Saturday, 28 March 2009

Entering politics

When is the right time for a technology entrepreneur to enter politics and what motivates such a move?

The answer, according to my wife is "NEVER" or possibly "WHEN HELL FREEZES OVER" whichever comes first. She has promised me that if, due to some mental abberation, I decide that I must heed the call of the people, then she will immediately kiss and tell. I told her that I haven't done anything worth kissing and telling about, mores the pity, but she assures me that dirty linen will be found or manufactured, and washed in full public view. She is then quick to remind me of one or two incidents that convince me that the will of the people must be resisted at all costs.

Clearly Chris Kelly has a more understanding wife when it comes to politics. Chris is the Chief Privacy Officer of Facebook and I had breakfast with him last week during his brief visit to the UK. Chris joined Facebook when it was just a handful of people and he has been part of its amazing success and growth to perhaps 175m users across the globe and nearly a thousand staff. Now it's time to move on and I was surprised and impressed to hear that he is planning to throw his hat in the ring and stand for Attorney General of the State of California.

State Attorney General is a big, big job in the USA and with a population of over 36m California is the biggest in the USA. Successful State Attorney Generals go on to be Senators, even Governors so its no mean feat even to be taken seriously in the race.

And what a race it promises to be. Just chatting to Chris about what's involved, the fund raising, the lobbying, positioning, campaigning - and that's just the primaries. It sounds like you fight like crazy to get adopted by your party and then you start all over again for the actual elections (in 2010). But Chris seems up for it and I wish him the best.

As for me, I think I will keep my dirty linen firmly in my closet. And if "the people" come calling, they can jolly well speak to my wife first.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Time to Twitter

Twitter this, twitter that. Everyone is twittering these days, it seems. I turn on the news and another civilian is out there, twittering to their hearts content, screaming at me that it's the new, new thing and if I'm not twittering then I'm a nobody. "Blogging is, like, soooo 2008 Darling".

Well, I guess that means its time to twitter.

But how to twitter?

I signed up a few weeks ago but to be honest I couldn't figure out what I was supposed to do next. I registered my phone and waited for something to happen, but nothing happened. I didn't know what to "tweet" and I didn't actually know how to "tweet". So, I left it and got on with my life.

The troubling thing was that I kept getting emails saying "So and so is now following you on Twitter". Spooky. I would spin round in my chair to catch them but no-one was there. I could sense them "following" me though, even though I hadn't twatted. Twyped? Twanged?

Finally, this evening I decided that if people were going to follow me on twitter I had at least better figure out how to use the damn thing. Once I had got that bit sorted (easier than I thought - give it a go), I had to decide what to say.

Some people seem to twitter almost minute by minute on what they are doing. Others share deep, profound thoughts, several times a day. I was at dinner with a chap who has over 20,000 followers (does that make him a religion?). He tweets constantly about practially everything he is doing. Yes, everything!

A lot of people feed their stream of tweets into their facebook updates. I'm not sure about that. If you are on the receiving end, then it feels like one of your friends just talks and talks continuously and no-one else can get a word in edgeways. It's one thing to actively choose to follow someone on twitter, it's a bit different if someone keeps sticking their head through your living room window or popping up behind you on the bus and shouting "Hi there, I'm just washing my goose" (actually that would be intriguing, but you get what I mean). So, I won't be doing that. If you are my facebook friend, you get to see my occasional, quite personal facebook updates. If you follow me on twitter, you see something else.

I notice that some folk have given up blogging and switched to twittering instead. I wonder. I think blogging and twittering are different things. They feel different to me. On the blog I can talk, share, rant, waffle, paint. I feel the need to do something different with twitter.

"I feel". That's important. I'll use twitter to express feelings rather than facts. I'll tweet about what's going on at a point in time, wherever I am, but rather than saying "I am doing...." I will say "I am feeling..." and if you follow you can decide for yourself what I might or might not be doing. Sometimes you'll be able to tell from that days blog post, but I won't work too hard to tie them together.

So, I'm going to express feelings in my tweets. But in what form? I think I will go.........hmmm.....errr...ahhhh, got it ! I'll go all Haiku on you. I will base all my twittering purely on how I feel and I will express it in the form of badly written haiku poems.

That should drive those pesky followers away :)

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Kai, Kai,Kai

There is a Nigerian phrase, or rather exclamation, that sounds like "kai". It is usually preceeded by biting the side of one's forefinger and then swishing the hand in a downwards motion, causing the fingers to slap together with a loud cracking sound. You use this whole sequence when confronted with something startling, surprising, unexpected. Kai, kai, kai.

On Tuesday evening I had a very nice meal with some interesting folk at the appropriately named Kai of Mayfair, the most expensive Chinese restaurant I have ever been to. The decor was exquisite. We were in a little private alcove downstairs, surrounded by very attentive waiters. The gentle chinese music wafting through the opening created a beautiful mellow ambiance. The food was melt in the mouth to-die for (and that's saying something from me, the ultimate fussy eater). But £11 for sesame toast and £57 for crispy duck? Kai, kai. I made the mistake of glancing at the wine menu, opening the pages at a bottle of Petrus 1990 for £5,880 and closing it again rapidly. Kai, kai, kai !

I was meeting with a few folk to share my African project idea. It's simple really. In any given population of young people, anywhere in the world 5% will fall into the category of being gifted and talented. There are something like 400m young people in Africa today. That means perhaps 20m might count as gifted of which perhaps 8m are smart enough to join Mensa!

Many developed countries have specific programmes or initiatives to identify and engage with its young gifted and talented population. UK has the Young Gifted and Talented scheme. USA has the National Association for Gifted Children. Hong Kong has the International Centre for the Gifted and Talented. So I am going to create a gifted and talented academy for Africa to see whether we can find and unleash some of that amazing intellectual talent that doesn't happen to be born into a family that can support their special educational needs.
Not what people usually think of when you think about helping education in Africa and that basic school building work desparately needs doing, but countries around the globe are focusing effort on their gifted and talented so why not Africa? Besides, I like a challenge :) Find and unleash 20m gifted young people? Kai, kai, kai.

So, I am bouncing the idea off a few folk and getting some excellent feedback on the realities of charitable ventures in Africa, where to locate the initial Academy, who to contact, how to shape it when I get chatting to the chap opposite about origins. He mentions he's from Nigeria. Well Nigeria is a big place with a population of about 140m, so where abouts? He says it's near Benin City. I am surprised as Benin has a population of just over a million and it is the part of Nigeria that my father hails from. I push again, where abouts in Benin? He says well, not actually Benin, it's actually a place called Ora.

Now it's getting wierd as you are down at the level of towns with a few thousand people in them and the area he is referring to is next door to the town/village that my Dad comes from. Which Ora town? I ask. Well, he admits, it's not actually Ora, it's actually more like Afuze but most people know Ora so he usually says Ora.

"What?" I exclaim. "Afuze is the actual town that my Dad grew up in! How are you connected to Afuze?"

"Well I'm not really" he says "but part of my family come from a tiny village near Afuze, just next door to a village called Uokha"

Dear reader, you have never heard of Uokha. There is no reason why you should have done. 99.9 % of the 140m Nigerians will not have heard of it. It's only got a few hundred folk in it, if that. It just happens to be next door to even smaller village, Ugboa, that my Dad was born in.

Neither of us had ever met anyone else inside or outside Nigeria who has any connection with that miniscule dot on the map thousands of miles away (so small that when you search for Ugboa on the mighty google is says "did you mean Ugbox")

And now we have. In the most expensive chinese Mayfair reastaurant I have ever been to, where sesame toast for starters costs £11. Kai, kai, kai !

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Repelling sharks in Paris

This week I found myself in Paris attending a gathering of Cybersecurity specialists. We Cybersecurity types know a good thing when we see one, so when I was invited to this meeting at the British Ambassador's residence I jumped on Eurostar and headed across (under) the Channel.

The event itself was an interesting gathering organised by the Cybersecurity KTN Network, with attendees from across Europe and the USA trying to assess risks and responses to the rising global threats posed by cybercrime. It was sort of about keeping sharks at bay.

So it was kind of appropriate that the first picture I noticed as I wandered around the magnificant residence, poking my nose into various rooms, was Damian Hirst's "Pardaxin". It's not a "usual" Hirst (if such a thing exists) in that it wasn't an animal cut in half. It was a canvass with some coloured spots on it. 42 coloured spots to be exact. No two colours the same. Handpainted. I think it was art. Hmmmm....

On another wall was a work by Alex Pollard which was a bit more to my liking, being a closet geek. It is called "8-bit Landscape" (named after a computer game apparently) and consisted of a large canvass with a small eraser, pencil, button, nail and a few other bits positioned on it. I counted the bits and there weren't 8, which immediately threw my brain into a mass of confusion. Was that deliberate? Can't he count? Also it turned out the items were not actual erasers and pencils, but plaster casts of erasers and pencils, handpainted to look like real ones. Cunning, eh? Hmmmm....

Next to this was a piece of twisted flourescent lighting tube, made into a sentence that says "Time here becomes space/space here becomes time" by Wyn Evans. Across the way was another piece saying "Space here becomes time/time here becomes space". I had to read the card to help me on this one. The card explained "The two sentences call to each other providing a spatial commetary which both contradicts and complements". Head spinning, I felt it was time for a nice cup of tea and a sit down somewhere quite.

The Cybersecurity meeting was opened by Sir Peter Westmacott, Her Majesty's Ambassador to France. I was soooo hoping that a butler would appear with the Ferrero Rocher but it was not to be. It was a fascinating conference including memorable phrases like "a zero-knowledge proof of knowledge", but during the break I returned to my search for a work of art that I could understand.

It was lunchtime and whilst the setting was stunning and the lunch was delightful, I was slightly put off my lunch having just seen Gayle Chong Kwan's work Babel. She has constructed and photographed a scene of the tower of Babel out of raw, dried slices of meat. Oh, that reminds me, we had Steak and Kidney Pie for lunch.

The afternoon cybersecurity session was led by the American contingent. I do enjoy American security types. They just seem so, well, like American security types.

As the day drew to an end and we prepared to leave I strolled into a very grand room with massive paintings covering the walls and finally found the picture I was looking for. There it was. As tall as a building. Commanding. Confident. In control.

Now, THAT'S what I'm talking 'bout :)