Week 1

September 23, 2011 – 1:07 pm

I love BERG London’s weeknotes and have resolved to follow suit myself. I’ll do it for the rest of this year and see how it goes. So, onto it!

Monday was when I wrote the talk I gave on Tuesday to Orion Health. They have regular hackathons (though they don’t call them that, it’s the idea of setting developers and other coal-face makers loose to build things for a few days, then report back). I was their first speaker for this hackathon, and was given a very wide brief—every topic I raised with the development manager there seemed to work. So I worked backwards from what I wanted to accomplish (firing people up at the start of a hackathon) and decided that I had to point out how awesome and important software people are (they are). I had been listening to an In Our Time episode on The Dawn of the Iron Age, was still struck by Ben Hammersley on Moore’s Law, and so I mashed up some O’Reilly-esque themes of early adopters and unevenly-distributed futures with these things on the surface of my mind, and came up with 50 slides.

I gave the talk on Tuesday to 100 people from Auckland and Christchurch. I think it went well, and I had a coffee with some of the Orion developers afterwards to talk about how to make a sustainable open source work. I put the talk onto Slideshare, where it made the front page: Technology Time Out. The title’s the only thing I’d substantially revise—I wanted to pun on “time” but “time out” completely undercuts the sense of urgency and importance that I wanted to convey. Live and learn!

Tuesday afternoon I flew to Wellington and had dinner with the InternetNZ councillors and other group directors and CEs in preparation for the strategy day on Wednesday. This is the third or fourth one I’ve been to and I’m getting a sense of what works. We need clear agreed objectives, which drive the structure of the day. If we document our strategic direction (and we should) then at least one objective is updating that document, and it shouldn’t be substantially different year on year. The day should begin by thinking about the future, and my personal preference is for a quick SWOT/PEST analysis to put everything in perspective.

It felt like we accomplished about 80% of what we set out to, which wasn’t too bad. It’s always interesting when there’s an elephant in the room—you see people being passionate about Y, which seems completely bizarre until you realize it’s X they’re afraid of but aren’t comfortable directly addressing. We had one of those, but I think we tackled it in the end. And that’s the point, after all, of these things: to work through issues from where are and, in the working, resolve some of them. Such a good group of people on the council, too: generous with their knowledge, patient with my questions, and respecting the good intentions of all.

I managed to get some email done while in Wellington, and caught up on project MacLean. It involves creatives and developers and I’m bringing the team together. I got agreements to participate from all, we’re all excited, but I’ve been out of action for two weeks with sick kids. I have the domain transferred to me, the artist has begun the sketches, so all that remains is for me to put together the initial Google Docs and schedule our first meeting.

I’ve made little progress on my Higgins project, which is longer-term and presently inchoate. I’m busy learning what it isn’t, which is a fun phase that nobody really talks about. “Ah, so that’s why nobody is servicing this market!” and “Wow, the cultural issues around that are thorny to say the least.”

School board meeting on Thursday. We just had a visit from the Educational Review Office, which threw up (as they always do) some areas for improvement. New Zealand schools are fortunate in that responsibility for most of the strategy and operation of the school has devolved to the local community, but it’s a lot of work and there’s precious little concrete guidance from the Ministry of Education. I’m glad we have reviews from ERO, because they are at least prescriptive and precise. This ties into The Checklist Manifesto: I wish we had the checklist that the reviewers use. No conclusion, just food for thought.

Friday was spent researching and writing questions for the local school trivia fundraiser. 100 questions, about 90 of which I wrote myself rather than simply found online, and holy cow it was hard. I wasn’t prepared for the difficulty of compiling questions: it’s not a matter of turning Wikipedia into the form of a question, because it’s easy to make an ambiguous or confusing question from a topic you don’t really understand.

My favourite question came from information from Te Ara:

10. Maori made kiwi into cloaks, their feathers being highly prized. They also ate them, preserving them in their fat like muttonbirds and then eating in a hangi. 19C explorer Charlie Douglas is one of the few Europeans to eat kiwi. Did he prefer the eggs or the meat?

ANSWER: The eggs. He didnʼt like the meat (“a piece of pork boiled in an old coffin”) but thought the eggs made great fritters when fried in oil from the kakapo.

We had 40 people show, a good night was held by all, and everyone our house is absolutely knackered as a result. Success!

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