Talking tech on live radio

Share RadioFor the past six months, I’ve been taking part in a live radio show every other Tuesday as a guest contributor to a morning show on Share Radio UK, a start-up digital radio station broadcasting in London and online.

It’s huge fun discussing myriad topical stories related to technology with Georgie Frost, presenter of the daily Consuming Issues show, in the segment called #FutureTech.

For about 20-25 minutes, Georgie and I talk about issues and topics that matter to consumers, sharing our thinking about those issues and topics that we think will interest, help or otherwise engage those consumers who listen on DAB or online.

You can get a great sense of what our discussions are like with yesterday’s episode: topics included two of Apple’s announcements on June 8 (Apple Pay in the UK and music streaming), the end of voicemail (perhaps), drones in China that check for student exam cheats, a new app designed to help human rights activists document and store photographs and films that can be shown in court, and wearable tech for wellness in the workplace (a favourite topic of ours). Phew!

Take a listen:

So every other Tuesday morning, I’ve been going to the Share Radio UK studio in Pimlico in London to have a chat about topics that are great stimuli for engaging conversation between two people who really are interested in those topics. Definitely the right foundation for listenable content.

As a podcaster, I’ve experienced one of the major and obvious differences between recording a podcast and doing live radio – with live radio, there is no editing scalpel. Plus, a radio station typically has a production team and researchers, a luxury Shel and I don’t have with our podcasts. Not yet anyway.

In any case, I enjoy these regular every-other-Tuesday live treats on the digital airwaves. Thanks to Georgie and Annie Weston, a great producer, plus the whole team at Share Radio UK.

There’s more of Georgie and me here:

Check out Share Radio UK (try the Android or iOS app). Some great programming and presenters. And take a look at the station’s plans for expansion. Huge potential.

Story-telling the intranet

Congratulations!

Sometimes, the workplace of the late 1990s seems to me a little like today rather than over 16-18 years ago when I think of disruption and change driven largely by developments in technology. I say ‘largely’ as shifts in people’s behaviours also play a huge role in workplace disruption and change, as do corporate and national cultures, attitudes and leadership.

Disruption and change are not only about technology.

Such thoughts came to front of mind this weekend when a major sort out in the home office turned up a pile of business and tech journals from the latter part of the 1990s including a copy of Conspectus magazine from January 1998 that contains a feature article I had written in the autumn of 1997 about the roles, impact and potential of intranets in the corporate workplace, with a focus on self-service employee benefits management.

The late 1990s was a time when an intranet was still, relatively, an embryonic communication and functional tool in most organizations, never mind the notion of employee self-service. Those that were developing intranets tended to be large organizations with budgets and the willingness to travel new roads. While many intranets of that era were a great deal about employee communication – and more often than not, owned and run by the IT department – quite a few organizations were investing in the development of functional intranets that offered self-service opportunities for employees in things like employee benefits enrolment and management.

A little like what we see all around us today with social media, internal social networks and of course highly-evolved intranets (take a look at today’s intranet from companies like Igloo Software, for instance – utterly unlike what you’d have seen in 1998).

At that time, I worked for William M. Mercer in the UK and part of my job was to help multinational and large-national clients see what tech was coming to the workplace and how we could help them prepare for it. (Even then, as a consultant I always looked on the bright side.) And so I wrote my piece for Conspectus with a predictive short story as the scene-setting introduction to a topic that many people were writing about at that time.

I figured as everyone else was writing pretty dry stuff about intranets focused on the technology in the here and now (then), let’s look at what is very likely in the near future where the forthcoming new millennium was capturing many imaginations (mainly worries about the potential imagined effects of Y2K), and write a story.

While it does seem a bit Space: 1999-ish even to me reading it today – I may well have been influenced by that 1970s sci-fi TV series – it does contain some realistic predictions of what we have today: ubiquitous workplace video-calling and touch screens, for instance, as well as attitude.

Here is that short story; see what you think:

Monday December 6th, 1999. Time: 8:10am. Elliott Green, human resources manager, arrives at his desk and puts his laptop down. It rings. Cursing mildly, he opens it up and fumbles in his pocket for his ID card.

The laptop rings again as Elliott slips the card into it and watches the screen light up to display a request to confirm his password. The computer rings once more as he keys in the password. A dialogue appears saying “Incoming Call from Marie Page.”

He touches the “Accept Call” button on the screen; up comes a live video picture of Paige, the human resources director. Her name and the legend “Encrypted – Secure Call” appear beneath the image.

“Hi Elliott, good to see you. Hope I’ve not caught you at a bad time?”

“Good morning, Marie. No, not at all,” replies Elliott. “Go ahead.”

“Ok, I just wanted to remind you that the new secure employee-access module of the interactive flexible benefits system goes online today. I’ll be at the consultants’ till early afternoon, so would you make sure that the announcement to everyone goes out at 11 as we agree?”

Smiling, Elliott says, “No problem, I’ve taken care of it.”

“That’s great, thanks,” says Marie.

“By the way, the results from the final pilot test are excellent. I’ve put the video-doc report in our private message area on the server. If you want, you can listen to a quick overview on the audio-call system. Just dial star-789 and follow the voice prompts.”

“Ok, thanks, see you later,” says Elliott, and disconnects.

Elliott touches the “Access System” button in one corner of his screen. It expands into a display of icons, buttons and message listings. Scanning the screen, he quickly sees the button he wants: “The Employee Source.”

As he touches it, he recalls the meeting, two years before, when the idea of fully automating the company’s HR information structure throughout the whole global organization had first been mooted.

No-one believed we’d do it by the new millennium, he reflects: all of it, linking HR databases in 20 countries that employees can access as well, from wherever they are.

That set the scene for the case I made in the overall article for building an intranet and the role it plays in employee communication, engagement and employee self-service in benefits management (the latter a pretty new concept at that time).

A sidebar in the article outlines important considerations from the point of view of a communicator. Written in 1997, I think they’re still valid today, whether for an employee benefits website as the article discusses or for almost any other employee resource where access to and content from is via a digital network:

Six Steps to an Employee Benefits Website

  • Build your sound business case. No matter how good your idea seems, it must show clear financial advantages and demonstrate how it will help achieve your company’s overall business objectives.
  • Involve the IT department (1). Your IT colleagues can be the most valuable ally within your organization if you discuss your ideas with them at the outset of your planning.
  • Involve the IT department (2). The planning and operation of an employee benefits website is very much an IT issue; the design and content is broadly your issue. Recognise that your website will likely be successful when developed as a joint project.
  • Get people’s opinions. Ask employees what they’d like to see on the website. Ask a few rungs above and below you on the management ladder. Consider all the views. Identify the stakeholders. Keep everyone informed of what you;re doing.
  • Be clear about design and content. Above all, your website is a communication channel – it must attract, interest and stimulate visitors into the desired action. Don’t short-change on the “look and feel.”
  • Talk to your external consultants. Find out what other organizations are doing – what tips and tricks you can learn, and how to avoid the pitfalls.

You can see the complete article as it appeared in Conspectus in January 1998 in a scan from the journal as a Scribd document, embedded below. Look out for two screenshots showing an HR intranet via Internet Explorer 4 and the Netscape Navigator browser (remember that?) in Netscape Communicator 4, the versions in use in late 1997.

Much has changed. Yet not much has changed.

Key to the Virtual Door by Neville Hobson

Plenty to like in Project Spartan

Project Spartan

Will Microsoft’s Internet Explorer see the sunset later this year?

It’s certainly not my browser of choice. Indeed, I don’t use it at all, preferring Google Chrome on the desktop and mobile and, lately, experimenting with Vivaldi, an impressive new browser that’s based on Google Chromium code.

Since it first appeared in 1995, Internet Explorer has come with the Windows operating system. Unless you manually install an alternative, that’s what you end up with. In Europe until recently, Microsoft was forced by EU law to offer users across the EU a choice of browser on first running Windows.

All this may become just a Windows-and-browser history footnote with Windows 10 – the latest version of Microsoft’s operating system, successor to Windows 8.1, and currently in pre-release public beta – and Project Spartan, a new browser that will come with the new OS and will be the successor to Internet Explorer.

Currently, you can only get Spartan if you’re a member of the Windows Insider testing programme and install the latest build 10049 of the Windows 10 Technical Preview (as the test version is known), released to testers last week.

I’ve been part of the Insider programme for the past six months or so, and was able to install build 10049 this weekend and so get a glimpse of Spartan.

First impressions are always key:

  • Pleasing interface, a very attractive contemporary look to it.
  • Write or type notes directly on a web page, and optionally save them. If you use Spartan on a tablet or other device with a touch screen (and stylus) you write; on a non-touch-screen device – like the Dell desktop PC I’m running Windows 10 on in its own disk partition – you type.
  • Save web pages to a reading list, not just as the traditional favourites bookmarks: a different content organization (and sharing) method.
  • It loads fast and gets content from the web fast. Probably depends on internet connectivity speed for some of that.
  • Impressively quick search-term prediction functionality with the Bing search engine. If this is consistently fast and accurate – getting you what you want and quickly – then I would very likely use it more, maybe even instead of Google search.
  • A reading view sans all the clutter of menu bars, etc. Think of the Kindle.
  • Ask Cortana, voice-activated spoken search. Haven’t tried that yet.

And there’s more, too, that I haven’t looked at yet either. Experimentation to come.

For a beta software product, it’s very advanced and polished, much like the Windows 10 Preview itself.

It’s not entirely ready yet, though, as I discovered when I tried to visit my Google+ page in Spartan.

"Your browser is no longer supported"

At least it gave me an opportunity to try out the Web Note functionality by typing a note directly on the web page as you can see.

I imagine such errors will be addressed before too long. Or that Google does read the memo.

In summary, I think Spartan resets the bar for a contemporary web browser that works well across all platforms, ie, desktop and mobile, and gives you a great experience. But others such as Vivaldi are challenging that bar, not to mention what we’ll no doubt see in upcoming versions of Google Chrome, Firefox and Safari. It’s no guarantee that Spartan will be the browser of choice for a Windows 10 user. Not to mention users in enterprises where Internet Explorer is the king of the common standard imposed on users.

Still, if you are trying out Windows 10, you’ll like Spartan. But will you love it?

The richness of WordCamp London 2015

This past weekend, as many as 600 people got together in North London to talk about things WordPress, the content management system that is the platform of choice for more than 75 million websites worldwide, and is in a market-leading position with blogs.

It was WordCamp London 2015, a three-day event comprising a contributor day on Friday, and the two-day conference over the weekend that I attended, with speakers from across the WordPress community, with talks for designers, developers, writers, business-owners, freelancers, anyone who is at all interested in WordPress.

As a blogger whose blogs run on WordPress – and who first experimented with WordPress in 2004 and launched this blog on the platform in 2006 – I took part in the event to listen, learn, meet some interesting folk and generally increase my knowledge of what you can do with WordPress.

It was actually the third WordCamp I’ve attended in the UK, the last time being some while ago in Cardiff in 2009. That one was especially memorable as it included WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg giving a talk.

In any case, I am very pleased with the time I spent at WordCamp London 2015. The event itself was an excellent example of terrific organization, very professional with no obvious gaps in anything that I saw. It illustrates how things have moved on in just a few years where a seamless experience is what you expect even from a community-focused event like this – and that’s precisely what you got.

It included a delight or two, over and above an expectation. The official swag, for instance – not just a t-shirt but also a very nice woollen scarf. That was unexpected and wholly delightful.

I was impressed with the sheer number of people taking part. Men and women, young and old, coding geeks, developers, designers and “regular folk,” WordCamp London 2015 included everyone who represents today’s WordPress community. It’s quite clear to me that WordPress is now part of the mainstream of what makes up the internet, not just the social web. And everyone knows it.

In the early days (pre-2010), it was just a few who really understood how WordPress works, how to make the most of its capability with themes and plugins, and how to create those themes and plugins. Now, such knowledge is widespread. What’s more, as more people learn about, use and become familiar with WordPress, so overall knowledge increases and spreads and becomes widely accessible as the WordPress ecosystem grows. That means getting help for your questions, or sharing your own knowledge and experiences, is so much easier today as the pool of knowledge continues to expand.

A few highlight impressions from some of the sessions I attended on Saturday and Sunday plus other experiences:

I had an opportunity to get some questions answered about a new feature in the Jetpack uber-plugin for WordPress when I encountered the guys from Brute Protect, a company that makes a security plugin that was acquired last year by Automattic, the people behind WordPress.com.

There was a really good presentation by Luke Wheatle and Sophie Plimbley, two of the key individuals behind a huge WordPress presence at News UK, who talked about building a scalable WordPress. Best phrase I heard: “WordPress is great for news, it’s so easy to use.”

SEO expert Jessica Rose led a great talk about search engine optimization in a packed session that ranged from how to optimize a WordPress site for search to the fundamentals of how search engines rank content. Most useful. Best phrase I heard: “Wow, this is the only time anyone has asked me for help with Bing!”

Tibdit, a service to make and receive micropayments or donations on your blog using Bitcoin, was one of the companies presenting their wares in a small exhibition area in one of the venue buildings. It could be an interesting tool for bloggers looking for small-scale monetization. I plan to try it out to see how it works, etc.

Dave Walker had a good perspective on things:

Two standout messages from Jon Buchan in his most refreshing session on content marketing – “How much money is wasted by experts creating crap?” and “It’s not what is given, it’s how it’s given that matters.”

I learned quite a lot in Bruce Lawson‘s session on responsive images, starting with that very phrase, “responsive images.” He is a good story-teller and his entertaining session was highly popular and pretty full in the largest presentation room. Best phrase I heard: “Safari, the North Korea of browsers.”

A thought-provoking session on user experience in WordPress was led by UX expert Sara Cannon who also shared her knowledge and experience of some really terrific-looking plugins, all of which I will check out:

And she shared her presentation deck.

It’s also worth highlighting a feature of just about any event these days where everyone and everything is so connected. Good friend Christopher Carfi in California noticed that I was at WordCamp London and tweeted to me and his colleague, Mendel Kurland, suggesting we ought to connect.

And so we did…

That’s what I call serendipity!

Check the hashtag #wcldn for all the Twitter chat and for news on other posts, picture uploads, etc, that undoubtedly will come from others in the coming days.

Is there such a thing as a British accent?

British accentThe British accent is the most attractive in the world according to a survey of 11,000 people globally, says a report in yesterday’s print edition of the Telegraph newspaper (and also in the online edition).

The Telegraph’s concise report notes that 27 percent of respondents to the survey rated British as the “sexiest” and “most dateable” accent, way ahead of the American accent in second place with 8.7 percent and Irish in third place with 8.1 percent.

The survey the Telegraph reports on was Time Out magazine’s Global Dating Survey that got a great deal of media attention this week.

What especially caught my eye, though, was the phrase “the British accent.”

What is that, I wondered?

Is it that when people think or talk about a “British accent,” what they’re actually referring to is an English accent, specifically what is defined as Received Pronunciation, and more traditionally known as “the Queen’s English”?

What we might even call “English English” as opposed to “American English”? (Certainly not “British English” as Microsoft would have it.)

Perhaps it’s the legacy of legions of actors from these shores over the past hundred years – most of them English rather than Scots, Welsh or Ulstermen (and women) – whose diction, vocabulary and context in the movies, on the stage and in television have defined the meaning of “British accent” in the minds of many people whose own language isn’t “British.”

Think of plays, movies and US TV dramas you may have seen starring legendary British thespians that include Laurence Oliver, John Gielgud, Peter O’Toole (who was Irish but with a wonderful display of RP in Lawrence of Arabia), Julie Andrews, Rex Harrison, Alec Guinness, Joanna Lumley, Noel Coward, and Patrick Stewart; and, in more modern times, names such as Emma Watson, Christian Bale, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kiera Knightley, Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes, Kate Winslet… just a few examples from a huge list.

Do they each speak with a “British accent”? Correctly, no they don’t. Instead, each speaks a version of English that may be particular to their origin in the part of the British Isles from which they came – and which, for most, is in England, many from the south – as well as the evolution of their speech as they get older, as they learn from new life experiences, and as they evolve their professional behaviours in acting.

Does it really matter? Not really, other than being clear in what we mean. It’s a bit like saying Tom Cruise or Timothy Oliphant each speaks with “an American accent.” I imagine linguists and language geeks – communicators, too, where this has significance in a business communication setting – will have a better idea of the nuances of language, accents and what that indicates or suggests about the speaker, and whether the receiver will understand what he or she is hearing.

For most of us, it matters little. At least we can spot the differences in the spoken word that give us insights into the speaker.

And a final thought – English today is a global language. If native speakers of English are now outnumbered by those who have learned it as a second language, then English now belongs to everyone who speaks it, no matter how they speak it nor where they speak it.

Finally a fix for the noisy fan on a Fujitsu Stylistic Q704

Fujitsu Stylistic Q704 Ultrabook

For the past few months, I’ve been enjoying the experience of using a Fujitsu Stylistic Q704 Ultrabook computer. This is one of the new breed of multi-purpose devices defined by the word ‘Ultrabook‘ that are coming from a wide range of vendors to offer a compelling mix of computing power, contemporary usability and portability.

I’ve written quite a bit about the Q704 as a “Fujitsu Insider,” part of the Master Your Business blogger programme I’m in that’s run by Fujitsu.

The Q704 is a terrific device that I’ve found extremely useful and enjoyable to use especially when out and about, as I’ve said in some of my posts on the programme blog. All the independent reviews I’ve read agree – it’s a great device. Yet there’s one thing many reviewers also agree on, especially those who dive deep into the technical characteristics of the device, and a point I’ve been aware of too – the noisy fan.

Not only noisy but also loud: obtrusively and annoyingly so, to the extent that it could well be a show-stopper when you add up the pluses and minuses of a device you’re thinking about whether to purchase. The only easy way to reduce the noise is to enable an eco power plan that also severely throttles the Intel Core i7 Pro CPU.

This is not a device to use in a quiet workplace. That’s hardly acceptable and it’s the only major negative I felt about the Q704.

I’ve thought that the solution to this surely must be in the hardware somehow. Maybe a hardware fix that involves a recall (hardly likely) or a firmware fix in the form of a BIOS update (more likely).

Fan improvement tool updateAnd so a pleasant surprise happened on Friday when I discovered that a “fan improvement tool” was available that included a BIOS update, bringing the version to 1.28.

The Q704 was running BIOS version 1.22, shown on the Fujitsu product website as the latest version. Running the update flashed the BIOS to the new version.

And running the Q704 since then, I’ve not once heard the fan, certainly not any noise at the high levels before. I’ve not noticed the device feeling hotter to the touch than usual, nor have I observed any noticeable difference in performance using the business-focused programmes I typically run on this machine, whether docked when in the office or in pure tablet mode when out.

The Windows Experience Index as measured by the Winaero WEI tool for Windows 8.1 shows a processor score of 7.2, the same as it was before the update. All other elements in that index are similar to before as well.

So with this BIOS update, I reckon Fujitsu have solved this niggling problem of high fan noise. Thank you!

If you use a Fujitsu Stylistic Q704, I strongly suggest you install this BIOS update. If your system hasn’t notified you of it yet – it was published only on January 20 – you can manually download it from the Fan utility for STYLISTIC Q704 vPro page. As the update is specific to this Q704 model, be very sure to check it’s for your machine and that it runs a supported Windows version.

Show-stopper eliminated!