Tag Archives: travel

Views from the US this week – Snowden, Waze and Alcatraz

What better way of preparing for a trip to the US than riding 100km around London from midnight?
What better way of preparing for a trip to the US than riding 100km around London from midnight?

This last week has been a lot of fun, and a lot of hard work. It started on Saturday night with Nightrider London – cycling from Alexandra Palace in London via all the famous sites in London to Crystal Palace and back again. It was 100km of surprising hills and wonderful sites, and to make it slightly harder, I cycled from home to the start, and the start was at midnight. The aim of the ride was not only the exercise, but also to support the fantastic Kids Inspire charity which help children from challenging backgrounds (it’s not too late to donate).

As soon as I got back from the cycle ride I was off to Endava’s New York office. I travel to New York every six weeks or so to work with the team there. The office is three years old and already has a great client list spread across the United States, and there’s still a lot more opportunity in the market place.

This visit was slightly different because we had a sales presentation in San Francisco. I’ve been to San Francisco once before, also for a sales presentation (back in the IMG days). The last visit was first thing in the morning, so we flew into SF in the evening, had dinner with the client, presentation in the morning and flew straight back out.

This time, the visit was just as short – I was only in San Francisco for 20 hours, but the presentation was in the afternoon so I went for a run around the city centre and the docks in the morning where we saw Alcatraz and some seals. The sun was shining, it wasn’t too hot, and the sales presentation went really well. All in all the city really appealed.

Unfortunately I could only stay on the west coast for a short period of time because I needed to get back for some prior meetings on Friday and we’re going on a family holiday for a special weekend (both my birthday – a big one, and a friend’s birthday).

Data privacy in the news

During my time in the US, the media was full of coverage about Edward Snowden, the latest so called whistle-blower who has told the press that the US government stores all the intra- and inter-American phone records.

The media has been balanced, mainly because the public opinion in the US is equally balanced. According to a poll of Americans, 56% found it acceptable that the government has this information. I agree. My opinion is that it’s similar to all the surveillance cameras we have in London – I don’t really care about them because I’m personally not doing anything wrong. And if, Heaven forbid, we get a nasty Right Wing government who might take advantage of all these phone records and cameras, well I expect I’ll have bigger issues to deal with than my phone record analysis.

Two of my favourite pieces of analysis about the Snowden incident were in the San Francisco Chronicle. First was Peter Scheer who wrote in an opinion column:

“The logic of warfare and intelligence has flipped. Warfare has shifted from the scaling of military operations to the selective targeting of individual enemies (think of “body counts” during the Vietnam War). Intelligence gathering has shifted from the targeting of known threats to wholesale data mining for the purpose of finding terrorists.”

And on a slightly lighter side (but there was a serious undertone to the article), Caleb Garling wrote an article with some advice on guidelines to avoid leaving a digital footprint.

“Do all your social networking in person at a local bar or restaurant – provided you pay cash for your drinks, there aren’t security cameras and no one takes your pictures and posts it to Facebook”.

Just imagine that last point – real world social networking!

Dotcom bubble

For my friends and colleagues in the UK who think we’re in another dotcom bubble, you’d have loved the front page of the newspaper. The headline was “Building on tech’s success, Job growth spurs record breaking need for apartments, condos”

The current need for housing the boom in the technology sector in Silicon Valley has exceeded the first Dotcom bubble. Astounding.

And to add fuel to the fire (or perhaps ‘adding washing up liquid to the bubble’), Google has officially bought Waze, which I’ve commented on previously. Google has bought it mainly so that no one else can buy it. Those competitors included Facebook and Apple. Spending $1.03bn on a defensive investment like this, for a company with no notable historical revenue (let alone profit) is a pretty big sign of the market.

This week in New York

One World Trade CenterI’ve been visiting our New York office this week, and had the privilege to meet many interesting people and companies.

Key points that stuck out were:

  • The American Airlines flight to New York last Sunday had free Wifi access for the entire journey. It’s very strange being able to iMessage Mrs H and the kids from the aeroplane, including sending them photos along the journey. And in case passengers’ batteries ran low from too much texting and surfing, there was a 3 pin UK electrical socket on every seat.
  • Whilst in New York, the antenna was erected on top of the Freedom Tower (or more correctly known as One World Trade Center), where the World Trade Centers once stood. The antenna makes the building 1,776 feet tall, which is the tallest building in the Western world. It was a memorable experience seeing the spire about to be raised the height of the building draped in the American flag.
  • Free Wifi is still relatively rare. All Starbucks have free Wifi, and some of the larger stores (Bloomingdales, Target, etc.). Bloomingdales deserves an award for having the longest terms of service to use the free Wifi. I was in a hurry and so I just pressed Accept.
  • Watching Piers Morgan was interesting because he interviews his subjects from such a UK mindset, which seems to wind them up (especially anything to do with gun control). Watching Twitter while his show was on transformed it into almost comedy entertainment, with some funny comments targeting him from the UK and the US.
  • FourSquare is still going strong. I checked into a few places which had over 100 people currently checked in (over 150 at JFK airport).

How industries are blurring together

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I’ve been doing lots of travelling recently – visiting our delivery centre in Romania four weeks ago with a potential client, then in New York for a keynote speech at Brand Innovators, then back to Romania last week with a new commercial partner.

During the first visit to Romania we showed the potential client some of the e-commerce work we are doing with multivariate testing using Sitecore. It’s really impressive stuff, and I was preaching A/B testing and multivariate testing a couple of years ago, saying it will be the next big thing. I was a year early, because now many of our clients are adopting it, testing colours, images, text and forms as easily as changing content.

We are also pushing multivariate testing on mobile devices. I don’t see why people treat mobile, web or even TV any differently as digital output devices, however many of our clients have mobile teams, so we need to still need to treat each output differently to match these customers’ organisations. Again, in my opinion multivariate testing, user testing, rendering speed, and so on, are just as important across devices.

New York was an interesting visit too. My main focus was a client workshop with a key topic around “With sites like Facebook, why do we still create .com websites? Discuss.” If you want to know the outcome, give me a call. Another key focus of the visit was giving the keynote speech at Brand Innovators Social Media, (disclaimer: Endava are sponsoring the next few Brand Innovator events).

I finally got to meet Mark Bonchek. Mark spoke at a previous Brand Innovators’ event where one of our key clients heard him, and I’ve read a number of his articles on the Harvard Business Review. It was a real pleasure to have dinner with Mark on the evening before the event. We have shared views around organisational structure (that organisational hierarchy doesn’t quite work the same as it did 150 years ago) and there were some lively debates around the table.

And then last week I was back to Romania again. The focus last week was more around the media clients, and we showed some of the new projects we’ve been working on in the sector. It’s very impressive stuff – especially around TV and mobile apps.

It brought home how complex the technology landscape has become. For a media company to create a digital proposition, there are so many output channels to consider. Ten years ago they would have had a linear transmission and maybe sell DVDs or video tapes. Now it’s the linear channel with iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows Phone, web, mobile web, digital TV applications, and the list keeps growing.

Spending long hours (aided by the odd beer or two) with various clients also showed how whole industries are becoming blurred – retailers want to become media broadcasters and media broadcasters want to become top e-commerce sites. Broadcasters are buying telcos. Telcos are buying TV broadcasters. Like so many industries, media is going through a fast, transformational change – and digital is both the enabler and delivery channel.

I need more power

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The regularity of my international travel feel like the proverbial bus – I don’t travel for a few months, and then find myself traversing three continents in a week. I returned home from a great holiday in Israel on Tuesday (blog post to follow), flew to and from Germany on Friday to meet a new client, and I’m currently sitting in the departure lounge on Sunday morning to fly to New York to meet a number of prospective clients.

All this travelling has reignited my constant concern about technology – electricity. On holiday we took a 4 way extension block to charge our laptop, camera, Nintendo DS and the multitude of iPhones and iPods. By the end of the flights, most of the batteries had run down.

It’s one of the reasons I still prefer reading paperback books over a Kindle or iPad. I don’t sit there reading, worrying about whether the power will run out.

I’m currently sitting in the departure lounge in Terminal 5 writing this, and there are large crowds gathered around the “charging points” – also known as plug sockets. Weirdly the sockets are the Continental style, and it feels a little strange that I need to use a plug converter in my own country.

People are queuing up to charge their devices before flights, eagerly watching other iPads and elaborate desk phone chargers to finish their work.

My flight today is with British Airways, and one of the key selling points of the travel class above economy is that each seat has a power socket for laptops. I’m travelling economy and would like to use my laptop on the flight today, but the battery only lasts for 90 minutes, so perhaps I should buy a 10m extension lead and persuade someone at the front of the plane to lend me their power for the flight!

As our reliance upon more electrical products rise, such as screen readers, the power situation is only going to deteriorate further. I’m looking around the departure lounge at the moment and there must be a couple of hundred seats near me, and eight plug sockets. The queue for the sockets is about 2-3 people per socket.

I find it amazing that manufacturers aren’t pushing battery technology further – and I don’t mean increasing battery life by the odd few hours, but by weeks. Perhaps the breakthrough will come from automobile technology or even the nuclear powered Mars Rover Curiosity!

 

It’s not the bankers’ fault

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After working in the City for a little over 12 months now, I think I’ve come to realise that it’s not the greed of the investment bankers for the recession, it’s their environmental bubble called the City of London.

I came into work yesterday, battling with the Tube strike (I don’t use the motorbike when it’s less than 1 degree), only to see a Ferrari and Maserati driving past the exit to Bank Station. Apparently the bankers are unaffected by Tube strikes.

Today, like 60-odd million other Britons, I woke up to see the country under a white blanket. People on the tube were wearing Wellington boots, hiking boots and clothing suitable for Everest. I came out of Bank station – not a flake of snow had settled on the ground. The snow was like a light rain. The bankers probably didn’t even realise the snow had settled outside of The Square Mile.

My point here is that the City of London is like an ‘almost artificial’ bubble that is unaffected by extremities that the rest of the country faces. And that’s not their fault!

Photo courtesy of Jon Curnow.

NHS Direct

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I was disappointed to hear that the government have decided to shut down NHS Direct for a number of reasons.

On a personal note, as a family we have used the service many times. With four young kids we have all sorts of germs and knocks each month, and we’ve always received a good service from NHS Direct.

As a concept I think the service is spot on. When we were on holiday last week, one of us felt a bit under the weather. The local hospital was glad to see tourists, for a few hundred pounds on the first consultation. We had travel insurance, but to lay out the money and the aggravation of going to A&E on hospital just didn’t appear. Whilst looking through the travel insurance documentation I noticed a phone number to speak to some private nurses, free of charge for the policy. After a quick call they gave a satisfactory opinion, some confident reassurance and suggested remedy. We took their advice and 24 hours later the problem had gone, with no inconvenience of having to claim back any expenses later when we returned from holiday.

If you try to imagine how healthcare will operate (no pun intended) in say, 25 years, I think we’ll have a lot more remote healthcare. We will sit at home and have a video call with a doctor based anywhere in the World. As for how the doctor performs his tests (temperature, blood pressure and so on) – these devices are already available with USB connectivity (e.g. this BP monitor or this thermometer patent request), to send your results through immediately.

Maybe NHS Direct is ahead of it’s time. When I speak to Americans, they are totally envious of our NHS, including NHS Direct. The thought of phoning a service that provides medical assurance (I would imagine this covers half the calls – and keeps the people who just want reassurance out of A&E) and advice – all without providing a credit card, is alien to most countries around the World.

I for one, will be sad to see it go.

Phone charges – a fundamental reassessment

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I’ve just returned from a successful off-site conference at a hotel in Hertfordshire.

There was absolutely no phone coverage in the hotel, and we had to walk 50m away from the building before starting to pick up a signal. It’s a mixed blessing when you don’t get coverage at an offsite event.

In a good way, at least everyone is focussing on the event – less phone and email distractions. However life is never this simple, and with a number of project deadlines, several of us had to keep running outside the hotel to keep checking voicemails and making a few calls.

What annoyed us though was the prices of using the hotel wireless (£15 a day, per person) and the room telephone. £2.25 for free calls – local calls at £1.25 – see the photo above. I was on the phone for a couple of hours each day – so I’d have ended up with a phone bill of over £450 for 3 days.

I dread to think what the prices were like before the fundamental reassessment! 

 

Review of HotelMap.com

Here’s a site that uses a neat mapping tool, probably the best one I’ve seen for a while:
www.hotelmap.com

Unfortunately it’s limited to central London at the moment, but the reason I like the site:

  1. It’s very easy to use – setting up a ‘new’ map takes a minute 
  2. The end user navigation is excellent – I set a map up for our London office (http://www.hotelmap.com/hotelmap/?pro=M7LUT) and it’s really easy to use – with all the various ‘panels’ around the screen. 
  3. The design is nice – I don’t know who did the mapping (it doesn’t look like Bing or Google). 
  4. The concept is pretty neat, of creating a map based on a central location (like the Endava office, or say, Madame Tussaud’s).

Things that they need to work on:

  1. The prices don’t seem particularly great!
  2. The speed of retrieving the costs need to be quicker.

Email Away

I’ve just came back from a business trip to Cluj in Romania where our development and test teams are located. Whilst away, two very unrelated things struck me:

The first was the mild interest in how a city in Romania can become such a centre of excellence in the technology field, which in turn can build an airport and fill WizzAir flights to their brim every day of the week. The airport was busy even at some unearthly hour this morning with English, American and many European languages. The airport has expanded considerably in the last 12 months due to the amount of business going on in the city. Judging by the destinations of the flights from Luton airport each morning, this seems to be happening all over Europe.

The second point, and I did warn that this was unrelated, was how I mainly switched to using my phone for email – not exactly unusual you might think – isn’t this a common practice? Exactly, so why did none of the email newsletters that I subscribe to, render on my phone? All of the emails thought that my email client was capable of rendering an HTML version of the newsletter, so my Nokia was showing all kinds of markup, and the content was illegible. Maybe this was made worse because my phone will only collect the first few kb of each email. I don’t particularly care… it shouldn’t be something I need to think about.

It probably feels like a step backwards to produce text based emails, but considering the amount of people who use BlackBerrys (BlackBerries?) and similar phones  for both work and personal communication nowadays, isn’t it obvious?