End of year review

(a 6 year old tradition)

1.What did you do in 2012 that you’d never done before?
Talk to investors.

2. Did you keep your New Years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Yep have been going to the gym every week for over a year and adding a new sport.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Yes, my friends A and S had another little girl and my sister in law had L.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
No.

5. What countries did you visit?
France, Greece, Spain, Ireland, Germany, Netherlands, Estonia, Finland, Australia, Canada.

6. What would you like to have in 2011 that you lacked in 2010?
More time.

7. What date from 2012 will remain etched upon your memory?
March 16th.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Having the courage to start another company. I have started 3 companies since 2006.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Too little holidays.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
No.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
A plate from the Jules Verne restaurant at the Eiffel Tower.

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
London during the Olympics.

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?
The NRA.

14. Where did most of your money go?
The Good Night Lamp.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
The next 30 days where I go to Vegas to show off the Good Night Lamp at CES.

16. What song/album will always remind you of 2010?
Ruin by Cat Power.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
More positive.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Cooking at home.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Having conversations with the wrong people.

20. How will you be spending Christmas?
Home.

21. Who did you spend the most time on the phone with?
C.

22. Did you fall in love in 2010?
see previous response.

23. What was your favourite TV programme?
I don’t watch TV.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
Nope.

26. What was the best book(s) you read?
Everything that is solid melts into air.

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
None I can think of.

28. What did you want and get?
A great team to work with.

29. What did you want and not get?
More hours in the day.

30. What were your favourite films of this year?
Haywire & the Hunger Games. Skyfall & Batman were good too. Mission Impossible 4 was surprisingly good.

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 32 and spent it in London.

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
More time to read books.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009?
A return to black.

34. What kept you sane?
Hanging out with C, N and K.

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Ryan Gosling.

36. What political issue stirred you the most?
The Wikileaks scandal, fascinating.

37. Who did you miss?
M.

38. Who was the best new person you met?
A.

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2010.
Do or do not, there is no try.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year?

“Goddamn Europeans!
Take me back to beautiful England
And the grey, damp filthiness of ages,
And battered books and
Fog rolling down behind the mountains,
On the graveyards, and dead sea-captains.

Let me walk through the stinking alleys
To the music of drunken beatings,
Past the Thames River, glistening like gold
Hastily sold for nothing.

Let me watch night fall on the river,
The moon rise up and turn to silver,
The sky move,
The ocean shimmer,
The hedge shake,
The last living rose, quiver.”

Funding the right things

There’s a lot to be said for the amount of money technology projects receive on crowd-funding platforms versus charitable organisations or good causes. The Paralympics are starting in London tomorrow and I found this project on Indiegogo. A young woman looking to get a new prosthetic leg for her athletic career. I hope she can get the type of support that a technology community is happy to give to the latest gadget, because this might just change her life.

Make little, Make often: ideas for the future of manufacturing in the UK

I gave a talk last week at Made North in Liverpool. My point that time around was suggesting a way forward for “industry” in a time where economic growth is a key agenda item for Mr Osbourne.

The Children
I think that when we talk about industry, most people have a romantic view that ignores the reasons why we stopped “making things” in the first place. One of the reasons why industrial times was so successful was partly because we had no qualms about hiring children to work (something Lewis Hine documented very well). Eventually when that was socially frowned upon, we started outsourcing the work to other people’s children and developed better technology to do less work. Cheap labour is China’s competitive advantage and short of going back to slave labour, the UK cannot go back to “making things” in that sense. Sorry.

Stuck in the 20th century
Traditional manufacturing is not only losing out to China but also to the US which is inventing products that people want to buy, and offering services in new ways. When products like Scalextric and model trains are losing to digital toys (iPads and iPhones), we have to wonder not only what is happening to local manufacturing, but also whether demand for those products will ever be the same.
However, the manufacturing industry in the UK seems convinced that this digital revolution has nothing to do with them. The website for the UK’s Manufacturing Summit is the poster child of a cultural disparity across the country. With so much local talent in the creative industries, how could they possibly get away with a plain html website with no social media presence and a form to fill in to book tickets. We’re not in Kansas anymore and this isn’t 1995.
Creative people around the UK want to learn from UK experts and want advice about developing their products. But if a 20 something can’t find your business on Google, you don’t exist to them now. This is the kind of world we live in.

New ways of making
This should be a golden age for UK manufacturing. People are making things everywhere at various scales. In Hackspaces, studios, universities, at home, in their sheds. This is a nation on tinkerers after all. People are coming up with an idea using an Arduino, building a prototype, redesigning the electronics using Fritzing going to Tinkercad to build a box for the prototype. Then they will have the box made by a Makerbot, Ponoko, RazorLab, i-Materialise, Shapeways or other rapid prototyping manufacturers around the world who understand their users want to click a “upload” button and have something sent to them in the post.

That is a different kind of customer for UK manufacturing. It is a digitally-empowered one and to understand him/her, the industry has to adapt. Once that customer has a product they are happy with, they will look for funding through Kickstarter or sell their product online through Etsy or Folsky. (Most of these digital services were not developed in the UK, I hasten to add.)

New business models
The opportunity may no longer be in large scale production, but in pre-production and longer-term production support. The UK’s manufacturing expertise should be the ideal trampoline to enable local entrepreneurs to get something made quickly with someone locally who is exploiting their existing networks in Asia. UK manufacturers should be China’s agents in the UK and reach out with the latest technology to young entrepreneurs who need help.

This is a very exciting time for UK manufacturing if it accepts that their clientele is changing. If anything, the Uk government should be looking at helping all these companies digitise their services and really understand what an online presence can do for your business. This won’t mean as many large contracts but will mean lots of small contracts. If Newspaper Club has re-invigorated the struggling industry of newspaper printing, it’s possible for any industry to benefit from a more digital attitude. It’s only a question of faith.

I make things: mapping the creative industries

I had the great pleasure of attending the V&A’s Power of Making symposium last month and chaired a panel with Bre Pettris, Adrian Bowyer, and Marloes Ten Bhomer. The whole day was fascinating and I think I might ask the panel more questions and publish them here.

One thing that really gnawed at me during my holiday was the way in which people used the word “make” at the event. There was an agreed use of language in the art world that didn’t seem to mean the same in the hacker community. Also, somehow, everyone thought that an artist was the most noble of every kind of creator. This is interesting. If we have found a common language in the word “making”, noone seemed to agree on how noble we consider the output of the “making” itself. Someone with the 40 year skills in engraving a gun, was considered less interesting than a designer who produced rough sketches and had them made by others. There’s a perceived value in not getting your hands too dirty, as if ignorance was bliss, or technical knowledge in itself was an incomprehensible elite (a woman in the audience complained that as an artist, she’d need to learn CAD to make something). My panel was viewed with a mixture of sniggering and fear in such a place. Most of the establishment was ready to rule it off as being for “geeks”. I think what differentiates the two communities is a mixture of curiosity and humility. It takes humility to admit that you can learn new tools and that those tools might make you a different and better designers/ artist. That probably comes from the meritocratic environment of the internet and not the traditional hierarchy of academia. This will have to be addressed in the design and art schools of the future as it’s an important barrier to collaboration.

As I work my way through my notes on the event, I also wanted to start to unpick who was using the word “make” and what they were making. This is a first stab and not really about creating collaborative connections yet. I might also be missing some things, do let me know. In this, I think we can see where the “creative industries” overlap and therefore where skill sets overlap. This also proves perhaps that one should be quite careful with using any one term. Designer, artists, engineer…when you look close enough, can become one and the same.

Tech City UK: one year later

So it’s been a year since I wrote my long rant about Tech City UK. Someone asked me the other day what I thought about things now so I thought I’d write about it again.

Silicon Roundabout / Tech City: it’s not about location
Since November 2010, things haven’t changed much in Old Street, except that the Silicon Roundabout thing went from a joke to becoming a marketing vehicule for Shoreditch. Companies moved in the area and started waving the flag around. I started to track activity around the expression on a Tumblr site. Journalists from the US came to visit, companies from the world of advertsing, PR and others are organising tours, walking around trying to understand what is happening behind the converted factories. Local companies had a football match, organise recruiting events and shared food recommendations. I use the past tense as activity has diminuished over the summer as London snoozed. I’m curious if it will pick up again, or we’re kindof collectively over it. If anything, I predict that Tech City will replace the tongue-in-cheek moniker, and Stratford will stay isolated. Right now, the idea of a technology & innovation hub makes sense in Shoreditch, not Stratford. Google’s choice of (sales) offices south of Old Street means they’ve understood that too even if becomes just another TechHub. I’m not sure where the Olympic legacy fits in anymore. It’s even dissapeared from public discourse as Cameron finds himself with other fish to fry.

Show me the money
Having a bunch of startups in a city means you have to build an investment ecology around them. What’s changed the most in the past year is how many of those startups started to turn to government for funding. VC & angel funding isn’t quite there yet but The Technology Strategy Board, a governmental funding body started putting out calls for more web & tech centric topics after years of catering to industrial manufacturing only. Their call on “internet of things” for example generated a lot of buzz, as did the Tech City call that fueled Makielab. It would be useful, instead of bullying corporations to open offices around here, for the government to get them to invest some money in start-ups funds, not unlike the Awesome foundation. I’m sure this sort of scheme could count as social corporate responsibility. Of course if most of these startups end up being acquired by US businesses, you could argue this isn’t doing our economy much good on the long term, but as we all know governments aren’t good at long term plans anyway.

So I’m not sure if I’m excited or not yet. And I guess that’s the problem.

My innovation is bigger than yours

Random conversation with Russell this morning prompted a Google hunt for businesses or projects that use the word “innovation”. It turns out that we quite like to put innovation in boxes of various sizes and like to judge its merit on an architectural scale. As innovation is something that’s quite intangible (it’s either happening or not) I suppose its normal we should try to measure it on a scale we understand.

Lee Miller

Candid camera with Lee Miller

If you don’t know about her, you probably should.