Category Archives: blog

At the edge of history

On Saturday, I attended the Unite for Europe March in London.

Together, for now

It was the first time I’ve ever taken part in an organised protest or march, and it was probably also the first time I’ve ever felt strongly enough about an issue to feel motivated to do so.

As I walked from the Tube to the meeting point at the start of the route, I was thinking about all we’ll lose as we head into this coming week, towards Mrs May’s intended date for triggering Article 50 and starting the two years of exit negotiations.

My father was born into a world that within weeks, was plunged into the Second World War. My grandparents must have spent some time hiding in shelters with their children, my father and uncle, the fear and uncertainty something I cannot imagine. My mother was born into the hesitant peace that came immediately after that conflict, and the years of austerity, rationing and rebuilding that followed, as borders closed and dangers loomed in the east.

And then came the Treaty of Rome, and the start of 60 years of peace, cooperation and (relative) economic stability, in a continent previously torn by wars and economic rivalries.

By contrast to my parents, I was born into a nation that was by then already a member of the EU. I’ve held the rights of an EU citizen since 1993 when those rights were established by treaty. So, for my entire working life I’ve enjoyed the benefits of freedom of movement, freedom from discrimination based on my nationality within the EU, and rights to consular protection abroad (among others). It makes me incredibly sad that the rising tides of nationalism in individual member states are starting to dilute these feelings of freedom and partnership that have been hard-won through (initially) post-war negotiation, and then expanded through the end of the Cold War to our neighbours further across the continent.

(hint: we never lost it)

It’s fairly clear that in the nine months since the referendum took place, every one of the main planks of the groups advocating that Britain should leave the EU have been thoroughly dismantled or proven as falsehoods — most famously the £350 million per week we’d get back to put into the NHS, which was a claim withdrawn on day 1 after the result. Given that many of the staff of the NHS choose to live and work in the UK but come from outside, we can also guess that things will become even further strained as the Government refuses to guarantee the rights of existing EU citizens. There may be a large fee of billions to pay to get out, but we just don’t know yet, and probably will not through the coming (doubtless even more uncertain) two years ahead. Some of the UK regions and industries significantly dependent on EU grants and funding have started to realise the austerity they face in the future. Immigration has yet to be proven a failed policy, and our terrorists have consistently been home-grown.

Not only that, but those in favour of the exit appear intent on trampling on genuinely useful rules agreed across the EU, such as protecting wildlife habitats and regulating drug trials. My mind boggles as to what comes after our EU rights are stripped and businesses are given free reign to profit in any ways they choose… there’s nothing to fear in the past, but a leap into the dark unknown ahead.

I’m appalled that a minority voting outcome for an advisory process to Parliament has led us down this sad path, and it is largely those under 40 who will pay the price for this in the coming decades.

The march on Saturday was glorious, with a far larger turnout than the organisers expected, and with people coming to London from across the country to join together to speak for Europe. A source of joy and love.

Bad ideas should always be challenged — it is our democratic duty to speak out and persuade

For the moment, I’m proud to be a European citizen. I celebrate all of my friends and colleagues who decided to come to the UK to work and live here, and long (I hope) may they do so. The EU is far from perfect, and could do with many structural reforms and revisions, but I applaud what it has brought to this continent of ours for the past 60 years — peace, freedom, friendship, greater understanding, opportunity, and prosperity.

Happy birthday, EU!

(originally posted on Medium)

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Minimum viable smartphone

aka #firstworldproblems

Three weeks ago, as I was leaving Tokyo after my first trip to Japan, I accidentally abandoned my iPhone in the back of a cab as I ran into the airport. The sinking feeling crossed with panic as I realised it was no longer in my pocket, was compounded by the fact that it carried my electronic boarding pass, TripIt itinerary with flight details, my Apple Pay wallet, lots of podcasts and music for the flight, and of course my main means of communication with home via iMessage, email or phone.

When I went back to the kerbside, the taxi had already left, and I quickly resigned myself that it was probably a lost cause.

The only other time I’d managed to leave my iPhone somewhere while travelling, was on the top deck of a late-night bus in London. When I got home, I used Find my iPhone to make it ring loudly, and the bus driver was good enough to take it to the bus station for me to collect in the morning.

This time, I was more limited — although I could still use Find my iPhone, I didn’t have time or means to do it before take-off, and my phone itself had data roaming disabled, so unless it made it back to the hotel where it had last connected to wifi, it was pretty unlikely to receive the messages to disable itself or wipe my data.

When I got back to the UK, I did go ahead and set everything as lost in iCloud, and also Tweeted, and posted about my loss on Facebook. Several people commented “hey, this is Japan… you might be surprised!”. A colleague I’d been travelling with had me send him a photo of the taxi receipt via direct message, succeeded in contacting the driver, and recovered my phone! 🙇 After that, it was a simple (!) matter of colleagues passing it between themselves until I arrived here, in São Paulo Brazil, to meet the person who was currently in possession of my device.

Backup solutions

By the time I realised that my phone wasn’t lost forever, I’d also decided that I could avoid an insurance claim (although I probably would have used that opportunity to upgrade from an iPhone 6 to a 6S Plus, so the silver-lined cloud of Japanese kindness wasn’t as shiny as it might have been!).

I needed my phone for SMS. Most of my online accounts are protected by two-factor authentication, so I needed a way to receive text messages. I also needed to be able to do a bunch of things on the move (more on this in a moment). My initial stopgap solution was to cancel my Three SIM, get a new one, and shove it into an older iPhone 5 that we had laying around at home — annoyingly though, it was locked to a corporate Vodafone contract and my new SIM wouldn’t work! So, although I could pull down a bunch of apps and use the older iPhone on wifi, it wasn’t going to help with that SMS issue. The other solution I came up with there was to use the nano-SIM in an adapter inside my older Nexus 5 — which meant I had mobile data and SMS available, but it would be on Android. I’d be dual-wielding my mobile weapons for a little while.

Three weeks, two phones

My regular iPhone 6 has 438 (!) applications installed. No, I’m absolutely sure I don’t use most of them regularly; and yes, I really should get around to clearing that down; but hey, 128Gb is a lot of storage, and I use my phone for lots and lots of things on a daily basis.

I wasn’t about to restore my entire device onto a smaller, older iPhone 5, but after a fortnight, here’s what I came up with as my minimum viable set of apps I needed.

IMG_0004.jpgIMG_0005.jpg

Almost the very first thing I did was to drag the majority of Apple-installed apps into an “Apple” folder, to get them out of the way (how I wish they could be removed or fully hidden).

After that, getting the Google suite (Gmail, Chrome, Calendar) installed and then back up-and-running by coordinating 2FA challenges with my Android phone, got me a long way back towards where I wanted to be. I’m a social kind of guy, so Twitter, Swarm, Facebook, Instagram and Periscope were instant re-installs, too.

In terms of other apps worth calling out here:

  • Citymapper is probably the #1 essential app I use daily, in as many cities as I can, where it is available and when I’m travelling. One of the best pieces of technology in my life. Use It.
  • Solitaire is basic, but to be honest, one of a relatively small number of games that don’t maddeningly insist on network access, meaning that I can play a quick diverting game on the Tube.
  • Evernote is my external brain — I love it — and I automate a lot of the contents using IFTTT recipes as well.
  • 1Password is another essential install, and part of my workflow across my devices. I try to never know my passwords.
  • Spotify. I use iTunes Match and have a lot of content of my own music library over in there, but I don’t subscribe to Apple Music and haven’t even tried the trial yet. Spotify. Is. Awesome.
  • Mondo is an incredible new banking app that I absolutely love. As soon as they get a full license for current accounts, I can easily see myself moving much of my day-to-day banking over there — this is fintech disruption done from the user perspective.

The other pain point I encountered in this three week digital wilderness trial, was what to do about my Apple Watch! As soon as I lost the original iPhone, I found myself unable to change the timezone on my Watch — in the Watch UI, it only locally offers the option to put the clock forward, not backwards. In the end, the only good solution I could see was to reset the Watch, re-pair it as new with the older iPhone, and then set it up again. Today, once I got the original phone back, I had to go through the same dance, although I restored from the most recent backup on the iPhone 5, so the setup wasn’t quite as annoying. Still… this doesn’t seem well thought-through, Apple please take note.

What about Android?

Android remains interesting and useful to me, and in particular the Lollipop and Marshmallow releases have moved it forward a long way in user experience. I support developers on many platforms, and it is important to me to have a Nexus device in my life, even as a secondary device. I’ve loved using my Nexus 5 more during these past few weeks, but I still find the plethora of messaging apps, inconsistency in finding settings, and annoying UI differences between apps outside of the Material redesign ecosystem, to be hugely irritating.

Another thing that annoyed me on both of my fallback devices was the lack of that magical Touch ID! I’m so used to just holding my phone and being able to use it, that the screen swipe / PIN dance was a big challenge to adjust back to. Amazing how quickly technology becomes part of the daily wallpaper when it is simple and useful.

That being said, it might even be time to update my Nexus to a 5X or 6P to make use of some of those newer features on that platform, as well…

Moving on!

Thanks to Aman, Lia, the Japanese taxi driver, and the corporate donor of my backup phone…

I just installed 138 app updates on my iPhone 6.

Modern life is good-ish.

Signals, messages, clouds… pigeons?

… AKA, how a flock of pigeons 🐦 is connecting my past, present and future technology interests.

If I look back at the past 10 years or so of my career, I believe there’s a continuum of interest – from my passion for / community building around application messaging systems (MQ, MQTT, and others), to building lightweight cloud-based services (Cloud Foundry and API platforms), and now, to working on what you can choose to see as a large scale, cloud messaging platform (Twitter).

Twitter is far more than that, of course. It’s also a platform that humans interact with more so than any of the other systems I’ve worked on in the past. From e-commerce to core banking systems, I’m pretty sure that none of the things I’ve helped to build in the past have had the same scale and impact in the world every day that Twitter has done. It also reflects my passion for people and communities – hell, I’m a guy with a History degree playing at being a technologist, and jumped into social media before the term even really existed, what else would you think I care about? OK, OK, yes I’ve also always been an early adopter of shiny new technologies… but my excitement with technology is almost always about what it enables us to do as humans every day.

So what’s the point of this post, other than to muse on this?

Well, Twitter also represents a nice confluence of my passion for the Internet of Things, sitting between those messaging systems and those cloud apps that I mentioned, and people.

Twitter is real-time, and live. By creating and curating my Twitter timeline, I follow the people (@), topics (#), and well – the things – that I care about most. I receive breaking news, follow along with what my friends and colleagues are up to, and learn about what is happening in the world in real-time. It’s a platform for both messages, and signals. The engineering and support efforts required to support all of this happening, with rapid response times and a solid user experience, are pretty impressive – hats off to my colleagues in those departments.

Twitter is also conversational, which means that it can make a great home for all those conversational interactions we’re hearing about with the resurgence of bots, helpers, and personal agents. In fact, we can think back to not too long after the Twitter API came about, to the Tweeting plant asking for water when the soil was dry, to see that these kinds of applications are no strangers to the platform.

I’ve spoken about these topics a number of times over the past couple of years, most notably at our first Flight conference in 2014, where I covered flood alerting, plants, ferries, sports events, houses, earthquakes, and more!

Soon after starting work at Twitter, I ended up helping a project to connect river sensors online. Right now, you can find local river stations in the UK on an interactive map, and then (if you’re interested) you can follow the ones that matter to you. It’s pretty cool stuff, and can help with flood alerting and monitoring as well as local awareness.

Perhaps you’re interested in the environment around the Dublin Bay Buoy?

Talking of the environment, last year we ran a conceptual contest out of Twitter UK, inviting organisations to think about new ways to use the platform and build applications #PoweredByTweets. One of the winning entries was the idea that pigeons in London could be instrumented with tiny backpacks measuring air quality. At the exhibition of the winning entries in September, there was a display that mocked up how this could work.

Yesterday, the @PigeonAir patrol took flight for real in London, and for another day or two will act as a temporary set of mobile beacons that can report back air quality via Twitter conversations.

I love this – and quite honestly, I remember telling people how barmy I thought it was when we first started looking at it!

Another interesting data point to add to all of is that social signals from Twitter may be more effective than some FEMA models, according to recent research

So what’s next? Who knows. My mind is constantly racing with ideas, and others come up with far, far more interesting ones!

This is not a story about Twitter.

This is the story of how humans used technology in creative ways, to improve their lives and their environments.

 

Why I am #HeForShe

he-for-she-logoI’m incredibly fortunate to work for a company that is one of the Corporate Impact Champions for the global UN Women #HeForShe movement, with support right from the top of the organization. There’s more about Twitter’s commitment to #HeForShe here.

I’ve worked in the technology industry for my whole professional life, and it has been an incredibly tough place for women to work – that’s just not the kind of career or workplace I want to work in, because I’m constantly inspired and influenced by women around me, be that professionally or personally.

For my part, I’m a huge supporter of this drive for equality. Over the past few years we’ve witnessed appalling social abuse through vectors such as “GamerGate” or one of the many other poor excuses that humans have found to justify their own prejudices. It is beyond time for this to Stop, and for us to move forward together.

What can I do that goes beyond mere words? I can be an Ally to friends of all genders and identities who have encountered difficult behaviour. I can point out that I support the Hack Code of Conduct for conferences and Hackathons. I am happy to work on diversity programs within the tech community and to support initiatives such as CodeFirstGirls, which Twitter has also hosted classes for.

Today, International Women’s Day, Twitter is supporting the cause with custom emojis for #IWD2016 and #SheInspires me (you’ll see them visible with those hashtags on Twitter.com today) – and what better excuse, as if one was needed, to call out various friends, colleagues, and one I’ve not even met, as role models and personal inspirations… you should probably be following them and checking out their achievements.

Three notions / plans for 2016

Hello. I haven’t written here in a while. That’s something I hope to change.

I realise it is 6 weeks into the year already, but after a trip to California last week, my own vague ideas about what 2016 should mean for me, have solidified.

  1. Travel (a bit) less / be more thoughtful about travel. I’m in an International role, and I work for a company with headquarters and many of the decision-makers 8 hours behind me. This makes the notion of travelling less in 2016 a little ironic and possibly, untenable! Nevertheless, I work with a great team and I hope to be more thoughtful about where and when I travel (and for how long) this year. I know I’ll do more again, but right now, I’m at a point in my life where I need to be setting more roots and plans locally. Interestingly, my trip to SF this week was my first significant travel since October, so this is already working (to an extent), but the global #HelloWorld tour will of course eat into that significantly – not that I’m complaining!
  2. Make more Stuff. Per Chris Heilmann’s fantastic post about Developer Relations / Evangelism / Advocacy this past week, “how often do you code?” is a key question in understanding our role(s), and I’d been aware for a while that I simply hadn’t been doing much of it lately (beyond testing out examples where devs said they were unable to make samples work). My plan in 2016 is to build something – anything – at least once a month. So far this year I’ve dabbled in Twitter ebooks bots and Alexa skills – both built on the backs of others – but I hope to build, publish, and write about more in the coming months. I’m particularly excited by the growing trend towards No UI / conversational interfaces and it has been great to re-connect with friends like Matt and Haje in the preceding months on these topics. I’m also hoping to write a lot more, as blogging and sharing is a major part of where the amazing ride and network I’ve enjoyed since ~2006, started.
  3. Invest more time in mentoring others. In my previous lives at IBM and Pivotal I had a lot of opportunity to get involved in these activities. I’ve been at Twitter very close to 2 years now, and it is incredible to realise how much I’ve learned “through osmosis” – partly from amazing individuals like Isaac, Sylvain, Taylor, Craig, Chris, and Romain – and more often, from others still around me. My goal in 2016 is to share my knowledge and support much more widely: both to co-workers, third party developers, and up-and-coming members of the tech community around me. Time to hit the local meetup circuit, and to do more coaching of others in public speaking, career mentoring, and personal support.

I’ve got a lot of exciting stuff to look forward to this year professionally – I’m deeply involved in a number of initiatives, and I’m excited that @jack has put Developers firmly on our list of priorities! This is where I’d always hoped we would get back to. Nevertheless, on top of that, these are three of my personal plans for the next ~10 1/2 months. I’ve made a good start.

As always, I’m open to comments here, but you’ll also find me open to discuss on Twitter @andypiper.

(also on Medium)