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.


But they look like tiny hair dryers

Apple’s AirPods are coming. They are the answer to the missing headphone jack on the iPhone 7.

But they look like tiny hair dryers.

Online worry has been they will fall out of ears easily, get lost, bit pricey etc….

They are controlled by optical sensors and infra-red technology so gentle tapping them will control playback. There are no wires to get tangled and nothing to plug in. You do have to charge them though.

If other phone companies follow suit this might be the future for headphones for all phones.  I’m not sure I mind so long as the music sounds good.


Sense of re-purpose

This morning  Facebook was trying to tell me how to make an Ottoman out of plastic bottles. The craft pages I like are constantly trying to tell me what I can do with old bottles, glass or plastic, and how to turn things that I don’t need any more into bright and shiny new things. I can barely turn round without being told how to make an old lotion bottle into a phone charger cradle or  waterproof umbrella holders out of old water bottles.

This makes sense- we use far more things than ever and have a greater awareness of the need to dispose of items responsibly- whether we reuse, re-purpose or recycle them. In addition, re-purposing items can also be a great way to innovate.


About 30 miles south of Edinburgh is the village of Oxton, where they have re-purposed their old red telephone box into a defibrillator station. This is a brilliant way to make sure a highly visible public space is still benefiting the community even after everyone has landlines and mobile phones.

So next time you think you need to get rid of something that perhaps isn’t needed any more have a think first about whether you can use it to support something new. I think I’ve found a good target for re-purposing – I wonder what we could do with this?





European City of Science week

This week sees Manchester host several events as Science in the City: part of celebrating Manchester as the European City of Science 2016. St Ann’s Square featured the Allotment of the Future. Several of the issues that I’d seen at the Science Gallery in Dublin also featured here, with more on hydroponics and innovations to help feed the masses in the future. There were also two cross sections of soil types and what looked at a brief glance like a giant hydrangea.


Algae tanks in St Ann’s Square

The Allotment of the Future is definitely worth looking at if you happen to be in Manchester City Centre this week, and there are plenty of events going on round the city, including a Science Meets Poetry event at the John Rylands Library on Tuesday 26th July 2016.


Exciting Award for Digilab


Lorraine and Ros with a LIBER mug

Congratulations to Lorraine Beard and Ros Bell who won an award at the the LIBER 2016 conference for the abstract “Digilab: experiment, play, learn”, which won one of three Library Innovation awards.

LIBER includes more than 400 national, university and other libraries from over 40 countries and is the main network for research libraries in Europe. This year the conference was in Helsinki, where Lorraine accepted the award on behalf of Digilab

Digilab, which is just beginning its third year, is an opportunity to allow the students (and staff) of the University of Manchester to explore new technologies through a number of events and workshops.

Digilab stats

An informative slide from the abstract.

Ros is the project manager for Digilab and Lorraine is the project sponsor. I asked them why they thought Digilab stood out from the crowd.

“Libraries don’t tend to be doing this sort of thing. The Universities are, but it’s far rarer for a Library to be taking the lead.”

“Also one of the conference themes this year was The Library as laboratory, so Digilab fitted right in.”

And what is next for Digilab?

“Do it again, more!”

“We’ll be looking at moving Digilab away from the early experimental project stage and we have a steering group looking at how to keep the momentum going.” 

Innovation in the field(s)

I recently visited the Field Test Exhibition in the Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin.  The exhibition concentrated on innovations and issues in  agriculture and was spread over two floors. The exhibits were varied, with some involving interaction and others that were displays of information. Examples include the reuse of coffee grinds to grow oyster mushrooms, recordings of insect noises and Lullaby Milk– where the cows are milked before dawn to enhance the amount of melatonin in the milk- which was being marketed as an aid to natural sleep.  There were plenty members of staff on hand to answer questions about the exhibits.

Bees were featured more than once, which makes sense since the survival of bees is currently a major issue.  Bees are in danger from human caused threats such as pesticide and if they die humans will be likely to follow shortly after from the disruption to our food supplies.  One third of our food is pollination dependant so it’s unsurprising that several of the Field Test items focused on bees. Robobees are tiny lightweight robotic insects developed at Harvard that have a number of potential applications, including the pollination of fields. One of the other innovations was referred to as Tinder for Bees, which allows members of the public to help identify possible threats to the hive by classifying images from monitoring devices installed in hives.  These will then be used to form algorithms which will in turn help identify threats to automatically.


One of the exhibits displayed information about seed banks and how certain hybrids can only be bought from suppliers as their own seeds don’t breed true.There was also a seed bank vending machine, which issued a mystery seed pack for a Euro. Each of the seeds in the vending machine came with a slip of paper explaining more about the seeds enclosed.

Outside the gallery was the Loci food lab- I was asked to choose three words to define what key features I preferred my food to have, and a specially designed bite was provided according to my choices. (Sadly, since I’m not in the habit of posting pictures of my lunch on social media, I ate it before it occurred to me to take a photo.)  The taste was interesting and came with a print out of my personalised menu, along with a breakdown of how many other people had visited the lab (over 6000) and how many others had chosen the same attributes as me. By far the most popular keyword was “delicious” although, as the person assembling the bite admitted, delicious can mean very different things to different people.

Field Test is definitely worth a visit if you happen to be in Dublin. If not you can read more about the exhibits here.

Streaming meetings at the Library

Streaming is now ubiquitous with most things we do, or for what I do at the very least! Netflix, check  Spotify, check Apple TV check check! The ability to stream entertainment to our various devices either when we’re at home or out and about has now become incredibly popular, nay mainstream, and as long as you have a WiFi connection and a device, seemingly easy. All well and good for our social fixes but what about when you’re in work? Can streaming help deliver solutions that will engage all staff across a range of sites and different working set ups?

As part of the Digital First initiative one of the quick wins that was settled upon was to start streaming staff meetings so that there was a greater outreach for staff who are unable to attend meetings regularly or can catch up on at a more convenient time. Other positives included:

  • Time saved…less travel time to get to meetings means more productivity and an opportunity to do more work.
  • Increased staff flexibility….Staff can watch the videos whenever and wherever they please.
  • Richer content…there is more flexibility with using different technologies and this content can be accessed easily at a later date.
  • Web access…. streaming capabilities do not have a range restriction. Anyone with internet connectivity and access rights can participate.
  • Eco-friendly….. Webcasting is virtual in nature and this means a considerable reduction in the environmental footprint.

For the pilot sessions Carl and I used a piece of software called Wirecast Play which was connected to the Libraries YouTube account, we then used a plug in camera which was connected to the laptop and hit Stream….Voila!


The good things to note about this piece of software is the ease with which it is to use, though I will note that it is quite click heavy as you go through all the set up, but once you have done this you can sit back and forget about the streaming and get on with either your meeting or presentation. With this particular piece of software you can also pre-load slides if you have them to appears side by side with you talking. You can also mute the content at any given time, such as when group discussions are happening and you don’t need your viewers to listen. Questions can also be submitted via YouTube rather than Wirecast from viewers in live time. The only negative of this is that you require a Google account to login to YouTube to ask questions which some of our viewers didn’t have. Another negative point came from the audio available from the speakers we used in the first meeting pilot. Viewers reported that the sound changed depending on where the speaker was talking in the room, and that when the audience clapped the audio suddenly got very loud and took a few by surprise. At the second meeting we used the audio from the laptop and this was more favourable, although still not a perfect solution. A final negative to note, and something that cannot be controlled by the streaming service, is the room itself. At the second event, the slides were projected onto a wall which was often hit by sunlight; this meant that viewers couldn’t always see the screen so were reliant on the audio sound more than ever.

Overall though this software is not perfect, the market is constantly changing and we can look for a better solution to what we require whilst continuing to use Wirecast Player. We feel that there could be better and more user friendly pieces of software available on the market such as YouTube‘s Live Event set up, or Live Stream which sees over 40,000,000 viewers watching events live each month. It would be interesting to hear if anyone else has any thoughts on streaming meetings online at the Library, or if they know of any technologies or pieces of software that we could test?


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.



Startling Shelving!


Although the old adage of never judging a book by its cover is worth bearing in mind, what about judging or not judging a book by the shelf or furniture on which it sits?!

I was reading a blog post about a book shop in Australia. They reported that they’d replaced two aisles of cheap metal bookshelves with wooden shelves and interestingly found that there was a twenty percent increase in sales from the stock on the wooden shelves over the six months following the change. The blog post suggests that the timber has a particular warmth that made people feel comfortable when browsing in those aisles and so they spent more time there and ended up buying more.
This got me thinking about the importance of our surroundings and how something as simple as shelving in libraries or bookshops can have such an impact on how people feel in those spaces. What subliminal messages do tired, old and frequently wonky shelving send to users of libraries? Obviously there are cost implications in the kind of shelving a library can invest in but there’s nothing to stop us using shelving imaginatively rather than in straight and predictable lines. I found some wonderful photos of innovative use of shelving that inspired me to think about my heaving bookshelves at home and how space can be used creatively and attractively to invite people into libraries and make them exciting places to spend time in –  and that’s before you even get to picking up a stimulating book!

What free online tool can build a shared ideas wall?

– That could easily be one of the questions asked on tricider.


Last week we discovered the tricider online tool which worked perfectly as our online ideas wall.

We’ve had a physical wall for over a year now with some success but with staff based across a number of sites it wasn’t working as well as we had hoped. Our ideas wall founder, Ros, has always wanted an online version but we thought the admin time for running something like that was prohibitive.

So easy to set up and use

Lightbulb_triciderOnce we found it and decided it was what we wanted then it was so quick to set up. I embedded it into our staff intranet and it was good to go. It’s been up a week now and ideas are coming in thick and fast.

Free and no registration needed

It’s currently free and requires no registration so it’s really easy for all our staff to post to it and to vote on other people’s ideas.

Other tools

Makes me wonder what I’ve been missing – what else is out there that’s free and could be useful. Might be worth having a look yourself too.

Some links to help with your search: