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Hacking then and now

The wheel has turned.

Corpus linguistics, then

Twenty years’ ago, I put together a corpus of English Language with the help of the English Department at Birmingham University.  Books were scanned by hand and we culled the misreads by hand working through the night wearing every item of clothing we possessed to make our computer budgets stretch further.  We used several mainframe computers switching from one to another to complete different tasks.

Then we moved the whole bang shooting match back to Zimbabwe on computer tapes and carried on analysing the content using UNIX.

Munging, now

I had forgotten the word grep.   Well youngsters don’t grep anymore. They search for ‘regular expressions’. They’ve never heard of computational linguistics.  They talk about the semantic web.  They munge.

And they are doing fine work using HTML mark up and linguistic markers to search the web for information such as the schools attended by Conservative MPS or the names of officials who have signed off large grants to private companies.

When will hacking stop being a hobby?

Open data has surely begun though it still seems to be at a hobbyist level.  While academics are moving (wisely) from analysis to design (synthesis), hackers want the cut-and-thrust of a quick sortie – a raid on the establishment.

One of the growth areas on the next few years will be learning how to test the quality of answers provided by hackers.

Hack.  Your business depends on it.

In the meantime, learn to hack.  Because if you don’t, you’ll be hostage to the views of the world they put forward.

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Managing in Africa: We may have wild animals but we write concisely. We have a to-the-point culture.

Harare International Ariport
Image via Wikipedia

Yes, there are wild animals in Africa and sometimes you meet them

A jet on a domestic commuter flight collided with a squad of warthogs that had found their way onto the runway during the night at Harare International Airport.  The jet hit the pigs just as it screaming down the runway in take off.  The undercarriage was damaged and the plane veered off the runway at speed.  The pilot brought the plane to a safe stop and all 30-40 passengers were evacuated safely though obviously startled.

That’s my summation.  I am following this story because I want to know what happened to the pigs.  It’s called the zeigarnik effect. We always want to know the ending!  No one says what happened to the pigs (or whether anyone has mended the airport fence).  So I keep reading the stories to find out!

Manage for animals and be to-the-point ~ very to-the-point when you work in Africa

While I’ve watched the story I read an extract from a statement from the airlines chief executive.

In exactly five sentences, the CEO summarizes the situation and he does so in logical order.

A template for perfect business writing

I’ve copied the statement below and added a heading before each line.  It’s a case study of a perfect business memo.

Situation : something has happened and we must pay attention

“An Air Zimbabwe MA60 aircraft impacted with warthogs during the take-off roll on November 3, 2009 at approximately 19:36.

Mission : this is why we must pay attention

This resulted in a rejected take-off.

Execution: Specific events in logical order

The aircraft was on the take-off roll and was about to lift off the ground when it hit the five warthogs.

The nose and left main landing gears collapsed after the impact.

The aircraft veered off to the left side of the runway and stopped off the runway with damage on the engine propeller and on the wing tip.”


What will happen next and who to contact?

NB:  There is no mention that the passengers got off unharmed because no one is hurt.  We take it for granted that if casualties were not reported, that there is NTR – nothing to report.

I still want to know what happened to the pigs.  I know it is not particularly relevant. It is just the zegarnik effect, I know.

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5 worldly happiness hacks!

Gretchen Rubin over at the happiness project has 5 happiness hacks that are worth considering.

Would following even one help you enjoy your life more?  Or make you more enjoyable to live with and work with?

# 1 Impulse to tidy up?

Add File 13 – the rubbish bin. See if you can fill it up!

# 2 Determined to exercise some self-control?

Cut down the times you have to self-control to no more than 2 a day! Stop beating yourself up.  Side-step nonsense.

# 3 Think you need a treat to lift you up?

Live well all the time!  Make each meal a treat. Tidy up as you go.  Live elegantly!

# 4 Think you need to help people in the world?

Help people close to home! Look around the room!  Halve some else’s irritation in your own kitchen, your own office, your own commuter train.

An irritation shared is usually quartered.

# 5 Resolving to do something?

Don’t. If you must have a resolution, have one, till it is done! Pick the most important and don’t put anything else on the list!




Be a social media star: a menu board of 5 competences

We are in social media because we really have fun

Most of us who get into social media because we love it.  We like computers and we are fairly sociable, though curiously, often introverted too.

We do what we love, and we do it happily all day long.

It’s only when we start to think about making money, that we start to think about monetizing. And then we start to think a lot about money. And we start to talk about it too.

Have you ever noticed that people in other industries don’t talk about money nearly as much as we do?

That’s because they have more than us.

Why other people make money

My ‘day job’, or at least my day-job in years gone by, was as a psychologist to commerce and industry. We put in systems – pay, performance appraisal, selection. Hell, even pensions.

Most social media firms are much too small to be bothered with such systems. That’s lucky. These systems tend to be rather dull.

The guiding principles behind the systems are another matter though.

Take competencies, for example.

We try to understand a job in terms of its essential skill base. What do we get done? What are the main clusters of tasks?

I’ve been edging toward a model for social media and this is what I’ve come up with.

Menu board of 5 competencies in social media

Competence 1: Customers

Who are our customers? If they used our service, what would they use it for? How do they satisfy that need without us?

Once we’ve introduced our service, how do they use it? What tweaks do they introduce?

This isn’t a customer-service role. It’s a strategic-role where our expertise is watching the people we serve.

Clay Shirky is the best example of a person who is expert in this role He works at the role of macro-strategy. What affects all of us?

We also need mavens working at the level of micro-strategy – our own industry, our own locality, our specific demographic. Anthropology and sociology are good foundations for this expertise.

Competence 2: Technology

Today, Seth Sternberg, founder of Meebo, posted his thoughts on managing startups over on Techcrunch.

He believes that the core team needs at least two technical people: the pixelator (design of the front end) and the person who makes the servers fly (backend).

That’s a useful framework to start with. Where is design and processing going? What is likely to break onto the scene in the next five years? What is flair and what is competence in the field?

In the social media world of south-east England, many of us rely on LoudMouthMan to give us an overview of what is happening.

I suspect many geeks are very specialized and are micro-micro, so to speak.  What are the slightly broader ‘chunks’ that match clusters or groups of apps who compete with each other?

Competence 3: Marketing

Now we get to looking after customers.  Marketers in the social media space are quite competent technically.  They use social media to find customers, respond to customers, and tweak the system to manage the % ROI.

This space is very noisy. But I perceive most people are chasing the business of big traditional companies who are perceived to be flush with cash.

I haven’t met too many social media marketers who will manage a startup.  The closest that I know of is Julius Solaris who is his own startup, so to speak.  He arrived in UK less than 18 months ago and has built an extensive network of entrepreneurs in London.

I’ve done a little work on the broad mega-picture of Facebook & Twitter and Linkedin users in UK

To work our own space – to go from zero customers to 1000’s of customers, we need to copy Julius.

Competence 4: Keeping it all together.

I have met some accountants at Julius’ meetups. Accountants who specialize in social media are as rare as hens’ teeth though.

Lawyers are a little more common, but not common at all. Omar Ha-Redeye, reading for his JD in Canada is the closest I know.

This post is my contribution to this competence ‘Keeping it all together’ by thinking ahead about our skill base.

Competence 5: Emergence

And lastly, who is Hannibal of the A team?

We sometimes bring ‘old world’ attitudes to social media. We want to be in-charge, largely because we don’t trust each other and we are terrified of losing control of the ‘rent’ – the unusual profits.

In reality, of course, we barely have any profit at all. This is part of the creative sector and few people get rich.

Hannibal doesn’t play this old fashioned role. Hannibal thinks up the game plan. Hannibal builds the missing trust and gets out some fair and cast iron contracts (that the lawyers, accountants and psychologists will make happen in their detail).

Hannibal coordinates. Hannibal sizes up the progress we make in our distinct arenas and passes information between us to help us stay together.

And second only to building trust, Hannibal senses the emergence of new understanding, clarity and more finely tuned goals. Hannibal represents the group to itself . . . represents the group to itself.

Hannibal must love the group, seriously love it.

We are Hannibal in our own lives. We think up our game plan. We help all the people who help us to trust each other. We pass information between them when they cannot do it themselves. We sense what we can do together and we represent this possibility so everyone can imagine a future that includes us . Universities have started to offer full semester courses to start students developing personal leadership.

Five competencies for managing a social media business

  • We need them all in part
  • It’s great when we find a maven who will keep us informed of broad changes
  • It seems to me that there are many opportunities to become experts at “industry” level (between niche and the broader picture).
  • “Keeping it all together” is calling for people with professional skills to specialize in social media.
  • We are all Hannibals in our own life.
  • Some people play the role of Hannibal in project teams and get very good at it.

Any use to you? Has this list helped you to check off your strengths and the strengths of your network?

Can you start a project team in the next month?  Who is missing from your team?

When you next go to a meetup, who are you hoping to find, probably standing somewhere quietly?

Any thoughts?

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