Hack me – I’m Hackney

Last October, Hackney Council in London suffered a major cyber-attack, which took many of its customer-facing services offline.  Three months on, many of those are still not available.  The council has been coy about exactly what happened, but has just released a statement telling Hackney residents that some of the data which was stolen in the data breach has now been released by the hackers.

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Don’t let your Children do a Startup, Mrs Worthington…

Noel Coward, the English playwright and actor, described the motivation behind writing his most famous song as: “Some years ago when I was returning from the Far East on a very large ship, I was pursued around the decks every day by a very large lady. She showed me some photographs of her daughter – a repellent-looking girl, and seemed convinced that she was destined for a great stage career.  Finally, in sheer self-preservation, I locked myself in my cabin and wrote this song – “Don’t Put Your Daughter On The Stage, Mrs. Worthington”. 

I know how he felt. As I spend more and more time in meetups, startup conferences, incubators, co-working spaces and accelerators, it feels that our industry has adopted the same rose-tinted spectacles in the belief that every Tom, Dick and Harriet can be trained to be an entrepreneur.  Hence the following update:

Don’t let your Children do a Startup, Mrs Worthington.

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Trident – is Theresa May a better deterrent?

One of the first decisions Theresa May made on becoming Prime Minister after the Brexit referendum was to approve the manufacture of four replacement submarines for our Trident nuclear weapons system.  She argued that it would be an “act of gross irresponsibility” for the UK to abandon the continuous-at-sea weapons system, continuing the logic that a submarine which cannot be traced is an invisible force for retribution which would deter an aggressor.

I’ll pass on the issue of whether or not we should have nuclear weapons.  That’s a different and important point to argue.  What I’d like to highlight here is that whilst the concept that a nuclear submarine was undetectable may have been valid in the 1960s, it’s no longer the case.  The countries that signed up to the principle of Mutually Assured Destruction now have the technology to know exactly where each other’s submarines are.  So what is Trident meant to be protecting us from?

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Brexit – a Tragedy of Shakespearean Proportions

Last Friday, many of us in the UK woke up to discover that our world had changed.  Despite every poll indication to the contrary, the country had voted to leave the EU.  There’s an irony in that vote – Tory ministers repeatedly berate our education system for not putting enough emphasis on Shakespeare.  The result showed that they have no room to talk, for as Coriolanus would have told them, the people have resoundingly spoken with the yea and no of general ignorance.

The question is, what now?  It has been a particularly nasty campaign, devoid of facts and based on the basest of emotions as rhetoric sank to the lowest common denominator, dividing friends and family in a manner which I have never seen before.  Truth has been a casualty, as has Jo Cox.  There is no question that many, assured by the polls that the result would be a vote to remain, took the opportunity to vote against the Government, attempting to bloody the eye of what is almost universally seen as a disconnected posh elite.  They were shocked to find that rather than pecking the eagles, the crows had ripped out their own eyes on Friday morning.

So what now?

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I shall vote YES – the vote for Scottish Independence

As usual in August, I’ve been in Edinburgh for the Festival.  This year there’s been the added frisson of the debate about Scotland’s vote for independence. However, debate seems to be the wrong word.  The vote that could result in Scotland becoming independent from the United Kingdom seems to centre around a very limited number of unsubstantiated claims from either side, with almost no critical analysis of what it might mean for the future of the nation.

The proposal put forward by the SNP is that Scotland will control its own destiny, funded by a belief that tax revenue from North Sea oil will grow.  It’s a bit like an established company saying that it is about to embrace a fundamentally different business model, for example M&S announcing to the City that they’re going to stop selling food and revert to just being an underwear retailer. If that happened it would come with a strict warning that future performance could go down as well as up.  The independence debate has no such caveat for Scotland’s populace, seeing only a future upside.  So it seemed appropriate to update Christopher Logue’s poem “I shall vote Labour” to help the undecided:

 I shall vote YES

I shall vote yes because
I believe in wind farms.
I shall vote yes because
Tartan is my favourite colour
I shall vote yes because
I’ll have had my tea before I get a chance to vote.
I shall vote yes because
Alex Salmond kissed my sister Mary’s baby.
AND
I shall vote yes because
My hairdresser told me to.
I shall vote yes because
My Jamie found an image of Sean Connery in his deep-fried Mars bar.
I shall vote yes because
I love Edinburgh’s trams.
I shall vote yes because
I believe Greggs can solve Scotland’s obesity problem.
I shall vote yes because
I want my pension and my children’s pensions to be paid for by oil taxes, and
Alex has promised that oil will be $150 a barrel by Christmas;
I shall vote yes
Even though my milkman thinks the oil will run out;
AND
I shall vote yes because
I believe in saving the NHS.
I shall vote yes because
Peter Capaldi is the best Doctor Who.
I shall vote yes because
I think Scotland should keep the pound, but mostly
I shall vote yes because
Deep in my heart
I want to be English.

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London. The Nexus of Big Data and Data Science

Over the past few years I’ve been working more and more with the large volumes of data that come from M2M and the Internet of Things.  It wasn’t that long ago when “Big Data” was a novelty that was largely a vision of the future – more talked about than done.  In a few short years it’s morphed into the “next big thing” that everyone needs to have and which will save our planet and our health systems.  Of course, Big Data itself is of limited use.  What changes the game is the insight which can be extracted from it.  That’s why the headline description of big data can be unhelpful. By concentrating on the “big”, it places the spotlight on the mechanics of database structures, diverting attention from the real skills that the industry needs to make it valuable.

I’d like to share some things I’ve learnt from my experience working in this area.  The first is the continuing hype.  When I put together a conference on the use of big data at the Cabinet Office last year I was hard pressed to find anyone really doing it commercially – the hype was still far greater than the practice.  I don’t think that much has changed since then. We’re still on the lower, gentle slope of the Gartner hype curve.  My guess is that the only companies making significant money from big data at the moment are conference organisers and consultants.  But attention is being paid.

The second is the type of skills we need to cultivate.  We talk about Data Scientists as the new breed of practitioner, but that’s largely a self-invented title from data analysts who want more recognition.  Extracting value from big data, or broad data if you want to be more accurate, is more than that.  The best definition I’ve heard is that it’s about telling stories with Matlab.  It’s not about Hadoop or Cassandra – they’re just the mechanics. The reality is that Big Data needs to be about Data Storytellers if it is going to be transformational.

The third thing is that this is something we do exceedingly well in London.  Other places may collect more data, build bigger server farms or invent more capable database structures.  But we tell better stories.  So if you want to generate value from big data, London’s the place to set up your business.

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