember (mysite.quip.com)
  • Allows you to comment and discuss the document alongside the document
  • Imports from all the major software platforms such as MS Word and Excel
  • Also integrates with Evernote, Dropbox, Box and many more
  • ‘@’ mention colleagues
  • Link to documents within documents (think of how amazingly streamlined your meeting agendas will be!
  • Edit history
  • Living documents, rather than hundreds of static versions. Never edit “Thingy File version 1.8 (JOE’S Version – FINAL)” ever again.

Aside from the time you’ve saved, there is very little to learn.

  • Folder structures? You already know about them. You do them all the time and probably without thinking.
  • @mentions? Got a Twitter account?
  • Comments and chat? I won’t even bother with these.

As it is with all of these types of sites, there is a free version for you to try out first, but the functionality is limited. I’m going to be trying it out for a while to see if it works. Let us know in the comments if you decide to give it a go, too.



First DigiLab event of 2015

Last week we held the first DigiLab event of 2015. It was well attended with an estimated 250 people coming in to try out our collection.

We hadIMAG0900 the ever-popular Oculus Rifts, this time accompanied by brilliant new computers, which helped with graphics lag and processing capabilities. We had a company called Sonocent who came and demoed their Audio Notetaker software. They were giving away free three month trials of the software too, which went down well.  There were demos of the LiveScribe bluetooth pen that can record your handwriting on a notepad and convert it into typed text in an app, and useful apps for keeping organised. We had Google Cardboards to keep people occupied while they waited to demo other kit (and we gave away 60 Cardboard headsets free!). We also had a group of PhD students with EEG feedback headsets who caused quite a stir.  Wearing the headset, users followed a video game that told them what to do, users then focus on making the instruction happen and try to perform the task with the power of their mind. It was amazing and terrifying all at the same time.

It felt a lot more relaxed and better prepared than the first ever event that we held in 2014. This time we had a queueing app that enabled users to be notified of their position in the queue, regardless of where they were. WeIMAG0903 improved our feedback too, and this has resulted in a lot more useful feedback that we are going to be able to use. We also asked people to scan their student cards on entry, which provided us with even more data.

We’re all looking forward to the next DigiLab on 18 November, which will be focused on electronics and making.

Innovation Group Away Day


What’s the question, June?


One of the questions the blindfolded team members had to guess, with only the aid of some randomly selected items to touch.

Last month members of the Innovation Group attended an away day at Media City working with experienced and interesting facilitators Abhay Adhikari and Alastair Somerville.

In the morning we delved into topics such as open data, wearable technology, the Internet of Things (see Wikipedia for an explanation), and case studies on innovation and accessibility in GLAM (galleries libraries archives museums).

This was followed by a practical look at making sense of library experiences. We separated into groups of three with one person blindfolded, whilst the other two had to communicate a common question that a library user might ask, to the blindfolded team member, by only using touch.


An idea storyboarded. Artistic skills were variable.

The afternoon was dedicated to rapid prototyping; the idea of quickly working up a solution to a problem. Members of DTS joined us, and we split into groups to tackle a constant issue for the Main Library – way finding. Each team storyboarded their solutions to the problem and we came up with some interesting and fun ideas, ranging from abandoning the DDS completely, to a slightly more attainable personalised map system.

Even though we may not actually use any of the ideas that we came up with at the away day, learning about the process was really useful, and a completely new way of developing ideas that we hadn’t come across before.

We’re looking forward to sharing this process with others in the Library in the hopes that it will offer a new perspective in problem solving and ideas generation.

Huge thanks to Abhay and Alistair, as well as The University of Salford for hosting us.

Are you ready to Rock(heim)?

As a massive music fan and technology nerd, it would have been remiss of me not to visit the incredible spectacle of Rockheim, one of Trondheim’s two museums dedicated to music. Catering to the more popular side of music, and taking in humour, children’s music, hiphop, prog, black metal, pop, rap and more, Rockheim gives the visitor a comprehensive overview of Nowarys musical past and present in an arresting building, using incredible, innovative and inventive installations.

I smiled patiently as the helpful museum worker told me that Rockheim is a little more technological than most museums. I listened as he showed me the floor plan, with its little symbols denoting how visitors could interact with each area. What I expected was a museum with some interactivity, what I realised as I exited the lift on the 6th floor, was that interactivity isn’t just a bonus of Rockheim‘s installations, it is the lynchpin.

Six huge screens greet you after exiting the lift, they scroll periodically with Norwegian musicians, and it is your job to select who you want to listen to by standing in a designated circle. Motion sensors then react to your movement and breakdown the image of your chosen musician, shattering them, and when you move away from the circle, an excerpt of one of their songs is played. To stop it you stand on the circle again. It is a wonderfully interactive introduction to the museum, even if it does mean forcing other patrons to listen to your music choices.

Laser pointers play a big part in the experience of Rockheim. In the next section I used one to learn about how different developments in musical instruments and equipment have affected Norwegian music. By aiming the laser pointer at a sensor, visitors are able to cycle through various examples of the instrument. Half the fun is finding which sensor applies to your screen and ‘accidentally’ switching the content on someone else’s screen by ‘mistake’.

The 50s garage room, fully equipped with garage-like contents such as a convertible, tools and a picnic set, was punctuated with screens which acted like windows when they weren’t being used. If you looked through the ‘door’ of the garage, you could even see a woman baking a cake. This ‘screen as window’ idea is used throughout Rochkheim and is a really effective use of displays. Using screens this way integrates them into the exhibition rather than using them just as simply a means to display information.

The tour bus was another highlight, utilising recreated music newspapers on interactive screens and more screens-as-windows to display articles and videos. But don’t take my word for it, check out the promotional video:

The following video is one I took in my favourite room. Norway has a rich history of black metal bands, and this room was set up like one of their rehearsal rooms. There was beer bottles strewn all over the foor, and the entire room looked and felt like a dark, dingy log cabin in the middle of nowhere.

Rockheim is an incredible experience, it’s innovative, memorable and fun. A perfect example of integrating technology into an experience, suitable for adults and children, Norwegians and visitors alike. 5 stars.


FutureEverything is an incredible festival of technology, music and arts that happens once a year in Manchester. Part of the festival includes a conference and it is by far my favourite conference of the year.

If I were to write about all the amazing things that happened at FutureEverything, it would fill many blog posts, so I’ve picked just one in the hopes that it illustrates just a tiny fraction of my awe and wonder at this event.

Jer Thorp’s keynote spoke to me. It opened the conference and happened to be about a subject close to my heart: data visualisation. I have, for a long time, been virtually obsessed with the relationship between data and visuals; the idea that an arresting visual representation of data can enlighten, change someone’s mind, or draw attention to a situation. Numbers on a website might interest some, but present those numbers in an interesting way, in a beautiful way, or in a different context, and you can shed an entirely new light on them, whilst reaching a totally new audience.

In 2011 Jer made a visualisation of the Kepler exoplanet candidates. At that point there were 1236.

In 2012 he released his code so that others could update the visualisation (there had been another 1091 exoplanet candidates discovered in the interim).

This openness is at the heart of a lot, if not all, of Jer’s work. His OpenPaths program, which tracks significant changes in location via a mobile device, allows users to own their own tracking data. We can look to the OpenPaths website for his reasoning.

Why did we create OpenPaths? We inhabit a world where data are being collected about us on a massive scale. These data are being stored, analyzed and monetized primarily by corporations; there is limited agency for the people whom the data actually represent. We believe that people who generate data through their own day-to-day activities should have a right to keep a copy of that data. When people have access to their personal data in a useful format all kinds of new things become possible. We can become better consumers: for example, we can know whether a monthly rail pass makes sense for us, or which data-plan would be most economical for our smartphone usage. More importantly, when our personal data is readily accessible and under our control we can become active collaborators in the quest for solutions to important social problems in areas such as public health, genetics or urban planning.

Ignoring the potential can of grammatical worms he opens by using plural verbs when referring to data, we can see that open data is of the utmost importance to him. To hear him speak on the matter was completely compelling, and though there were speakers who disagreed with his stance on data, he definitely convinced me.

I’ve had OpenPaths installed on my phone for a couple of days now, and it’s really pretty interesting to watch the animations. There are no surprises in there, I know where I’ve been the past three days, but as your data builds, you can create a map of your journeys, and perhaps it might spur me on to venture outside my physical comfort zone once in a while.

You can watch his TED Talk, Making Data Human here: 

Digital Revolution at The Barbican

Jade Kelsall and I visited the Digital Revolution exhibition at The Barbican, and I think I speak for both of us when I say it was brilliant. The exhibition takes visitors through a timeline of Digital Creation from the first computers and computer games, right through to interactive haptic technologies, music installations and cyborg technology. Here’s the Storify, which catalogues some of our favourite parts of the exhibition.

The exhibition is full of incredible, enlightening and interactive installations. Here is some of the content that didn’t make it into the Storify.


Innovation Group Summer Brain Storm

What’s your beef? This along with lots of other challenging questions were asked and answered at the Innovation Group’s Summer showcase and brainstorm drop in event held last week in the Main Library. The purpose of the event was to raise awareness of the Innovation Group and some of its projects, and to encourage all library staff to put forward ideas to improve Library services.

Staff from across the Library attended the event, which included three brainstorming workshops facilitated by Ros Bell, as well as the opportunity to visit the dedicated innovation project rooms which spotlighted the achievements and successes of the group to date. We highlighted some of the future campaigns we’ll be focusing on and got some useful feedback and suggestions too.


People shared their ideas with us generously and there were lots of positive ‘Quick Win’ suggestions, as well as more long term projects proposals. The main themes being wayfinding within the Library, and getting to know our fellow colleagues whether it be cross-team working or more socialising with the Library as a whole.

A touch of wellness and serenity came in the form of the popular Bowen therapy room, where trained therapist and staff member Mary O’Meara provided relaxing massage to a stream of willing and very chilled-out staff, demonstrating in the process why this part of the WellBeing Campaign was so popular with anxious students during exam-time. Michelle Sharples also shared why the campaign itself made such an impact across campus.

Nick Campbell traced the evolution of the Eureka! Story and demonstrated some of the Eureka! ideas we have put into practice, whilst Ciaran Talbot offered visitors the chance to sign-up for the Library’s brand new “Booked-In” software.

We also showcased our proposed way of moving ideas along in a more transparent and democratic way, with our ‘Kill The Suggestions Box’ concept, which provides a way for people to submit ideas, gain support from colleagues and have well supported ideas heard by Leadership Team.

Coffee, tea and copious cakes were enjoyed by all and we’d like to take this chance to thank all fellow innovators for attending what proved to be a very creative and inspiring afternoon.

i2c2 conference

The i2c2 conference was seemingly tailor made for the Library Innovation Group. It was a Library Innovation Conference in Manchester, with emphasis on positive disruption and change. The University represented well in the presentations, with three of the sessions being run, or co-run by employees of the Library.

Here is the write up: i2c2 Conference

FuturEverything pt1.

On Monday, 31 March and Tuesday, 1 April I had the pleasure of going to the FuturEverything conference. In the next few days I’ll be posting about my findings and the interesting information and projects I found out about. I’m going to try and make it as interactive as possible, so it’s less like a report and more of a sample of what was presented at the conference. You’ll be seeing videos, Twitter posts, photos and graphics from presentations.

First up: Critical Making with Golan Levin and Garnet Hertz; one of my favourite sessions of the conference.  Both speakers were erudite and engaging, clearly at ease with being on stage.

For those of you who don’t know, I’ll give you a quick run down of what “Critical Making” actually means. Mat Ratto, who popularised the phrase, runs the Critical Making Lab at the University of Toronto. Critical Making is the act of understanding technology, and its relationship to society, by building and creating it. This is often in a group environment (at a hack day, for example) with an open-design (using both hardware and software) framework. The actual process of creating in this way is, in many ways, more important than the final object, and involves reflecting on the process in order to learn from it.

Some of the tools of a Critical Making Lab might include:

3D Printer
Laser cutter
Many, many circuit boards and LEDs

Garnet spoke first about his handmade ‘Critical Making’ book. Which “explores how hands-on productive work ‐ making ‐ can supplement and extend critical reflection on technology and society.” It has 70 contributors and was hand made in a zine style. He recalled, wincing, the amount of stapling and folding he had to do, though I doubt he was working alone!

From there, it got slightly more weird. Cockroach operated robot, anyone?

Garnet spoke of critical making demystifying processes and this was something that really appealed to me. I feel that by enabling makers to create with understanding, they equip themselves with the skills to contribute rather than just consume.

Golan Levin was next to speak. His many years of teaching has gifted him an exceptional stage presence and he spoke thoughtfully about a topic I found genuinely joyful. Golan is responsible for creating the Free Universal Construction kit, as an answer to his son’s construction play problems.

Equipped with construction toys of different brands, a 3D printer and these files, you too can own the kit which allows 10 different construction toy brands to speak to each other. This, for me, is the very definition of innovation. By using the technology available to him, Golan solves an everyday issue that these large companies are not bast placed to solve. Lego has no incentive to make a kit that helps users integrate their system with a competitor’s, but a Dad certainly does. By reverse engineering, Golan has created this open source kit that promotes interoperability where previously there was none.

Another project he spoke of was Information Graffiti and putting information in context. Inspired by Hobo codes – the symbols that homeless people draw to indicate a welcoming host or a scary guard dog – Golan developed a way of printing QR codes as stencils. These can be spray painted onto buildings and used to notify people of places that have good wifi, bad coffee, rude/excellent staff etc. Of course, spray painting directly onto buildings is a bit illegal, but he didn’t go into that aspect. Having said that, I really enjoyed the community spirit that this project has the power to engender. It equips everyone with the capability to contextualise data at the exact place where it is useful.

As someone who has always wanted to be an artist, the NeoLucida project was something that genuinely made my heart soar. Camera Lucidas are said to be one of the tools frequently used by the early masters in their work. However, original Camera Lucidas are antiques, and come with antique price tags. Enter the NeoLucida.

A successful Kickstarter campaign later and these little beauties are being sold on Amazon. Though sadly they won’t ship to the UK as yet. I live in hope.

So many people encounter issues that are eminently solvable, but retreat when it comes to the actual making of the physical thing that would solve their problem. There is a barrier, whether perceived or existent, that prevents them from making. Critical Making aims to equip people with the ability to no longer see creating something as a barrier to solving problems.

Here’s some of the Twitter action that was happening during this session

Favourite Quotes: 
“10 years ago if you spoke about a maker, you were probably talking about God” –  Justin McGuirk (Moderator)

“The maker movement is folk art for engineers” – Garnet Hertz

“What’s worth making and why?” – Golan Levin