Category Archives: Talks

The Business Show (part 1)

ExCel Centre

I went to “The Business Show” at London’s ExCel convention centre on May 11 and 12.
www.greatbritishbusinessshow.co.uk (link already updated for the next show)

I’m not sure that I want to start my own business. Possibly I want to be involved in someone else’s start-up. I went to this show to see what it was about, to think about my options and to “dip my toe in the water”. Besides it had loads of free talks and there’s nothing wrong with listening.

The show was in the ExCel centre (the big building on the left, picture above) which is a huge space for holding conventions. It is located in the old docklands area of East London, near London City Airport (in the distance, centre of picture). During the Olympics this was the venue for boxing, fencing, judo, taekwondo, table tennis, weightlifting, and wrestling.

There were several other shows on at the same time, and I even wandered into one of them, but I think this one was enough. Like I said, I’m not sure how relevant some of this stuff was for me, so going to even less relevant shows didn’t seem optimal.

The Business Show itself was loads of stalls, each within their own walled cubicle, with businesses pushing their wares relevant for other businesses. Such as website companies, printers, property specialists, finance, exporting etc. The huge room was divided into six section, and each section was covered in a carpet of a particular colour. Also, each stall was labelled with each business’s name in a banner of that same colour. The colour coding proved particularly helpful in orienting me within the enormous room.

As well as stalls there were 16 ‘theatres’, either walled-off or roped-off areas of seats where speakers gave talks. And there were other similar smaller ‘masterclass’ areas, where you could book to be instructed by an expert in a particular area. The theatres I attended were called Small Business Advice Theatre, Business Startup Theatre, SME Marketing Theatre, Digital Marketing Theatre, Optimisation Theatre and Keynote Theatres 1 and 2.

The room itself was incredibly noisy as each of these theatres and masterclasses were amplified. Each talk was a combination of the speaker giving the audience some information and selling their business. Some gave more information. Some were just sales pitches.

One thing I learnt from the sales pitches is that 7 is the new 9.99. Previously if something cost £50, it would be sold as £49.99. But at this show it would be £47. Virtually every price I saw at this show ended in a seven.

In the next two posts I will give a run down of the talks that I went to, and a summary of the notes I made and impressions I had.

I suppose one of the things I took away from this show was that if I were to start my own business it needs to be scalable. Work on what you know, was one message. Which I do. But what I know is me doing graphics on a computer. I can hardly scale myself. I need a different idea than this for my own business.

One final (small) gripe about the ExCel centre is that there are no toilets inside the exhibition hall. One had to leave the show, or take a lift to a different level. There was no nipping to the loo.

New Tech Meetup

Last Wednesday evening I went to London New Tech, a meetup at the London Google Campus which showcases startups in London. The idea of the meeting is that various startups stand up and talk about their business, how they need help and answer questions from the audience. There is a lot of networking going on before and after the talks, and as the audience is full of intelligent, enthusiastic people, I talked to a lot of interesting people.

I went along for inspiration. I don’t have a business to push at the moment. But I think that maybe one of the ideas on show there will inspire me. Or alternatively I will be able to help someone there.

Although most people there were part of a startup, I wasn’t the only person looking for inspiration, and I met someone else who had come along for almost the same reason.

The structure of the talks is supposed to be 5 startups have 10 minutes each to present. But the nature of these things is that only 3 of them turned up. So then it’s a sort of open mic arrangement, where any startup can come to present, but for only 2 minutes, with one minute Q&A. All times are very flexible depending on the interest.

One of the things that struck me was the internationality of the crowd. Indeed, one of the speakers asked how many people in the room were English, and out of around 120, only 10 to 12 people raised there hands.

There were presenters from Italy, Germany, South Africa and Russia. One of the most interesting speakers was one during the open mic. An Australian guy, Oliver Du Rieu, who had just arrived in the UK that morning. He talked about his ride sharing business, La Mule. But as an impromptu talk, he was dynamic and enthusiastic. He engaged the crowd and they asked him loads of questions.

The most impressive piece of tech that I saw demonstrated was a way of video searching. This software creates a set of thumbnails for video so you can easily see where you want to start viewing. But then you can grab two thumbnails and drag them apart to create more thumbnails between them. This way easily and quickly finding where you want to start viewing without having to actually start the video.

During the networking my best encounter was with an Israeli guy, Uvi. He has all sorts of ideas about farming technology. For example, he’s created a mechanical way of sexing chicken. Currently a highly skilled human job. However, he doesn’t really know how to move his ideas forward. Not that I could help him, other than to offer encouragement, but I think he’s looking at the right event.

Although I haven’t found that one thing yet – in general, a very inspiring evening.

TEDxEastEnd

Yesterday I went to TEDxEastEnd at the Hackney Empire. It’s the first time I’d been to this iconic venue and it is an old school theatre classic. The actual TED talk itself was really good as well. Probably the best curated TEDs out of the 5 that I’ve been to.

IMG_2198

The speakers included:

Matthew Green – Talked about the original coffee houses in London. How they were male-only spaces, but cauldrons of ideas (and misinformation). The accept mode of behaviour was to walk up to someone you didn’t know and demand “What news have you?” Matthew Green was an entertaining and energetic speaker. This was my favourite talk.

Greg Constantine – Talked about stateless people. People who are not legally recognised by the state they live in and often their family has lived in for generations. They have no access to any of the government services that citizens do, like health, education or protection by/from the law.

Abi Ramanan – Talked about hyper spectroscopy. Soon you will have a spectroscope in your mobile device and this will lead to many innovations. An example she gave is waving your phone over a selection of supermarket avocados and your phone telling you accurately how many days freshness each of them has.

Regina Catrambone – has set up an organisation which sails a boat around the Mediterranean saving thousands of migrants.

Christine Shaw-Checinska – talked about expressing you rebellion through your fashion choices. I sort of identified with this. My expressions of rebellion (although I didn’t consciously think of this at the time) was changing my name… to something unusual… to something that isn’t even a word, just a collection of letters… and logically the letters should be in a different order.

Sue Lukes – talked about Sir Nicholas Winton who organised the transportation of almost 700 Jewish children from Czechoslovakia to the UK before the outbreak of the World War II. Much of his organisation was done through some subterfuge, setting up bogus organisations, forging visas, giving guaratees that they children would go back. Sue Lukes herself is the daughter of one of these rescued children. This story has many echoes in the refugee situation of today. At the time many people thought that the Jews coming to Britain were just “economic refugees”.

Toni Mac – is a sex worker, and her talked was about the legal situation around the world for sex workers. She divided most of the legal options that various countries have tried to regulate or outlaw the industry into 4 categories. And then showed that none of them worked, and all of them made it worse for the workers themselves. The only country, the only one with a fifth option was New Zealand. And they made their laws with full consultation with sex workers industry. I really liked this talk.

Hera Hussain – talked about the website, Chayn, that she is involved with. It is an international women’s website giving useful advice to women around the world in bad domestic situations. Advice like how to document abuse, how to get legal help, how to apply for a divorce by yourself. Chayn is an open source website, run with the help of the women who it there to help. There are many other organisations around the world that (supposedly) help with this sort of thing, but none of them have particularly good websites. Their websites are usually more concerned with their own organisations that the women they claim to help.

Caroline Parker – is a signing singer. That is, she is deaf, and she signs songs. She both signed songs and gave a talk (really well for a deaf person). Her signing of Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights was really funny.

But that’s not all! TED events are as much about meeting people in the breaks and in the audience as much as the talks themselves. I met loads of brilliant people. There were three of particular note.

Arthur, a Frenchman, who works at a startup in London. They produce a product called Piñatex, which is a leather substitute made from pineapple leaves. www.ananas-anam.com/pinatex

Nandi, a local Hackney girl, who was one of the volunteers for the event. She and I ended up having the most lively, brilliant, broad-ranging conversation covering feminism, privilege, vulnerability, London and TED.

Ben, co-founder of a website called Chew TV, a website that broadcasts live shows from DJs around the world, and also has play back on loads of sets.

Then, even on the train home I met a couple of guys who’d been at the event – Aiden, originallly from Iraq and Tomasz, more recently from Poland – and we just kept talking about the whole way.

All in all, probably the best TEDx I’ve been to.

TEDxUCL

Yesterday I went to another TEDx event, this time at UCL (University College London). This was the biggest TED that I have been to, and the longest.

As it was at UCL much of the audience was students and alumni. One of the great things about TED is the audience and that during the breaks we all talk to each other. This being largely a student body, I found the audience quite friendly and had some really good conversation with some UCL current and ex students.

One of the best conversations I had was with a cognitive scientist. We talked about some of the work I do. Specifically my work on corporate reports. (Not my most inspiring work, but more bread-and-butter stuff). Corporate reports are full of pie charts. This guy said that pie charts are useless. If a pie chart has more than four numbers then people can’t understand them. But if they only have four numbers or less then just list the numbers, people are good at numbers. So there is actually no instance where a pie chart is a good thing.

The theme of this TED was ‘Growth’. Speakers included:

Peter Cave – Reasoning: On knowing when to stop. This was a very entertaining talk about that, although morality takes thought, don’t think too much. The example he gave is that someone is drowning and you can save them. Don’t take too much time thinking about it. A more pertinent example is the amount of choice we have in today’s society. Eventually we have to stop comparing all the options (the examples he gave was of toothbrushes) and eventually choose.

Stefan Schubert – Revolutionising Election Debates. Stefan’s idea was that election debates should have live subtitles which call into question everything that politicians say. This way the viewer could tell what the politician was saying was true or not. I find the problem with the subtitle examples he gave (over the top of a piece of  a recent election debate) were, in their attempt to be true and even-handed, far too complicated . I’m not sure they would help so much.

Lux Paterson – Foodcycling: Salvaging wasted food to rebuild communities. The thing I took from this talk was that France has made it illegal for supermarkets to throw away food that is not rotting and yet past its use by date. I was impressed by this.

Kent Jackson – Intelligent Cities: Building for the future generation. What I took from this talk was that London has badly designed housing (what a surprise). That many other successful cities have a better density of housing, rather than sprawling. But if we are to build higher density housing, we should build housing that can be adapted for future use.

Frances Crook – On Penal Reform. Prisons need reforming. I agree.

Mark Thomas – The Origins of Technology. His argument was that the thing that makes society/culture advance was not necessarily the size of the human brain, but the size of our societies, our settlements (towns & cities) and the amount of (human) connections we make.

David Moss – White Collar Robots: A virtual workforce. David argued that although there is a lot of automation in white collar jobs these days, we are still getting a lot of office workers to do very boring and repetitive tasks. If it is repetitive, get a robot to do it.

Mark Ransley – Shape-morphing Smart Materials: The future of assistive technology. This was basically a report on where we are at with research into smart materials. 3D printing, obviously, is going to play a big part.

Emily Grossman – Why Scientist Need To Cry. Probably the most powerful talk of the whole day. Taking the idea of why she cries, Emily talked about why we all need to show emotion and how this actually produced better work, results and creativity.

Shami Chakrabarti – Human Rights in the 21st Century. The director of Liberty (the National Council for Civil Liberties) was the most famous speaker of the day. I was glad to see her. She talked about exactly what you think she would.

Sharar Ali – Can we survive climate change without changing ourselves? No, was the answer.

Paul Ekins – Can our economies grow forever? I found this talk very interesting. The answer to his question is yes, probably for the next century anyway. But on top of that he pointed out that if enacted ALL of the clean energy initiatives that we have already thought up, we would have an immediate, dramatic and positive long lasting effect on the environment, AND it would not affect the growth of our economies, it would actually help them grow. What I took from this is that all the nay-sayers against doing environmentally positive actions do not have a valid point-of-view but are desperate trying to save their own self interest over that of those around them and the planet.

TEDxEastEndSalon

Yesterday I went to TEDxEastEndSalon. The “Salon” bit means that it’s a smaller event. It was just in the evening with only 4 talks (with 5 speakers, one talk had 2 speakers). The whole talking bit took only an hour, but with the preamble and the Q&A and the after bit it was about 3 hours long.

The speakers and what I took away from them…

Dirk Slater – being aware of how technologies can actually reduce our freedoms and increase inequality, and then using technologies to counteract this. I like his line that “through date we have become the product”. He also said, reluctantly, the way forward to achieve his aims was capitalism. If market forces demand it then freedom and equality will happen.

Sarah Jones – was advocating 3D immersive experiences with virtual reality headsets. In two ways. First as a way of presenting the news. Second as a way of teaching school kids. I like this second point as it chimes with me that if you make education entertaining then it will be more effective. Also, lessons learned through an immersive experience are more likely to be retained.

Lydia Nichols – explained how biology is a messy science and does not yield clean, easy results. Unlike physics and chemistry where the exact same result can be produced over and over, biology does not play ball like this. Then, once you have the messy data, it is quite difficult to interpret, sometimes with disastrous results. Biology is not easy, not even with new data.

Heidi Lindvall & Guy Gunaratne – are the founders of Storygami (storygami.com), which is a interactive video platform. They started from London (Guy is from London) and told their story about how they made the move to Silicon Valley. It seems that this is still where it’s at. It is so much easier to get a start up off the ground, even compared to London.

In the Q&A, in response to a question about how to get a project/idea/business started, Guy gave a good answer. He said to set up a ‘validation website’. Basically, it’s a website which explains your idea, with a button that says ‘sign me up’. You don’t have to have actually done the work, just expressed the idea, on this website. The sign-me-up button is just a way of validating your experience. See how many people out there want what you may have to offer.

Out of the three TEDx’s that I have been to, I thought this one was the best organised. The AV had very few technical issues, unlike the other two. It was very slick.

IMG_2174

Data at TEDx

IMG_1925

TEDxSquareMile2015 was held at the Cass Business School of City University. I mention this because I realised that I had attended City University earlier in this year on an Advanced Javascript short course.

This was my second TEDx, and as before the audience were keen to engage with each other. My best connections was my first, a guy called Paul Weeden, who owns his own IT company, but is also a data + maps nerd like me.

The Cass Business School has several displays of work they did in the foyer, including some datamapping.

IMG_1923

This show the Role of Gender in Urban Cycling. Basically mapping the Boris Bikes’ journeys taken by gender (blue for men, red for women). Wow! Boris Bikes are predominantly used by men!

IMG_1924

This second map shows the energy consumption in 22 regions of France as a ‘stenomap’.

TEDxSquareMile

A break from the ‘seven day challange’ to talk about the here and now.

Yesterday I went to TEDxSquareMile2015. More about the event next post, but this post I want to talk about my favourite speakers.

Helen Morris-Brown – she talked about communicating effectively in the modern age, specifically text. Her talk resonated with me because frequently I send well considered and crafted message either to get a) no response, b) a one word response, akin to a grunt or c) a response which is can so obvious be interpreted in more than one way. People think that messaging is easy, I agree with Helen that is a lot more difficult and much more prone to misunderstanding.

Octavius Black – who talked about how we are much more likely to make connections with people with have something in common with. For example sharing one or both initials. An email from a person with shared initials dramatically increases a response. He said that diversity in any group is not what’s important, it is inclusion that is important. It’s pointless having a diverse group if half the members feel alienated. He said something like: don’t same I’m different from you, I’m different like you.

John Dennis – an arctic explorer who had suffered from deep depression. A moving talk.

Pilgrim Beart – a successful entrepreneur. He made a point that it is pointless being 10 steps ahead of the curve. No-one will buy your product, the market won’t understand you. Be just one step ahead of the curve. Save the rest for later.

Lisa Lavia and Harry Witchel – Their talk was about noise in everyday life. They pointed out it is pointless measuring how loud a noise it, but it is the quality of the noise. A quieter noise can be disturbing if it is unpleasant.

Stephanie Bosset – Be sceptical of everything you see in online media. Check your sources.

Tariq El Kashef – A talk about mindfulness and how modern (social) media is distracting us and stopping us being in the moment. The irony of this talk is that for this session I was sitting next to a woman, who had her phone on the table in front of her, and literally every 30 seconds she would push the home button, briefly scroll through her Facebook feed, then put the phone back to sleep. And 30 seconds later she’d do it again. Over and over and over. I  wanted to scream JUST STOP. Why was she at TED? She wasn’t paying attention.

Arturs Ivanovs, a laughter yoga teacher – This guy was bizarre. Everything about him. He’s a young Eastern European guy. Obviously very fit and muscular. Very sharply dressed in a suit and tie. And he teaches laughter yoga. So his schtick is a combination of stand-up comedian, clown and motivational speaker. He had the whole audience on their feet, doing ‘laughter exercises’. It was funny, because we had this clown getting us to do absurd things. I enjoyed this talk, but I’m dubious that repeated sessions of this would be fun.