The Ministry of Justice
As you may know, I recently left BERG. One of my ambitions in my new found contracting life was to play with big systems and organisations. I have yet to get my teeth properly into any company bigger than 30 people. Now felt like a good time.
I am now at the Ministry of Justice, where we are starting up a new Digital Services Division. Think of it as trying to set up a mini GDS, but for the MOJ rather than for the Cabinet Office.
What GDS have done has been one of the most inspiring things I have seen in my career. I have many friends there, and if BERG hadn’t been such a great place to work over those years, I would have been very annoyed I wasn’t a part of it. I feel like I have missed the GDS boat though. Although they still have so much interesting work to do, and perhaps their most exciting work is yet to come, I felt that it was perhaps a smidge too late for me to join now.
The new Ministry of Justice Digital Service Division is still only 15 people, and even in the few weeks I have been their, we have had new joiners every week. I’ve been particularly excited to have Gavin Bell and Relly AB join us, and also about other people who are not confirmed yet. We’re building a good team, and we need it!
We have a lot to do. There is so much technical and cultural change to be made, and we can do it. It’s by no means guaranteed we will succeed, and their will be challenges ahead, but this is what made the job so enticing for me.
We are bringing in this change by doing some pretty important projects. We have a full wall of them to work through, from making Lasting Power of Attorneys a much less painful experience (hopefully removing the reliance on lawyers in the process) to better managing prison visits. Millions of people from all walks of life rely on these services, often at very difficult times in their lives, and there is considerable improvement we can make to them.
I’m yabbering now, and you can see the point I’m getting to. We need some more brilliant webby people to join us on this mission. And I mean need. This is important. If this sounds interesting, then maybe grab me for a beer and I can tell you more.
Accessing rather than collecting our own personal data
We all know that personal data is valuable. That’s why we get free stuff when we fill out surveys, deductions when we use clubcards and why facebook is free. Some happily have wallets full of loyalty cards and doormats littered with vouchers. Others worry and try and hide themselves, usually quite unsuccessfully.
At the same time, a far smaller but growing group of people are interested in gathering their own personal data. We (for I am among them) scrobble, geotag and photograph as much as we can convince ourselves is worthwhile. We then gamify and schedule notifications to convince ourselves to go even further. We have a suspicion that one day we will be able create something even nicer than an old gig poster or portrait to hang up on our walls with all this data.
It seems like I’m after exactly the same things that the marketers are after. Is there a way of making strange bed fellows of us?
There are two ways I can think of doing this. The first is to convince the data collectors to open up willingly. This is possible, but requires greater political tact than I possess.
The other is to go brute force. One of the few things I learnt in GCSE IT is a quick overview of the Data Protection Act 1998. We’re allowed this data. The problem with this is resource. I, individually, stand little chance of extracting my data out of the tight grip of the lawyers of major corporations. I’ve tried a couple of times before giving up before my lunch break was up, or a strong desire to go to the pub. Maybe we should team up?
Could we get enough of us interested in getting our hands on our own data to hire a lawyer to represent all of us? Someone that knows the correct questions to ask, and the right way to approach it.
I have a lot of other thoughts around this area, and am personally very interested in pursuing it, but there’s no point in dreaming, this is my first step.
** Update **
OK, just to get a bit more precise on what sort of thing I’m proposing. I’m imagining something like a kickstarter/indiegogo project to fund going after a particular company, at first. I’m thinking either Facebook or Tesco.
If you have any thoughts, words or encouragement, or even better, a lawyer who would be interested, then please do contact me on twitter @abscond, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org - and maybe we can make this happen.
With Little Printers shipping to loads of people in a few weeks time, I’ve been thinking about what I want to do next.
BERG Cloud has been the most exciting, challenging and interesting project I’ve ever worked on. I’m incredibly proud of what we have made, and even more excited by what will happen next. However, I’m feeling the urge to strike it out on my own again and see what I can do with what I have learnt in the last few years.
All I’ve been able to come up with is some guiding principles for myself, and some vague hand wavy dreams. But no firm plans. So my immediate plan is simple: earn some money so I can afford to have a bit of a play, and some time to talk to people in my own capacity.
So, I am searching for two things:
Short Term contracts: If you’re in need of an experienced Ruby on Rails and Front End developer to work in your agile team for a few iterations from December, then get in contact. I’ll be putting together an updated CV etc. soon, but if you know me, and still want to work with me, then all the better.
Pub chats and long lunches: If you’re also contemplating striking out on your own, or already are, then let’s go for a drink. I’m not necessarily looking to start a partnership with you, just merely chat about our ideas, maybe even argue about them, but hopefully both of us will have a better idea of what we want by the end of it.
If either of these things are relevant to you, email me at email@example.com. If you don’t know who I am, then abscond.org should hopefully give you an idea.
Let’s see how this goes.
Bus update, and a little iOS home screen icon generator
I got a little bit of time to fix a couple of thing on bus.abscond.org. The first is already written about, as I just followed this guide to use multi-threaded unicorn on heroku, which means I can now support 3 requests simultaneously, all for the low low price of free. It’s a perfect fit for my app, which is small and memory light, but hangs as it waits for TFL to respond.
The other is an attempt at a hacky solution to a problem a couple of people told me about. They use the service by saving their most used bus stops onto their iPhone home screen, which is great, but they struggle to differentiate between them. Fair point.
I heard Dopplr had this great way of choosing the colours for each city. They apparantly made an md5 hash of the city name and used the first 6 characters for a hex colour value. I’ve done the same, but why not make this a service as well? Meet colour.abscond.org. You might want to use it for your hacky app. If you’re going to be using it heavily, just clone this repository and put it on your own heroku instance. How I used it is shown in this mind numbingly simple commit.
I like this solution. It meets the requirements of the project which I think I’m getting close to being able to explain. So I’ll give it a go.
Everything the bus app did had to be insanely simple both from user and developer perspective. Basically, it had to be simple for me to build, use and maintain. This is why I accepted this pull request but not this one. This is why it is hosted on heroku (which is a-maz-ing) and doesn’t have a database or any caching. It involves being very restrained in trying out new ideas, both on features and implementations.
I have spent more time each on receiving compliments, turning down suggestions, turning down my own thoughts and writing about it than developing and maintaining it combined.
I’m not sure if this is professional or not. It’s very self motivated and ruthlessly lazy, but also requires experience in knowing what will be a pain later down the line.
From an interaction design point of view, it certainly has it’s own feel. Some people love the fact it works on everything, and is quick to use and understand, others hate the aesthetics of it. They’re both right. The only delight that comes from using it is it’s absolute functionality, and your functionality will vary depending on your own tastes in technology.
There are more smart things to say, but for now, I will continue letting people enjoy the app. Or not.
Stupid over the top extrapolation theory on Cosmic Habituation
So I’m going to start putting more unfounded beginnings of thoughts, and I’m going to start with a whopper.
I listened to a podcast which got me thinking something very OTT. You should listen to it so we’re on the same page. Go! Radiolab on Cosmic Habituation
Of course, this tests our idea of science. It challenges the very basics of scientific method. What if the very act of the scientific method itself changes the facts - an Observer-expectancy effect on our reality. Which, as the end fo the show suggest, seems to me that we cannot prove or disprove it. I think this gives me permission to go a bit out there.
If cosmic habituation is true, and we see interesting effects around us disappear as we discover and use them, resulting in nothing but a placebo effect as the only remnants of such facts exist in our culture, then what is to say that one day MDMA becomes a myth. Odd hippies sitting in fields taking it despite being disproven centuries ago, reading old records of it’s existing that have been discarded as old religion.
Maybe this is exactly what happened to homeopathy, a once very real and effective discovery that faded away from biology into society. Screw it, maybe Jesus did know how to turn water into wine.
OK, I should stop there. I’m about to be lynched by a mob.
Disclaimer: You should not try this at home. Over the top extrapolating into instinctively bad theories is dangerous and should only be attempted by professionals.
This is an example of me not being able to do anything
- I have a bath
- I discover my teeth hide more groseness than previously thought.
- I scrape the left side of my face with a rusty blade, trying to remember and motivate myself once again to buy new blades
- I realise the new book I have bought for my kindle appears to be much more sex novel than I though.
- I ponder wether my side effects repeating themselves is a sign of reversing out of the tunnel or just falling down it again.
- I watch new aesthetic videos whilst mining bitcoins. It takes a while for me to realise that that kernel panic was real.
- I publish the above point to 936 followers
- I write this blog post to much less
I’m still in bed. I’m just watching all the Interesting North presentations from bed. You can be my conference buddy.
This one has got me thinking about my current theory of why design is becoming so important.
I think to misquote Matt Webb, the Argos catalogue is the greatest example of evolutionary product development. They’re just making 10,000 of something, sticking it into the Argos catalogue and seeing what sells. The emphasis is on the manufacturer to turn cheap oil and cheap design into cheap products to lower the cost of the bet on this product being the next iPod.
Of course the problem with this is that cheap oil won’t last forever. Each bet suddenly becomes a lot more expensive, and that’s when designers and design process becomes more valuable.
We have a decreasing amount of oil and an increasing number of brains.
I make the little green dots and fight the little red Fs and I forget about the world and then I drink and I forget about the world.
Lying in bed all day, I’ve pulled out some really old posts from a server somewhere in the world and put them on a slightly less old one.
I’d quite like to go to a personal history archiving day. A day where we all get together and retrace our digital trail, and those of us who were young and carefree of permanent URLs can clean it up as we go. We can share with each other lives we used to have together, or had before we met. We can tidy up our past, package it up and take it with us - more proud of it than ever.