It was a call to action to all of us who want to write and sometimes have an issue in finding the time or the motivation.
The basic story is that a few years ago Leigh decided to fill a page of a diary each day with writing for a single year. Life, of course, didn’t make things easy and it took her more than the one year to finish the diary. The important part is that she finished the diary. The really important part is that in doing so she not only achieved a goal but she built up good habits about just writing.
Writing isn’t easy and it isn’t natural and people who say that it is are generally not telling a whole truth. It can become more practiced but it is not easy, and I am not so sure it should be. In order to write you need a lot of motivation, you need to make time and you have to be prepared to keep at it. Like any skill it generally improves with practice. Sure, there are some people who find it easier than others, some natural advantages from evolution, upbringing and attitude perhaps, but even they say probably don’t say it is easy.
I have had some issues with my motivation. I haven’t been writing fiction or even wanting to write. I haven’t felt like even writing my diary entries. All of that was not making me happy.
I did motivate Leigh to publish her call to action to inspire people and I know it has done so as they responded and I have spoken to some about their efforts (keep at it guys, if you miss days don’t stress). If you missed the 1st January don’t worry. I would say that you can start anytime in the year and now is likely a good time to start as you can pick up a diary for less cost.
As for me. I don’t generally use my diary except for work appointments and the formal tasks that I live my life by. I don’t really find the format of a diary condusive to writing for me. It reminds me too much of my structured work and community life.
I like note books.
I like journals.
I like mixed media.
I like the book I bought to try and write every day this year.
I have done so every day this year.
I write a page each day, probably less than 200 words so fairly light. Sometimes I write a little more, sometimes a couple of pages. I write poems and draw sketches in there as well. I have wrote every day so far. Sometimes I have written more than once a day.
On the one day I missed, I wrote twice on the following day to catch up. That was once, I don’t feel it was a fail, but I made sure to think about what I would write before going to sleep even though I was too tired (and a little drunk) to write, and then wrote it the next morning. If I don’t have my journal with me I write in any A6 book I can find and then tear the pages out and put them in the journal later (yes I am bloody odd, thanks for asking).
I was inspired, you see by these words:
“If the diary challenge has taught me anything it’s how to get over that fear of the blank page.”
I am not really scared of a blank page I got over that, but I am for sure tired of never filling one of them. I got tired of looking at a blank page and just not caring if I wrote on it. I wanted to kill my de-motivation. Also, I kinda liked the idea of somethign as crazy mad as this:
“It would be difficult for me to give a break down of exactly what is in the damn thing. At least 1 complete script, 50,000 words of a novel, and many many many short stories, flash fiction, ideas, characters, bits of novels, plots and poems. There are zombies, pirates, aliens, apocalypses, angels and demons, bond villains, parallel universes and a lot of weird Christmas stories. Sounds like the best book ever, right? Well it wasn’t all fun. There’s at least one page describing my fishtank, some shockingly bad poetry, and some filler days that are just my RPG characters having arguments with each other, just to mention a few of the pages I’m less proud of. But it’s done.”
So I want to thank my beautiful, and slightly bat-sugar-insane, wife for inspiring me. I am one sixth into this crazy challenge and I am two thirds through my first A6-ish mixed page journal. For the curious types I use these journals for writing and sketching in, love them.
I love it because my mind is rarely in a state of preparedness, or at least that’s how I feel about it. However this is misleadibng as i know it is, to at least some degree.
take today. After a great week of good behaviour Ben has a mood on him this morning. We ended up rushing out of the door to get to drama on time. Oh drama on the way to drama!
I normally have a laptop, an ipad, a phone and my journal with me. I always use the 90 minutes Ben is at drama to do some writing on blogs and news items. Today I have the bags for them. Today I should not be able to work.
I left the laptop plugged in and the ipad on charge. I went out of the door with the bags but not the stuff they carry. Derp.
But chance favours the prepared mind…
I do have my phone, and it has lots of Apps including two intended to help me blog. I also have my portable keyboard (mini) that I keep in my journal bag.
I got the keyboard out for the first time in three months and discovered I had left it turned on, the battery is dead. No matter as I have a small power brick in my laptop bag for emergency phone problems – I actually have two but one of those is also on charge at home. Derp.
Oh no, I have left the cable in the other one on charge at home. No worries I have spare cables and a spare multi-head cable for those times that I have the wrong cable.
So, while my son is at Drama and I am remembering that I have to re-pack some stuff into bags and re-charge power bricks. I am also still writing articles and news. This was the third.
This specific post was created using WordPress for Android on a mobile phone. This explains but not excuses any incorrect or unusual typography, brevity or formatting.
Taken from a serice station on the Motorway. I had a glorious 40 minute drive through Cumbria with red skies abounding. ‘I looked into the sky, and it was red and the whole of my life was in it’, to paraphrase Jean Rhys (Wide Sargasso Sea)
This specific post was created using WordPress for Android on a mobile phone. This explains but not excuses any incorrect or unusual typography, brevity or formatting.
Tech giant Google has made available travel grants for this year's FLOSSUK Spring conference as part of its EMEA Women in Tech Conference and Travel grants for female computer scientists.
As part of Google's ongoing commitment to encourage women to excel in computing and technology, we are pleased to offer Women in Tech Travel and Conference Grants to attend FLOSS UK.
This is a terrific opportunity to visit a DevOps conference focussing on Free and Open Technologies.
FLOSS UK's annual Spring conference will take place in York from the 24th to the 26th March 2015. This is the UK's only conference aimed specifically at systems and network administrators. It attracts a large number of professionals from sites of all shapes and sizes. As well as the technical talks, the conference provides a friendly environment for delegates to meet, learn, and enjoy lively debate on a host of subjects.
Google are offering the awardees:
Free registration for the conference
Up to 1000 EUR towards travel and accommodation costs (will be paid after the conference)
To be eligible for a conference grant, the candidate must:
Be a woman working in or studying Computer Science, Computer Engineering or a technical field related to the conference subject (no residency restrictions apply);
Have a strong academic and/or professional background with demonstrated leadership ability;
Be able to attend the core day(s) of one of the main conference;
As some of you might know I am connected to the Lancaster and Morecambe Makers (by Directorship) and to the Space in Lancaster (Founder Memer and on the Organising Team). We will soon be having our opening event and membership officially opens on the 1st March. I thought I would share with you all some more details.
On Friday 27th March (14:00-16:00) the Space in Lancaster will have its inaugural event at it shome in Sharpes Mill on the White Cross Business Park. On Saturday 28th March (10:00-16:00) we will open our doors to the public for a demonstration of the Space and some of our equipment.
Please bring along all your family for a look at what can be made at a MakerSpace and to get a chance to look at a commercial Laser Cutter at close quarters.
What is the Space in Lancaster?
The Space is a modern initiative for the centre of Lancaster offering a unique location for the members of the technological, manufacturing and digital industries to create and collaborate alongside members of the broader community.
Who are Lancaster and Morecambe Makers?
Lancaster and Morecambe Makers (LAMM) are a company limited by guarantee who own and operate the Space in Lancaster. The business challenge with the Space will be to increase collaboration and inspire innovation between micro- and small-business while also providing a small scale workshop for fabrication to either business or personal members.
Why Sharpes Mill?
White Cross Business Park is a prime location to host a Hackspace. The team at White Cross are forward thinking, supportive and innovative for modern business and business environments.
What is a (Hacker)(Maker)(Tech)(+)Space?
There are a few different types of space with overlapping definitions (see definitions), ideas and goals. Some have a slightly more creative, craft, feel and are almost entirely community workshops, others have a stronger manufacturing/digital ideology. They are often referred to as Hackerspace, MakerSpace, Fab Labs or TechShops. Some of these are commercially orientated and operated as franchises. The Lancaster 'Space' would be geared towards a fusion between a Hack Lab and Fab Lab offering elements of both and geared towards a partnership between community, educational, accessible fabrication and micro-small business collaboration, opportunity and innovation.
So I recently read this article on Pulse which was a discursive piece on where we stand in the world of advertising to the next generation of media consumers. Although I found it interesting it was also a little naive on its reach as it imagined a usage for the data that we give up willingly that will achieve greater focus than I think is possible from the passive examples shown.
It is fairly obvious that we live in a data age and that there is a zeitgeist over the concept of 'Big Data' but to then extrapolate that simply having a data model and targeting specific data display will influence behaviour and prove the most valuable resource is over-simplifying.
The data collected on what consumers do and how they do it isn't the full value one gets from data collected via social media. There is another metric or data dimension that we can evaluate, measure and configure - it is the confirmation of behaviour based on our known relationships.
Social media allows people to formulate an opinion on something, or to describe a behaviour, fulfil commitments and express an allegiance. When we also consider that at the same time we get a confirmation of those things when they communicate with their contacts, especially if their contacts do not have a beginning knowledge of what was performed, we have the confirmation of a bias. A person's underlying biases are hard to decipher simply from their observation choices or purchases. When we see others agree positively to their actions we know this further heightens their sense of bias, so we can deduce that they will continue to search for, and often interact only with, things that confirm that bias.
The real strength is in how we use that understanding.
In the original article we are shown that we can extrapolate by linking to second screen users (dual screening), passively drawing data and rewarding them with a better visual experience (like the imagined advert free Superbowl), but this doesn't exploit the full matrix of information we can obtain. How about we link all the data we have and target the underlying nature of the person, instead of trying to sell them a product we can provide them with a better experience they were already likely to do. We are not now selling them the product, we are heightening the importance of a product to their experience.
Let me try to give you an example.
Jeff is watching the commercials and the TV knows his eyes are looking at the advert - this data is reported back to our collection system. We search our database of information to find if he has discussed beer in the past year; with whom he discussed it and their opinions; who else in his network likes beer; who has he been drinking with and the frequency of all of those people and that activity. We can then target the place where Jeff drinks to put the drink he is seeing an advert for on a low offer if Jeff goes to the bar to buy that drink with three of his friends. We also message Jeff with the offer and his friends with the offer and maybe further visually customise the advert for Jeff's viewing. We might even manipulate the issue and record if Jeff's more intimate relationships, he is much more likely to spend if there is secondary emotional gain.
By using Jeff's own biases, where he drinks, who he drinks with and who he discusses drinks with we can link product, purveyor and purchases - and we can tie this via the entertainment they like.
We can even attempt to sway Jeff to buy a different drink. Say we want to have him try a competitor beer, we could check his preferences and maybe we would discover he occasionally likes to think of himself as an extreme enthusiast. Now our advert might say, buy one of your regular drinks and get a 'competitor beer' for half price with the message 'we dare you to try'. Our aim here is to get him to make the purchase, we cannot get him to change his mind or his likes only Jeff can do that, but we can target his behaviour especially if we have information on that behaviour.
My feeling is that the use of technology with advertising is about to take a leap into a whole new realm.
For those of us studying at the edges of technology with an insight into advertising and marketing research we can see the possibilities, whether that is to the best benefit to the end consumer is a matter for a different debate.
This is my first time at FOSDEM, that's pretty stunning considering that it is just across the channel from the UK. We have always presented a good reason for this, it normally coincides with returning after Perl Oasis and finding a schedule gap for two events at the year start has always proved tiresome.
Ian and Tom in the Grand Place
FOSDEM, for those not in the know, is an Open Source event that is held at the end of January/start of February in Brussels. It is likely the largest event of its kind and certainly the largest collection of Open Source Developers. Each year FOSDEM attracts in excess of five thousand attendees who gather to see new projects, meet old friends, share and collaborate in the wider open source communities.
Perl has always had a good presence at FOSDEM thanks to the ceaseless work done by Wendy and Claudio. Each year they organise the devroom and the Perl Merchandise stand at FOSDEM. Liz and Wendy manage to even bring the, extraordinarily impressive, Perl Library they own along to the event.
So this year we decided to come to FOSDEM and to bring a number of staff along with us. Matt took the opportunity to do a talk, Ian, Errietta and Tom wanted to meet with some of the open source community projects they knew. I wanted to come along to help Wendy with the merchandise stand, to experience FOSDEM and to see Larry talk in the main building.
On the Stall
I spent the majority of Saturday on the merchandise stall with Wendy, Jens and Sue. Between the four of us we were able to talk to, and answer to a greater or lesser degree, all of the queries of the people who came to the stand. One of the things to note is that there are people who approach a language stand to see what's new with that language, others may want to learn what it is and some to tell you the issues they have with it and to see how well you are surviving.
The language cultures in Open Source can often be a territorial place with people who are passionate about improving their language and therefore passionate in both their defence of, or issues with, their language and others. I was hoping to interject some lightness to those conversation that started with "I hate x because...' with replies such as, 'well heck that's a shame as it loves you.' I often accompanied this with a smile and a change of tactic by asking about what they did, where they came from.
Wendy checking important details on the organisation of the Perl Presence
What impressed me about the Perl presence, and it was an easy thing to compare, was how well we represented ourselves. Both in the amount and quality of handouts, merchandise, advice that was available and how this related to other languages. I am naturally going to think that we did the best, I love what we do and the efforts people take so I sure am going to say that in the very least. However I had a number of people who commentated that we gave a good representation of ourselves, even those who came to tell me why they didn't like Perl, and I think as a community we have a lot to be proud of, especially the quality of our volunteers.
Perl Talks and Larry's Announcement
Because I spent all of Saturday at the Perl booth I didn't get to see the Perl talks in our devroom. This was unfortunate but I am hoping to watch them online later. However on the Sunday we had talks in the main track that I was able to see.
The largest auditorium at FOSDEM is in the Janson building it holds approximately 1,400 people. In 2015 Perl had two talks in the Janson building back to back on the Sunday afternoon.
Dana gave an excellent talk that went deep into the design choices and implementation of his number theory module and the choices that either restricted or enabled him in doing so.
Dana on stage during his talk on Perl Number Theory
Larry made a rather special announcement during his talk. the talk had an excellent theme and was based on a wonderful analogy using Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit to represent Perl6 and Perl5 respectively. His announcement was that the Perl6 team will attempt to get a development release of version 1.0 available for Larry's birthday in September and a Version 1.0 release by Christmas. So it looks like Christmas 2015 was the Christmas that we were expecting all along.
Part of the Open Source phenomena is that you build up friendships without ever seeing the person in real life. FOSDEM, like many other language specific events, allows you to meet these people in the flesh, sometimes physically see them, for the very first time.
FOSDEM has a very relaxed, I guess we could say Geek, culture. I saw some conversations start up on Twitter when I was already here about the code of conduct but I didn't have the physical bandwidth or knowledge of them to really comment upon this. For the actual physical meetings I was a part of it seems very relaxed with people making good contact and having the kind of conversations you would expect at an event like this.
The Ultimaker Stand
I was surprised at how close knit it still felt eventhough most of the time I was looking at a sea of faces and a mass of moving bodies each wrapped in their own intimate conversations or bouncy party exuberance. This I can attribute to maybe a sense of belonging, it is probably down to a mix of shared cultural references of modes of thinking that allow the development of this sentiment.
I loved going to FOSDEM and I loved the food, drink and sights of Brussels. This may have been the first time I have been, but I very much doubt it will be the last.
 Well actually there are no good reasons for this we just never addressed the problem properly before.
 I cannot see how large this library is, it takes up two large bookcases and is probably in excess of four hundred and fifty books.
 These include open hardware people, OpenNMS, Firefox/Mozilla crew, Network admins and a slew of tech contacts who would be in the same location at the same time.
 I am often tired by the need to try and defend, I don't think we need to defend things. I think we need to listen. If someone has a problem, if someone has an opinion we should discuss that with them but we should also listen to them before we evaluate the value. We shouldn't just dismiss them even if we vehemently disagree or if they are wrong. We can enlighten.
 It sounds a little pissy but it is pretty much the only word that seems to fit for the whole thing.
 On speaking to some people they stated that the CofC will be revised for future years to reflect the fact that this is an expected minimum requirements for events.
Let's face it CPAN Testers is an absolutely ace service. We have to agree to that right, and I know you will all instantly feel like following this link and making a donation to keep this service alive and well. I have said on a number of occasions over the years that we need just twenty companies or individuals to give a minimum £25 a month to keep these people alive and evolving. We haven't reached that target yet, so I keep having to say it.
However there is another group of people who keep this service alive and they are a large group. They are the Smokers. Smoke testing and the CPAN Testers Smokers are the essential component in the service. This wonderful band of folks check the modules that are uploaded to the 'Pan against almost every conceivable environment. They are real stars and amongst them there are some that have achieved superstar status.
They do this for almost no recognition and over the years have achieved no badge of office or sign of membership. Well I thought that needed to change so I have created one. I present to the world the Smokers badge. It comes in many varieties, just a few potentials are shown below. Over the next year I will be creating physical representations of these to show allegiance and have as badges. If you 'Smoke the Onion' or know someone who does then get their name on my list as I will be making physical tokens. Look out for stickers and badges at events in the future, and hold proud these people and the great work they do for us and the community. If you want a copy of the badge to use on your website or in your own media then let me know and I will send you a version.
This image is based on the re-made image that JJ created for the Perl Onion on his sites and is used by the Perl Foundation in association with the word Perl to make their Trademark. This particular version was redesigned from the ground up with the text incorporated as curves, it is not to be confused with the Perl Foundation's Logo and no attempt is made to make any 'unfair' association. It is the intention to release the logo under a Creative Commons Licence (Share Alike, Non-Commercial, Non-Derivative (CC-SA-NC-ND)).
 The Puns don't get any better people. Hopes there are some 'Dwarf fans out there.
 Someone is probably going to complain about the use of smokers, smoking and the inference one can obtain to an odorous and unhealthy habit from the use of positive language is inappropriate. In fact it was probably me, in this comment.
In March there will be the launch of a new initiative on the White Cross Industrial Estate, the Lancaster 'Space' the home of the Lancaster and Morecambe Makers (LAMM). They will be having an official Launch on the 27th March with special guests from Lancashire County Council and an open invitation to all local businesses. On Saturday 28th march they will hold a public open day for all interested people to come and look at the 'Space' and hear about their plans.
The Lancaster and Morecambe Makers are a group of local ‘technically minded’ and ‘craft-orientated’ people from Lancaster and Morecambe who wish to integrate their passion for open technology, collaboration and shared learning, within the wider community and educational environments. Shadowcat Systems is closely connected to the 'Space' as it will be sponsoring a Laser Cutter at the location, being a trade member and five of the Lancaster staff are already members of LAMM.
The Logo for LAMM
LAMM are keen to focus on integrating the community and educational aspects of a Makerspace with the broader areas of companies, trade and industry. Their belief, and aim, is to foster an open environment for innovation, creation and commerce to broaden the community and create a sustainable environment that integrates business.
They will be launching the space with some incredible hardware, a 3D printer built by two of the members, an A2 Laser Cutter owned and sponsored by Shadowcat Systems and a range of electronic parts that will form the basis of a number of projects.
The 'Space' and the LAMM are a Membership organisation. They invite individuals and trades to apply for a membership. Membership will allow them open access to the 'Space' and hardware at a generously discounted rate. LAMM will also be announcing day and weekend rates for businesses and individuals who need occasional access and open days for everyone else.
The roadmap created for the organisation will see them increasing the number of machines and capabilities over the coming months and years and you can be an essential part of that.
Find LAMM on:
Mailing List: http://bit.ly/lammlist
Their website will launch soon at: http://bit.ly/lammweb
In October we 'soft' launched a trial version of our new subsciption based monitoring solution, ShadowNMS, today we open the service to pre-orders before the official launch of the full service on Monday 12th January.
ShadowNMS is based upon the open source network monitoring system, OpenNMS, one of the most powerful and mature monitoring systems available. ShadowNMS implements OpenNMS in manner intended to be more accessible and friendly. We have a vision of taking a complex specialised skill, that is the generally in the domain of network gurus, and making it accessible to a wider audience.
The underlying principles that have guided our development:
If you have a service (we call services benchmarks as we can measure them) that you rely on, or a device that carries essential services, you need to monitor it;
Local installation of a solution may be time-consuming or impossible so the product should work 'in the cloud';
Not everyone is an expert, or has the time to learn to be one, yet everyone should be given easy to understand advice and a product they can understand;
The minimum response should be 'is this available' we call this the 'HeartBeat';
Not everyone understands what they need to monitor and what is an acceptable response to a query so there needs to be an expertly configured metrical range of operation, the performance range - the range gives us our 'performance values' that we pre-configure the system to understand and to report on when they are exceeded;
The product should be accessible from almost any device, with a familiar user experience to increase familiarity and ease of use;
The user experience should be easy and getting devices configured trivial. Our minimum user input is an IP address then ShadowNMS will discover for itself all the services (we call them Benchmarks) that are available for you to choose to monitor;
There should be the option to customise for those with more complex needs or a greater number of benchmarks or devices to monitor;
But the biggest principle is simplicity of use and clean design.
With the final point in mind let's take a look at a few screenshots.
The opening screen lets you see at a glance if everything is functioning and respective numbers of devices in each status band.
If you open a device list you see the names of all the devices in that status group (blurred on purpose).
This is the alert centre. The default view for our alert centre is every alert across all devices, it shoes a historical view of the issues for analysis.
If you select a device then you will see a snapshot of the benchmarks (services) and our 'Heartbeat' which shows system status. We like to let the system reveal information in layers, each stage is a simple representation but more information can be revealed if required. You might notice that our alert centre has also changed, it now only shows the alerts for the selected device. You can close this view by hitting an [X} in the top corner.
Clicking on any benchmark graph will drill into that service to show more detailed status information.
You can see the last hour...
...all the way back to 7 days in the past with the flick of a finger.
We have tried to include help at every stage to make using the system as easy as possible.
We appreciate that people are busy, they are mobile and they crave reassurance, ShadowNMS has been designed to accommodate these three essential elements. But we have a lot of power underneath the self-discovering system and simplicity of interface. This allows us to build a custom response for those people who require it.
ShadowNMS is a new system built upon a stable core that has been under development for over a decade. Our goal is to provide you with ease of use and flexibility of product with minimum overhead. We are constantly adding new features to the system and are working closely with our 'development partners' to add new features to the system. This is the start of a service that we will grow and improve. We already feel that it is a strong service product and have great plans for the future.
ShadowNMS will launch as a managed service but we are also seeking product partners for further development. We offer three types of product partnership:
A supply partner is a reseller of the ShadowNMS platform, this can be either selling under the ShadowNMS name or a 'white box' version with their own branding. A Supply partner will act as the first level of customer interaction but the whole of the underlying technology will be managed and maintained by ShadowNMS and will develop at the same pace and with the same features.
A Systems Partner is a customer who has taken our highest (Premium) level of service. This is a Partner who is working closely with our internal team to integrate our offering into their systems and to whom we supply a complete, customised, monitoring service. Since this will be based upon the existing ShadowNMS service it will benefit from future development.
Service Partners will have an existing product that would benefit from integrating advanced monitoring such that ShadowNMS can supply. We will work closely to ensure the smooth integration of ShadowNMS with your existing system and develop a custom approach. Development will rely on a close understanding of the existing product and will be a custom solution, however our aim is to integrate any development of features or enhancements across all our partnerships.
 Our soft launch was aimed at testing the system outside of the development environment with a number of 'guest' users and businesses. This helped us to shake out issues and get valued feedback on our process.
Once again it is my pleasure to compose a post detailing the events that have happened here at Castle Shadowcat in the previous year. 2014 was a year of great changes and some upheavals for Shadowcat and we have had both smooth sailings and a bit of a stormy passage along with an expansion of our range of services.
There will be more of this in 2015 and in the initial weeks we will be making some super announcements so it isn't the place for me to dwell too much on what the expansion of range is. Instead I will give you a snapshot of our year with the appropriate links to the news items that give more details.
Talks, Cats and Staff
We started the year in fine fettle by giving the first of two local Engineering society talks. We visited the chaps at the Kendal Engineering society with Tom, Ian and myself. Ian and I both gave presentations and a fun evening was had despite the flutterings of snow and biting Lake District weather.
In March we visited FLOSS UK's Springtime Conference. In previous years we have been content to send Matt along to speak on a Systems Administration Topic, this year we diverged a lot. I gave two talks on Perl, an introduction to how Perl has changed and a Lightning Talk in the style of a poem. Matt spoke on Dev Ops Logique and gave a fast lightning talk on development environments, while Ian and Tom did a whole workshop on Beginning Perl.
We were also honoured to receive the prize for best Lightning Talk and a special award for notable presentation for both of my talks.
March proved to be a popular month for new images as our, almost in-house and very well-trained and talented, artist Jack Knight of Knight Time Creations completed two new cats who we have called Moggles and Evil Cat.
We also had a student team run an assessment of a product we had developed as a demonstration of technological process in March and they completed a market research assessment.
In March we took on our newest full time member of the Lancaster Shadowcat team when Kimball Johnson joined us to help with a major client project
Hacks, Workshops and Growth
April came rushing along and brought with it even more workshops. We parcelled Matt up and sent him to present at the Dutch Perl Workshop. Shadowcat was also a major part of the first ever DBIx::Class Hackathon. We were sponsors, we helped to organise and we attended this world first event. Ian, Tom, Ribasushi and I all attended along with Jess Robinson.
The magnificent Jess 'Castaway' Robinson was, in fact, the chief organiser and force of creation and the event went really well, we are hoping she repeats this in 2015.
In May we took the bold decision to employ another intern after the very successful employment of Tom. This time we decided to use the University of Huddersfield's 'year in industry' programme to employ Errietta Kostala for a year at the Castle. She has been with us for a third of a year and has made a stunning addition to the team, breathing new life into the workflow and reminding us all that we are getting old.
In June Matt and I were proud to attend the Yet Another Perl Conference::North America where they both gave keynote presentations. For the second year in a row I opened the event on the first day with a talk about the Death and Life of Perl. Matt gave a talk on the present of Perl and also presented about Devops.
In 2014 the Shadowcat staff were a familiar face at the newly created Lancaster Social. This thrice yearly event is organised by a group of local business and community members to further promote integration between business and community. However the Shadowcat team were not just attendees. I was one of the original creators of the event and did the first presentation at the very first meeting. Ian, Claire and Tom have helped to organise and staff the event from its inception and along with the White Cross Industrial Estate have acted as hosts.
It doesn't end there as Shadowcat has sponsored the Social on several occasions and provides technical help and hosting for the online activities. We will continue our close association with the social in 2015.
Mozfest and Google Summer of Code
In October we saw Shadowcat staffers attend two very different events on almost opposite sides of the globe. Errietta was an attendee, speaker and programming participant at the annual Mozfest held in London. Errietta presented a paper that she co-authored on the importance of online community building using tools such as Instant Relay Communication. Meanwhile at the same time I attended the 10th annual mentors conference for the Google Summer of Code in San Jose as part of my role with the 2014 GSoC on behalf of the Perl Foundation.
The London Perl Workshop
The London Perl Workshop has become a staple event and a pearl in the Shadowcat oyster for many years. This was the eighth time that I was the chief overseer of the event and this year also saw the highest attendance of Shadowcat staff with eight of us making an appearance. The event was titled Perl and the Internet of Things and was once again the largest Perl workshop in the world (unconfirmed but based on over two hundred and fifty attendees).
As always the whole of the staff helped to make the event a reality, we organised, marshalled, attended, presented and ran a whole host of small tasks from promotion to website to sponsor negotiation. It is a great day but one that always sees us working from circa five in the morning until past eight in the evening. 2015 will see some changes as we hope to evolve the event, but more of that will be revealed during this year.
There was a huge bonus to the efforts of the team and and a personal recognition for me at this year's event. the local (UK) Perl mongers awarded me with the first, and currently, only Silver Camel for all my work in the Perl community, especially the UK community, without committing a single line of code. I felt truly speechless and am still awed by the gesture (even if I slope off to polish my shiny camel every now and again while muttering 'my precious').
...to the Future
The future's in the air
I can feel it everywhere
Blowing with the wind of change
(Scorpions, Winds of Change)
2014 was a very busy year at Castle Shadowcat and we have learned a great deal and adapted to a number of changes. We will start 2015 at a fast pace as we make some decisive steps and as with 2014 engage with a broad range of community events both local and global. We at the Castle are excited and maybe even a little nervous of the changes that the future inevitably holds, but as always we will face it with the verve that accompanies so much of what we do.
On behalf of the entire Shadowcat team I would like to extend a huge thanks to all of our staff and alumni, to our friends, community and mostly to our partners for such an eventful and rewarding year.
'Oh this was the night' of the last Lancaster Social of 2014. I started to write my feelings just after the event but didn't publish them until now. why you might ask. Well I wanted to finish the year with the rest of the organisers and plan 2015, so I left this post until we had our festive meeting and organisation session for 2015. I thought I would share them on the Shadowcat Blog as we are involved as both individuals and an organisation so this seems the best place for this post.
The Lancaster Social was a new venture that originated in a conversation late in 2013 at the end of the then Tweet-Ups. It was decided that they had fulfilled a role and it was time to develop or evolve and from that the Lancaster Social was born.
The idea of the Lancaster Social is to gather together as many people into a physical space who might only ever otherwise interact socially in either an online context or not at all. The (rather noble) ambition was to extend it into as many areas of the social spectrum as possible.
I thought I might, since I have been involved with the core mechanics of the event from the start, reflect a little on what I thought we got right and what we can do to make this a better event. Before I do so I would love to say that I am grateful for the work that all the organisers have put into the Lancaster Social and to the generous hosts who gave us room to meet in. I have listed those that I could at the end of the article.
So I think this splits into two nicely defined sections, the things we liked and the things we could have done better or maybe need to try next. I dislike listing things as 'wrong'. This is a social interaction and an experiment, we cannot really do wrong there were just elements we tried. The organisers are also open to suggestions and to try different ways of running or hosting the event, so if there are elements people want to see added, changed or removed they are keen to discuss this in an open forum.
So let's start with the things that I think we like.
What did we like?
One of the guiding principles, I think one of my major inputs, is the idea that there is no (or at least significantly low) barrier to entry. Without wandering too far from the point into a discussion of how there is a collective understanding that professional events cost, and the higher the cost the greater the end value, we chose to have no charge for registering on the website or attending an event.
I like that we were able to keep the events free to attend, and I hope that this didn't make people think they had less value because of that. The organisers have decided to open up the event to sponsorship to allow future events to have more on offer while still being free to attend.
In 2015 the organisers are set to re-use some of these venues but may also add or change one venue to try and find the best mix for the attendees.
Organisers are committed
The event organisers run the Lancaster Social as volunteers. There is no profit or exchange of goods or services for the hard work put in. They deserve a heartfelt thanks for managing to put in the time and effort to make this event successful.
The Social operates under an open ethos that allows for anyone to contribute their time to helping out. If you would like to help on further events then you should contact the organisers. We as a group are keen to involve people in both the social events and the shape they take. We try to take the best suggestions from people and incorporate them. We have done trials of ideas in the meetings to see how they work with the format. So please feel free to approach us with an idea.
Website is accessible
There is a 'free to market yourself on' website that also contains details about the socials, ethos and organisation. A lot of work has been undertaken by Sharon Jackson and Shadowcat Systems to bring this site to everyone. You can register yourself or your business on the site for no cost.
When we run an event Sharon is usually sat at a table ready to sign people up to make it easy for people to join.
Presentations were all fun
Each of the socials had a presenter who gave some more insight on a particular topic. I spoke about using Magisto for making small and fun movies; Sharon Jackson gave an entertaining presentation on mobile file sharing and Jane Binion gave an insight into using LinkedIn professionally.
There was also a Q&A session at each event which helped answer people's questions.
We felt that this format:
20 minute presentation slot
Closing speech and call to action
Gave the best balance for everyone. It is a relaxed evening, the networking periods give enough time for people to make new connections; the presentation and Q&A are purposefully short, 20 minutes including any audience participation, to keep them light and easily digestible; and the opening and closing statements are quick and simple. The whole evening is meant to be relaxed and we only use the rigour of this format to ensure that the evening has pace and presents value.
What can we do better?
Not enough promotion
The organising team for Lancaster Social did a great job of getting the events running smoothly and consistently. That said I am not sure that they managed to hit enough of a promotional swing. I wish I had the answers for what needs to be done and I am sure there will be even more discussion about this topic.
At the end of our year we decided that we would make sure we reach out to the previous attendees as well as trying to find new people, the momentum of pushing out the news to new people should be matched with attempting to get a consistent audience as well.
Message needs to be simpler
I like the ethos of the Social, as said I was part of the original discussions about it. However I think too much emphasis, or at least words, are used on it. The message needs to be simpler and maybe the ethics moved to a page of their own. This may help with the promotion.
I think that this may be my single biggest problem, I am often too wordy and passionate about principles. However there is also nothing wrong with having a strong, but still malleable and debatable, central sense of ethics.
Need more advocacy in different social groups - not just business
The socials have managed to hit a lot of the business communities and been represented by them, however I do not think that enough of the other community groups were involved. I am not sure if this is a message issue or if there needs to be more advocacy targeted directly at them.
We are part of a larger social mix at the start of 2015, with the inter-networking event with ESTA and the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce. Hopefully we can spread our message at that point.
Needs more commitment from attendees, increase participation reward
I also feel that there should be some reward for increased participation. I don't mean an exalted position or financial gain, just some notice. This may answer the issue of returning participation. Some of the people only attend one event, and while it was known this would happen how that is addressed isn't so clear.
There is already a movement to increase awareness that businesses should feel free to bring their banners, advertisements, business cards etc., and if they want to so can other groups. This is about a social sharing of who you are and what you do.
Organisers need slightly more cohesive communication strategy
This ties into the line about promotion, the website and participation. I guess it is tautology to say it again but I am mostly trying to say there should probably be a process document that shows this strategy so that what works can be kept/repeated and what doesn't can be changed/dropped.
Again at our first year end we spoke about the need for shared, living, documentation so that we can make this effort more cohesive.
List of names to keep in touch
There is no one resource of attendees and organisers that is available (by choice) so that people can try and contact someone they briefly met or heard and it was requested by a couple of different people so it may be a good idea to have a register of interest that is separate to a huge page all to yourself.
I know there are a number of ways that most of us can be reached these days but it can be confusing if we use different identities, or nicknames, across different social systems. I would imagine that a voluntary list with:
Organisation (if relevant)
Facebook Page (if relevant)
would suffice. This could probably fit on a single line and be organised alphabetically (by either first name or surname) to make it easy for people to scan.
There have been a number of people who have made the Lancaster Social's happen. I am not able to recall every single one, and I have listed many below. But whoever they are I send my heartfelt thanks. There is a big thanks to all the hosts, White Cross Business Park, Lancaster and Morecambe College and Atkinsons: The Priory Hall.
So the first year for the Lancaster Social ends and we are now looking forward to 2015. We have already planned the shape of the year and the talks and focus we wish to take in our quest to involve, connect and share knowledge amongst the communities in the Lancaster, Morecambe and district.
 Oh, this is the night, it's a beautiful night, And we call it bella notte , Look at the skies, they have stars in their eyes , On this lovely bella notte.
 Okay we could have done lots of things wrong if we tried, I meant generally we were testing the waters in a moderate and sensible manner not asking people to skydive on a badger.
 A whole host of caveats come with this as I am one of the organisers so can generally speak for them, I am not claiming this to be a definitive assessment. The other organisers will have their own thoughts and feelings as well.
 Or should that be that the organisers should be committed?
There seems to be an interesting shift of late in the 'public' message being pumped out by some of the larger, loosely termed, internet companies. This shift in focus feels very reminiscent of a similar battle in the late 1980s early 90s between what was then tech companies, at that time the battle was mostly played out between the then twin forces of strength, at the time, Microsoft and IBM.(1) Back then the battle ground was over the tools one used in an office environment and the pitched war was between Word perfect, already flagging due to its age and rigidity, IBM with its Lotus suite and the might of Microsoft Office Suite. We all know the outcome, Microsoft won by a mixture of flexibility, distribution of it's operating system(a) and public perception control.
This new war seeks to go a little deeper and is not just your office software suite, it is your whole ecosystem and maybe the entire of your internet environment. Computers are ubiquitous to business, I personally cannot conceive of how anyone can exist without one. Even our submissions to authorities, that painful process that we victims of the revenue mill share, is all conducted electronically. As we move further into the realms of an interconnected world with smart homes and the 'Internet of Things' the use of computers will become closely tied to our whole 'life' experience. The new battleground is your whole experience and the big players know that this is a fractured landscape with a consumer focus on personal preference and individuality of experience.
To control this whole battle ground the competing armies need to control all the various elements in the environment. The rise of mobile computing with sophisticated roaming devices of increasing complexity for reduced size has blurred the field, we are rarely offline and when we are the connected world is still working and processing our presence (or lack of). To conduct this war the combatants need our compliance, we are the troops, or in this war we are increasingly just a resource as it is not our corporeal form but the by-products of our interaction and purchasing potential, that make up their vast armies.
The strategies used by the mega-corporations may seem unusual, and often they seem reactionary and directionless, but taken as a whole campaign they are not. Let's examine some of the players and what I think is the battle, these are by no means all the people fighting, but they represent some of the most visible movers. We are going to examine this against a simplified understanding that the only way to make money in business is to;
a) sell more or have more consumers;
b) increase costs;
c) sell more services to existing services.
Quite obviously by doing all three we become vastly more profitable.
Starts as a social media site that attracts millions (now apparently billions) of followers. They succeed in presenting a shared environment for the exchange of social data and collaboration. The first elements of real business come with advertisements and games, there are also promoted posts and the hidden, very profitable, data collection and analysis.
Using a small number of capital investors Facebook grows to a large size. After collecting enough users to become a world-changing force Facebook goes commercial and starts to develop plans to utilise those users. So we start with more advertising and data collection, this alienates users so the strength of that is pulled back and more control to change/block it is formed. This is all irrelevant as the data either anonymously or not is still collected, processed and controlled. We have even seen that Facebook is moving towards controlling data delivery by creating tools to search, categorise and verify the news data for delivery.(c) Without the conspiracy theories that could easily be applied to this it is still a filter to experience and understanding, and filters by their nature restrict. It is also a clear land grab on the services Google has perfected.
However Facebook is still seen as a sink of time to many businesses. The first approach to combat this negative perception by Facebook was to promote the use of their services to promote your business. This was obviously an added attraction that was never part of the original conception. The mere fact that it is individuals who own business pages and groups, not the businesses themselves at the start was evidence of this. There is also the controversial insistence on 'real' names and 'real' people have ownership of accounts. This was mirrored in many ways by Google with their Google+ services. Both of these are counter-intuitive in dealing with people before we even consider the business implications. A business would be better served by using its own name for any services to detach it from any one individual, the ownership status and connected account makes this impossible and makes the whole situation confused.
Facebook has started the integration of shops and merchant services culminating in the recent announcement of business tools and a more business-orientated Facebook. This is taking their business from the consumer to the company.
Starts as a search engine and data filter, it controls the flow of data and classifies it using a ranking system then upsells a method to advertise using a priority system with a variable scale of cost. This is a hugely successful as a business endeavour as it almost creates the whole field of data collection and classification for profit.
Even in the days of the 'do no evil' tagline(d), now abandoned, Google was a commercial venture who existed to make a profit and its focus was aimed more at business than the individual. The tools that were given to us for free seek to fill its massive data warehouses with searchable statistical material that massively empowers their main profit stream.
However there has always been an attempt to grab the consumer, and this is not as most people think an over-reaction to the forces of social media. Google was well aware of the need to control and use the non-commercial space and this has powered its delivery of services for many years. Mail, Docs, Maps, Plus, Drive, Images, Search all of these tools start their main life in the non-commercial world but Google's endgame has always been to integrate an experience. They realised far earlier than some of the other competition that people want to use the same tools at home as they do at work. It is a lesson learned from Microsoft who gave away an Office suite (Microsoft Works) and an Operating System at either no cost or vastly reduced (OEM for the Operating system and Office Suite) cost to both commercial and to non-commercial users to encourage using their operating system. To my mind this is why Android was offered at almost no cost to the end consumer and pushed so strongly to the hardware manufacturers who would prove to cause the majority of the obstacles and issues.
In our World War Twitter is an island chain not connected to any continent. Self-governed and remote, owing no allegiance to any of the other competitors. It is a fast moving place with the chance for rapid evolution however all it has are bodies to throw over the wall, there are few other tools to submit to this current fight. How it changes that will be interesting to watch.
Apple and Microsoft (throw in Sony and Samsung etc.)
These are the big names in the hardware world who also act large in software. Microsoft has always encouraged an open hardware environment whereas Apple have always seemed to be a hardware dongle for the software.
The dominance in hardware sales and profits from Apple cannot be ignored. They are the super rich(e) with the manpower and resources to dominate and they have a fanatical following who willing throw themselves at the enemy in a frenzied rage. Some of their issue is that level of perfection, in the war for business it is not just hearts and minds but convenience and cost and there are signs that the shift in their appeal is losing pace in some sectors.(f) Apple does not fare well in this, they have only recently felt the need to make their software import the formats of others, but the reverse is rarely true. That shouldn't dismiss them, this is a long and harsh fight and their resources and strength will hold them in good standing. Their innovation is in perfecting what exists to such a degree that it is almost unrecognisable from the thing that inspired it. Added to this a lead in the market share for purchase of applications and services, and the associated purchase of goods, will further the advance of Apple Pay as a default choice for online payments and further increase their dominance.
Microsoft is a great sprawling octopus with arms into every area of our lives. It may have lost a lot of ground in the last decade and look punch-drunk and confused but it still controls the business space. They do not hold the mindshare anymore and are the butt of most people's immediate ridicule. It almost seems easy to categorise them as the public demon of technology demon and they have not been dealing with the cool aid but to dismiss them is a fallacy. Microsoft has a good sense for business and a long tradition of succeeding in lengthy fights.
For these companies their strength seems to be in providing the basic environment in which we conduct our daily lives and to control then the field as we further integrate our at work/at home experience.
The issue is that mobile devices let the field change beneath them, Android is ubiquitous and Apple, even with their reassuring brand identity, are playing catch up to the emerging mobile business field. They are seen too much as a consumer device. Microsoft seek to control by offering their strongest weapon, Office Suite, across the broad spectrum and to purchase more of the business services with Sales and CRM software that integrates into your whole corporate stage. Apple seek to dominate by mindshare and loyalty (hearts and minds). Meanwhile Google and Facebook pull more users into their fold and seek to control the biggest weapon, mass resources in the form of data.
Fringe Players in a Data War
The control of Data and the usage of your data in experience is where the real war is being fought. Amazon have entered the fray with low price technological offerings that are high quality, they do not need to make much profit from the sale of the hardware as the real focus is the consumer experience/purchases and data retention. The same is true of the Hudl from Tesco and to some degree the Chromebooks from Google.
Amazon's, and to some extent Tesco's, only focus is the consumer retention, growth and sales. They can only increase their profits by gaining more people and selling more things. Offering a more expensive sale is redundant in a world that values bargains, especially since bargains or under-cutting the competition has been their primary business focus. However, they must make the move into control of the purchase managers and buyers in business as this will increase their long-term power. For the present they are on the fringes of the Data War, seeking to control just one aspect, sales, and to hold it tightly. They are well ahead of the field in that they are the purveyors of the items, or control the purchase, how they will be affected by the increasing march of Apple and Google financial services and the inevitable Microsoft and Facebook offers will prove as an interesting aside to our main conflict.
Business is the Goal
But the control of the Business ecosystem is the real prize for all of these companies. For the vast majority of individuals the software, hardware and day-to-day experience they deal in work affects the choices they make as an individual consumer. We want a single unified experience and it is the goal of the modern internet giants to provide that experience. This extends to the control of the physical environment in both the home and at business and the places between.
Businesses also provide a longer term experience for the combatants. People are often fickle and their loyalties, no matter how keenly held, can be won and sometimes bought. However companies are slow to change as the surrounding costs are too great to suffer. Holding the businesses gives you a base for launching further efforts, it is how Microsoft and Apple have weathered so well despite their reticence over the Search Engine and Social Media marketplaces that have become dominant forces. Businesses are also more likely to adopt whole environmental ecosystems as the benefits of a single service provider in regards to compatibility, payments and expansion are easier to understand.
Socially we have merged the two worlds of business and home, we use social media at work and answer our work emails at home. There is no one location and each person has varying levels of interaction. But we are all mass-data producers and controlling that data allows for the tailored delivery of product to consumers and that is where the combatants seek to hold strength. It is how they will tailor specific services and give the illusion of individual experience that holds our fascination and encourages us to give up more of our personal information.
In the end more data can be collected, stored and analysed but it is far from infinite, it's just vast in size and growing exponentially. We may be a vast resource but we are also a finite resource and that data is useless without context and control. It isn't just what data you hold, it is where and how you can use it and how others will use it on your behalf that is the next battlefront.
 Apple was a strong force at the same time but not quite so dominant a force in the particular battle.
 This sounds a little dramatic but the use of computer systems has become so ingrained with our everyday lives that almost every experience can be traced to it. Even the rugged explorer in a get away from it all walk in the wilderness would carry at least a map that would have been prepared using computers to verify detail, most of them would likely be using a electronic GPS.
 There is an element of truth in the vague accusation that can be bandied about vague, and directionless, marketing and strategy by big companies who release expensive products and then disband them, or make vast acquisitions to mothball the product. To answer this we might imagine that any good commander will tell you that combat is a fluid environment forces change and swift adaption to a shifting landscape. However, there are a number of answers that make good tactical sense. The removal of competing products; acquisition of staff hires by take-over; ownership of emergent ideas and patents etc.
 I did quibble about using the term Orwellian as it has become so over-used it has started to descend into a meaningless cliché. However most of that over-use is in respect to the camera-obsessed societies that we have created and not to the deeper ideas of population control via information that I am referring to here.
 One of the major contributing factors that isn't discussed in depth in this article is the need for these companies to utilise the large developer teams that they have internally. There is too much discussion about how and why these teams exist and the opportunities, threats and forces they direct and that act upon them for this piece.
 It would be incorrect to say that Google created this model, they just capitalised on it in a creative manner with enough pressure to gain a vast market share.
 We have already seen the birth of the control of transportation with WiFi on public transport, to the purchase of transport routes (Google in San Fransisco) to the creation of robotic transportation. Will the Google car work more efficiently if you are fully plugged in to a Google Environment. Our connected lives see the car arriving to pick you up as the phone detects you logging off your office computer, at home the environment will be primed for your arrival to the moment. The benefits to this are efficientcy, once again Orwell would likely marvel at the way we willingly give up ourselves, we build the room and number it.
 For Apple the rise of Social Media has been a pleasant boost as their devout followers are also ardent evangelists.
...is married to Leigh and has two sons called Benjamin Connor and Elliott James, they all live in Lancaster, UK with a cat called Darwin and several tropical fish. He stumbled sideways into the magnificent world of Perl by way of linguistics, literature, a publishing company and an undefined close association with Matt Trout. He is a neophyte evangelist of modern Perl and an advocate of Enlightenment thinking.