Kneeling at the Shrine, Reading the Gospel of #Startup

This has been on my mind for a good few months and I’ve pondered whether to write it, or just leave it….. ah what the heck. As usually these are merely opinions so take it for what you will.

The Deities Sell The Dream

OH: “Huh, it’s like Zuckerberg is the god of startups…..”

kmlocc_22

There’s the gospel according to Zuckerberg, the gospel according to Jobs, the gospel according to Bezos. The same companies are used as deity markers in the likes of the tech press. And the most dangerous part is that these are the ones many of have, or still do, look up to. And we start talking like we’re in their image….

“It’s like the Facebook of Dog Owners”

“Its like Instagram but for Cross Stitch”

“It’s like Match.com for Hermaphrodites”

The truth is you and I will never be like them, simple as that, we won’t, our brains aren’t wired like theirs.

And the Valley is like Mount Shasta, there’s a lot of new age deities out there willing to share their dreams, visions and end goals, and they really can’t wait to see you go with them on that journey. And a lot of the time we look at the Valley as the single source of nirvana…. it’s a dangerous thought.

Accelerators as Churches?

There’s been a lot of church growth recently. Accelerators will gather you together and teach you their ways. Sounds a bit like church to me…. listen to our doctrine on “how to be a great startup” and we’ll show you where the riches are. The church is designed by the human race for human consumption, and there are times we need those places (I did, not for a startup, the other one).

As the gatherings followed other look and think, “I want some of that too” and more and more open up, willing to take in any startup that will listen to their preachings. Then the money men and big business get involved and they startup accelerators with the aim of helping (let’s be honest, probably owning) your dreams and visions.

Do yourself a favour and look at the leadership of this church and ask yourself this question: “How do they know this stuff they’re talking about? Did they walk this path or just read about it?”

Anyone preaching the Church of Lean and the Church of Business Model Generation, well they need not preach. You can go to your local Waterstones and buy the books there. Save yourself a lot time, nonsense and pain. There are other paths than those too.

Look at your leaders, do they really have your best intentions at heart, probably not. There are a few, but very few, people I know that are happy to advise without any gain on their part. They’re called friends, they’ll be the most honest with you. Accelerators are promising all sorts and usually want to own part of your soul, it’s like the Church meets Robert Johnston and, when you think about it, that’s a lethal combination.

The Prophets

“a prophet is an individual who is claimed to have been contacted by the supernatural or the divine, and to speak for them, serving as an intermediary with humanity, delivering this newfound knowledge from the supernatural entity to other people. The message that the prophet conveys is called a prophecy.”

There are plenty of voices telling us about the “next big thing” and their shout pieces come through the foghorn of the tech press. Every year it’s the same “What will be big in startup space for 2016”, ultimately even the oracle Gartner only has a rough idea.

Ultimately no one really knows.

A lot of faith is put in the prophets of startup, their guide in the path to supposed riches. With a voice many follow and create things based on their potentially dodgy knowledge. And this is where the blanket terms come out…. messaging apps, BigData which has now led to AI and Deep Learning. “Make these products and you will be guided to the riches…..”. Yeah, right, sure.

The Evangelists

Oh a special place in my heart for these ones because I’ve seen the damage caused in both church and start.

benny-hinn-prayer

I’ve been to a Benny Hinn crusade, 17,000 people on the inside of the arena (and it was a BIG arena in the UK) and another 5,000 outside. It’s the only time I’ve been truly scared as I thought they would actually break the doors down. There were police helicopters, the works. It was also a long time ago, my life and beliefs are my private business (as in, that’s my  thing and I don’t discuss it with anyone really).

And as startups some put the same faith in the travelling wordsmiths, the ones who can weave a story and sell it to us like the water we need. Ultimately what happens to us as individuals is irrelevant once the evangelist leaves as long as the money is in the bucket. No aftercare, no after thought.

The startup event industry is booming, big and spreading. They only care for startups in the sense of you’ll buy the tickets, you’ll attend, you’ll listen and you may (potentially) be mentally manipulated in such a way you’ll come out a different founder. Once the money is in the bucket though it’s job done and on to the next event. It could be a pitch event (pay to pitch, really?!), or a “network” event where you know most of the people in the room, a tip, if you know 75% of the room already then you’re probably wasting your time.

Blessed are the money makers and the events they run.

So Where Does It End?

Well it doesn’t and if you think about the amount of startups out there, does it end in the Rapture where the 144,000 startups are suddenly picked up and taken to the promised land? Possibly but that does beg the question about the other 98% who invested everything in going to startup church….. well you could start over and be a born again startup.

This, of course, is just an opinion.

 

 

Extracting #MetOffice #OpenData in #Clojure

Living in York for the majority of my life you kind of get used to flooding, it happens frequently. With the number of floods increasing and their chances of it being a real nasty one also increasing, it might be a good idea to start peeking at past data and seeing if there’s anything jumping out at us.

In NI We Don’t Need Open Weather Data….

There’s Cecelia who tells it like it is. It’s usually raining….*

cd20131028oGetting Historical Met Office Data

While Cecelia can with 98% accuracy tell the biblical level of weather for tomorrow and the day after that, historical data is another matter. That’s where open data comes in rather handy. And those Met Office folks opened up a lot of data in 2011 on the data.gov.uk portal.

Historical data comes by way of a form which goes and scuttles off to the data archive and sends back the data as a CSV file.

moffice

Fine if you want one day but rather a pain if you want to get data between two dates. Now you could do some handy unix scripting to pull the data in but there is an issue with that. When you fire the search form the data is pulled and then forwarded to another url with a unique id. So unless you’re great at handling redirects within unix it’s going to be a hard slog to get the data out…… well, it was, now I have good news for you.

A Clojure Alternative?

MastodonC created an open source project called kixi.hecuba.weather, the primary purpose is to pull historical weather data and send it up to the Hecuba platform. It’s fully open source so even if you’re not using Hecuba you can still use some of the component parts of k.h.w. to pull the Met Office data for your needs.

The project is hosted on github and anyone can use this project for grabbing the Met Office data.

Clone The Project

First of all you need to clone the project. From the command line run the following git command from your terminal or command prompt.

git clone git@github.com:MastodonC/kixi.hecuba.weather.git

You’ll see the repository download to your machine.

dev:mctemp jasonbell$ git clone git@github.com:MastodonC/kixi.hecuba.weather.git
Cloning into 'kixi.hecuba.weather'...
remote: Counting objects: 209, done.
remote: Total 209 (delta 0), reused 0 (delta 0), pack-reused 209
Receiving objects: 100% (209/209), 39.05 KiB | 0 bytes/s, done.
Resolving deltas: 100% (68/68), done.
Checking connectivity... done.
dev:mctemp jasonbell$

With that done you can now start the REPL and start running functions to pull down the data.

Starting The REPL

I’m going to first compile the k.h.d. project and the start the REPL from the command line:

lein compile
lein repl

Give it a few moments then you will see the output as the REPL starts and then the prompt, once you have the prompt you can start working.

nREPL server started on port 55453 on host 127.0.0.1 - nrepl://127.0.0.1:55453
REPL-y 0.3.7, nREPL 0.2.10
Clojure 1.7.0
Java HotSpot(TM) 64-Bit Server VM 1.8.0_60-b27
 Docs: (doc function-name-here)
 (find-doc "part-of-name-here")
 Source: (source function-name-here)
 Javadoc: (javadoc java-object-or-class-here)
 Exit: Control+D or (exit) or (quit)
 Results: Stored in vars *1, *2, *3, an exception in *e
kixi.hecuba.weather.core=>

The namespace where the Met Office functions are is called “kixi.hecuba.weather.metoffice-api“, so you will need to change namespace first.

kixi.hecuba.weather.core=> (ns kixi.hecuba.weather.metoffice-api)

Now we can turn our attention to retrieving the Met Office data.

Retrieving The Data

The run-data-pull function takes three parameters, a start date, end date and a path where to save the files to. For example if I’m wanting to pull historical data from the 1st of January 2013 to the 1st of February 2013 I would run the following. The dates are entered as a dd/mm/yyyy format, so for example:

kixi.hecuba.weather.metoffice-api=> (run-data-pull "01/01/2013" "01/02/2013" "/Users/jasonbell/Documents/work/projects/mctemp/")

The function will call the API and save the data for each hourly observation and then save it to the directory specified.

-rw-r--r-- 1 jasonbell staff 21427 7 Dec 13:18 01-01-2013-0000.csv
-rw-r--r-- 1 jasonbell staff 20759 7 Dec 13:18 01-01-2013-0100.csv
-rw-r--r-- 1 jasonbell staff 20690 7 Dec 13:18 01-01-2013-0200.csv
-rw-r--r-- 1 jasonbell staff 20755 7 Dec 13:18 01-01-2013-0300.csv
-rw-r--r-- 1 jasonbell staff 20734 7 Dec 13:18 01-01-2013-0400.csv
-rw-r--r-- 1 jasonbell staff 20809 7 Dec 13:18 01-01-2013-0500.csv
-rw-r--r-- 1 jasonbell staff 21328 7 Dec 13:18 01-01-2013-0600.csv
-rw-r--r-- 1 jasonbell staff 21234 7 Dec 13:18 01-01-2013-0700.csv
-rw-r--r-- 1 jasonbell staff 21312 7 Dec 13:18 01-01-2013-0800.csv
-rw-r--r-- 1 jasonbell staff 20789 7 Dec 13:18 01-01-2013-0900.csv
-rw-r--r-- 1 jasonbell staff 20673 7 Dec 13:18 01-01-2013-1000.csv
-rw-r--r-- 1 jasonbell staff 20825 7 Dec 13:18 01-01-2013-1100.csv
-rw-r--r-- 1 jasonbell staff 20812 7 Dec 13:18 01-01-2013-1200.csv
-rw-r--r-- 1 jasonbell staff 21003 7 Dec 13:18 01-01-2013-1300.csv
-rw-r--r-- 1 jasonbell staff 20888 7 Dec 13:18 01-01-2013-1400.csv

The make up of the CSV files is documented by the Met Office, here’s a quick look at one of the files for your reference.

Site Code,Site Name,Latitude,Longitude,Region,Observation Time,Observation Date,Wind Direction,Wind Speed,Wind Gust,Visibility,Screen Temperature,Pressure,Pressure Tendency, Significant Weather
"3005","LERWICK (S. SCREEN) (3005)","60.1390","-1.1830","Orkney & Shetland","12:00","2013-01-01","WNW","10","","14000","3.80","989","R","Light rain shower (Day)",
"3031","LOCH GLACARNOCH SAWS (3031)","57.7250","-4.8960","Highland & Eilean Siar","12:00","2013-01-01","WNW","16","29","18000","3.70","997","R","Heavy Rain",
"3041","AONACH MOR (3041)","56.8200","-4.9700","Highland & Eilean Siar","12:00","2013-01-01","W","17","32","","-1.20","","#","N/A",
"3063","AVIEMORE (3063)","57.2060","-3.8270","Highland & Eilean Siar","12:00","2013-01-01","WSW","3","","16000","3.50","997","R","Light rain shower (Day)",
"3066","KINLOSS (3066)","57.6494","-3.5606","Grampian","12:00","2013-01-01","WSW","17","","40000","5.20","996","R","(Black) Low-level cloud",

 

 

 

 

 

 

City of Derry Airport (#LDY) Stay open? Or close? An Analysis……

city-of-derry-airport1-823x420

First things first, what is presented here is an opinion so please read it and take it for what you will, any ideas presented would have to be researched further.

A Council Run Airport

Which sounds odd to start off with, a rate payer funded airport. The budget for 2015/2016 stands at around £3.5m for the running of the airport, how that’s broken down is anyone’s guess. Like Manchester Airport, City of Derry is run as a split out company with Derry City Council being the sole shareholder. It’s halfway over it’s 10 year contract to Parsons Brinkerhoff to run the airport. The airport master plan, last published in 2012 from what I can see, is revised every 10 years. The aim is to have 1.2m passengers annually by 2020.

The two remaining airports in the province, Belfast International and Belfast City are privately owned by ADC & HAS and ABN AMRO respectively.

An Airport In Decline

LDY

LDY Pax Figures – Jan 2010 – Dec 2015

It’s not a great time for council run City of Derry Airport (LDY). The passenger numbers have been in decline for a while and it’s very difficult to say which way things could go for the airport.

My original hypothesis for the decline was due to the increase of popularity of The Airporter coach service but the more I thought about it the more I thought I was wrong, not being able to get passenger volumes (I didn’t ask directly to be clear) also brought that line of investigation to a close. Ultimately I don’t think it’s The Airporter’s existence that’s causing the problem at hand.

Interestingly the decline was happening before the UK City of Culture year, that failed to peak the incoming airport traffic. The July/August peaks were consistent but in slight decline which could be caused by social/economic influence like income, increased cost of living etc. The cost of holidays are still expensive and when price is a big issue most are willing to fly from anywhere where the price is right. By 2015 City of Derry forecast was expecting 550,000 passengers for the year, up from a dip from 2014 post City of Culture. If you compare July/August over the five year period the UK City of Culture didn’t make much difference at all.

Year Combined Jul/Aug Pax Vol. Prev Yr Diff.
2012 87,500 n/a
2013 87,657 +157
2014 79,420 -8,237
2015 54,750 -24,670

The drop in July/August 2015 is more than an average month of passenger volume for 2015 itself (23,710), it’s like it lost an entire month’s worth of traffic overnight.

The biggest concern is the holiday market collapse in 2015 where there is a marked decline and a large contributing factor to the collective drop is passenger numbers from 2014 to 2015. So what could be the causes of that decline and what could be possibly done to revive it.

Routes in Decline

Since the 2012 City of Derry Airport master plan was published the number of routes has declined. The Dublin route stopped in 2011 when the Irish agreement to have a flight to Dublin was closed. There hasn’t been one since though it’s due to start again this year with City Wings.

The mix of airlines causes concern personally, having 80% of your passenger volume served by one airline is a risk. Ryanair currently serve that traffic but the obvious concern over the next two or three years is the opening of routes from Belfast International. There’s much talk of what could potentially happen if Ryanair transfer or close routes from City of Derry, it was one of the first questions I asked myself too.

At present the routes served from Derry are London Stansted, Glasgow, Liverpool and Faro. The airport’s focus is regional traffic with holiday traffic for the summer months (traditionally served by Falcon Holidays).

From the Passenger’s Perspective

An airport has to market to a number of different sectors: airlines, ground handling suppliers, other airports for routes and most importantly the passengers themselves.

Air passenger duty is a tax, a fact of life as it currently stands. While there’s a lot of talk of passenger volumes rising if the APD was scrapped for short haul (APD was dropped on long haul flights) people will still want to fly and will pay. Whether the passenger numbers rise when APD is scrapped is one that can be happily debated elsewhere, personally I don’t this it will make much difference.

Short Haul Convenience

One of the major put offs for me personally is that I can’t fly from Derry to London in a day. This is important for any business traveller, important to be out and back in a day where possible.

ldy-stn

Ryanair’s flight from Derry to London Stansted is a good example of that. The arriving flight is the only flight in and that provides the only flight out for the day. One of the key benefits of the EasyJet flights from Belfast International, or FlyBe flights from Belfast City, is the return leg on the same day. The earlier the better too, can I be at a meeting in the centre of London for 9:30am? From Derry, not yet…… some live in hope.

Where short haul flights have no same day return option they are traditionally difficult to market to customers. So for the time being I’ll be on the road at 3:30am to get my 6:25am flight from Belfast International. Trust me, if I could keep the lie in, I would.

Route Choice Is Everything

The route mix of an airport is critical to it’s success for it’s target catchment area. Now to be fair the 2012 master plan’s dreams were promising with wanting to have routes to Paris, Frankfurt, Munich, Pisa, Rome, Barcelona, Malaga, Lanzarote, Amsterdam and a list of UK destinations such as Leeds Bradford, Bristol, Southampton, Newcastle, Heathrow and Gatwick.

If you read that list and lived in Derry, well you’d be happy to fly from your local airport any day.

Anyone from Derry City Council or City of Derry Airport are reading this, Tenerife South want to talk… they have you down as a desired airport still. (Aena’s marketing team are on +34 913 211 052).

So What Can Be Done?

There’s a number of positive things that could be done to improve matters.

Increasing Routes from City of Derry

Key is the route choice, it has to increase. The primary focus being on UK routes such as Newcastle, Leeds Bradford, Manchester (which FlyBe served in 2011), Southhampton and obviously Heathrow and Gatwick. Not just that, they have to be served as return flight in the same day for business travellers. This is going to be difficult as essentially City of Derry Airport is the end of a spoke in a a Hub and Spoke system, another point I’ll raise shortly.

Secondly summer traffic, historically the reliance has been on the holiday company charter traffic. City of Derry is missing out on this market at the moment and it needs to find a way to boost it. For Belfast International EasyJet, Jet2 and Thomas Cook serve the same European destinations so there’s choice of departure days and prices available. The rise in customers buying flight/hotel deals online has risen and the likes of AirBnB make the notion of a package holiday a lot different from what it was. The airport has to find airlines that will serve these routes without being tied to package holidays. Plus the additional benefit could be from European visitors coming into Derry to visit, everyone should benefit during the summer months.

Terminal Expansion

At present the airport can realistically handle two Boeing 737’s on the apron at anyone time. The 2012 master plan wanted to increase that, I think four is a good number in an attempt to double the capacity without overloading the terminal capacity.

There’s little mix of shopping facilities in the terminal at present, it’s mainly a large seating area which gets blocked up when people are queuing to board Ryanair flights. Four aircraft on the apron with four departure gates. While the peak volume hour wouldn’t shift drastically (@ 350,000 pax (at 55% departure volume as the master plan states) the standard departure hour is 65.9, peak would be 1.2x from that so 79.1 per hour).

An expansion of the terminal would be of benefit to the external spend per passenger. A better range of facilities such as Duty Free, restaurants and bars would increase the dwell time spend. In the larger airports there’s a two hour window of opportunity to catch that spend, with small airports such as City of Derry that’s vastly reduced. The key is a mix of facilities to increase spend. It would also boost jobs in the area.

Embrace Hub and Spoke

The three Northern Ireland airports have the appearance of being in competition with each other. A radical approach would be for City of Derry to be acting as a feeder airport into Belfast International. Here’s my rational, hypothetically I want to travel from Derry to Newark, at present that means either driving or getting a coach to Belfast International or Dublin. Theoretically I should be able to check in locally in Derry and fly to either BFS or DUB to my connecting flight.

Okay, so it’s a long shot but that’s what expected if I wanted to travel to Dubai for example, it’s over to Heathrow (not served by Derry either) then onto Dubai. Derry can’t operate as an island, it has to connect to the major hubs whether they be Belfast, Dublin (happening soon) or Heathrow/Gatwick. If it can address that market then passenger numbers will rise as a result.

Conclusions

What I’ve presented is hardly a deep analysis and it doesn’t take into account important factors such as environmental impacts and noise pollution for example. What’s clear though is the master plan from 2012 hasn’t gone the way anyone had hoped and I’m some serious questions are being asked or being mulled over.

City of Derry Airport shouldn’t close but it needs to market itself realistically to the catchment area it serves. It should be an airport working with other local airports to market Northern Ireland and the Republic as a whole. The routes are key to making this happen and reducing the reliance on one airline must be worked on with the current climate. If City of Derry can offer a good mix of same day return departures on domestic routes and an expanded low cost entry to European destinations then there’s a good chance that customers would return. Improved terminal facilities would increase dwell time spend and increase the local employment.

It’s easy to sit and play armchair judge and listening to some politicians they’d rather see City of Derry close and increase the passenger numbers to Belfast International, the reason for that is simple, Dublin is way more popular than Belfast International on long haul routes and with far more destinations available.

I believe City of Derry need to refocus the business plan and the master plan. Yes it will take investment to expand terminal capacity and attract new airlines to operate from there. I’ve not even talked about the lack of cargo traffic or the upturn in private air traffic, so there’s scope there too if desired.

With Routes 2017 being hosted in Belfast next year City of Derry Airport has a chance to pitch itself as the airport that aligns itself with the other airports, providing the whole province the ability to travel where it needs to go.

Now if only I could get a ticket…..

References

City of Derry Passenger Data 2010-2015https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/2698672/cityofderry-2010-2015.xlsx

Talkback with William Crawley: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03gypxc

Anna.Aero: http://www.anna.aero

City Of Derry Masterplan Nov. 2012https://www.cityofderryairport.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Masterplan.pdf

Setting Up A #Clojure Development Setup on #Windows 10

For 95% I’m developing code on either Unix or OSX operating systems. There is though the odd time I want to do some Clojure work on Windows (usually sat in front of the tele noodling around with some Clojure aspect I’m trying to learn).

Now I’d rather use the same sort of setup as I do on my Mac so here’s my notes on how to get it working Windows 10.

Download Java

Java is not a dirty word, so get over it, the JVM powers way too many businesses than it gets credit for. Download the SDK 1.8 and install it.

Download Emacs

The download mirror has plenty of different versions, I went with 24.5.

Leiningen

The lein build tool is a Clojure godsend and integrates well with Emacs, so we’ll need it. Luckily for us D.J. Powell has kindly created a Windows installer version.

Go to your directory with the .lein directory and run the following:

lein self-install

You’ll see a bunch of things load, that’s fine…..

C:\Users\Jason\.lein\bin>lein self-install
Downloading Leiningen now...

PowerShell[.exe] [-PSConsoleFile <file> | -Version <version>]
    [-NoLogo] [-NoExit] [-Sta] [-Mta] [-NoProfile] [-NonInteractive]
    [-InputFormat {Text | XML}] [-OutputFormat {Text | XML}]
    [-WindowStyle <style>] [-EncodedCommand <Base64EncodedCommand>]
    [-File <filePath> <args>] [-ExecutionPolicy <ExecutionPolicy>]
    [-Command { - | <script-block> [-args <arg-array>]
                  | <string> [<CommandParameters>] } ]

PowerShell[.exe] -Help | -? | /?

Try running lein.bat from the command line and you’ll see lots of jar files load up.

C:\Users\Jason\.lein\bin>lein.bat
Retrieving cider/cider-nrepl/0.10.0-SNAPSHOT/cider-nrepl-0.10.0-20151127.123841-44.pom from clojars
Retrieving org/clojure/tools.nrepl/0.2.12/tools.nrepl-0.2.12.pom from central
Retrieving org/clojure/pom.contrib/0.1.2/pom.contrib-0.1.2.pom from central
Retrieving org/sonatype/oss/oss-parent/7/oss-parent-7.pom from central
Retrieving org/tcrawley/dynapath/0.2.3/dynapath-0.2.3.pom from central
Retrieving refactor-nrepl/refactor-nrepl/2.0.0-SNAPSHOT/refactor-nrepl-2.0.0-20151117.182629-13.pom from clojars
Retrieving org/clojure/tools.nrepl/0.2.10/tools.nrepl-0.2.10.pom from central
Retrieving org/clojure/clojure/1.2.0/clojure-1.2.0.pom from central
Retrieving org/clojure/clojure/1.7.0/clojure-1.7.0.pom from central
Retrieving refactor-nrepl/refactor-nrepl/2.0.0-SNAPSHOT/refactor-nrepl-2.0.0-20151117.182629-13.jar from clojars
Retrieving cider/cider-nrepl/0.10.0-SNAPSHOT/cider-nrepl-0.10.0-20151127.123841-44.jar from clojars
Retrieving org/clojure/clojure/1.7.0/clojure-1.7.0.jar from central
Retrieving org/tcrawley/dynapath/0.2.3/dynapath-0.2.3.jar from central
Retrieving org/clojure/tools.nrepl/0.2.12/tools.nrepl-0.2.12.jar from central
Leiningen is a tool for working with Clojure projects.

Now we’re ready to rock.

Setting Up Emacs

For the uber-emacs guys and gals they can probably sort their own init.el file in their sleep, while drinking Mountain Dew and eating a curry…. for mortals like me it’s easier to nick one created by someone else.

I started off Clojure life with the setup from Clojure for the Brave and True. More recently I’ve used Bruce Durling‘s “Home Lightsabre Kit“, it’s on Github so you can nab it too.

Either softlink or copy the init.el in your .emacs.d folder.

On some Windows installs there is no init.el file, so if you create one with C-x C-f and go to the ~/.emacs.d/ folder from the chooser in Emacs and type in init.el and press return, that will create the new file for you.

Within Bruce’s setup file is everything you need to get the REPL running (via Lein). To start a REPL within Emacs run the following from Emacs itself:

M-x cider-jack-in

emacs

Apache SparkML’s Biggest Pain Point – #MachineLearning #Spark #SparkML #Data #BigData

One of the highlights of my job as a Data Engineer (I’m not a data scientist) is that I get to do some very cool stuff with text mining and all that data schizz.

So to that end I’m using Apache Spark, Clojure and Sparkling a lot. With that in mind I do a lot of bag of words, word vectors and such things to get topics and classifications from word documents. And it’s at this point that SparkML fails like a complete worn out donkey because it’s one of those small overlooked elements that you come across once in a while.

In topic modelling though it’s nice to know (actually pretty important) which document was labelled with which terms. So anything using SparkML’s hashingTF function has no trace of which document the term frequency came from. Which is rather pointless and, let’s face it, pretty annoying.

There got that off my chest….

 

 

Does Your #OpenData Engage The Public? #opendata #data #information

It’s been a bit of an open data week really. I have one final question….. is the data (we) have going engage the public? I’m not talking about developers and “the suits” but the public, Joseph and Josephine Bloggs going about their day to day business.

How Busy Is Dublin, Like Right Now?

And just as I was having this thought my attention was made aware to a site called Is Dublin Busy?

dublinxmas

Let’s get past it looks nice, the important part here is data in action. It’s useful, informative and it’s using open data. And right now anyone with an internet connection  could look up the site and see what the capacity of my favourite car park is.

carpark

Better than that I can also see:

  • Live Traffic Cameras
  • Dublin Bike Availability
  • M50 Journey Times

Couple that with some analysis of historical footfall figures the site informs, statistically, the best day and time to shop.

The Importance of Real Time Data

The issue is the availability of real time data. Without it the site would be pretty useless to anyone. The availability of open data is fine as a starting point but the availability of real time open data is another. And this is not me starting a rant about not knowing where a Translink bus or train is.

For organisations perhaps it’s time to sit down and think about how to publish out real time data on your services. Whether that’s buses, trains, car parks, public toilets….. doesn’t really matter. The fact that it exists and is available though, that does matter.

So Huskies Do Data

The company that put the site together, In The Company Of Huskies, have done a great job. Now I’ve no idea if it was a paid piece or they just done it off their own back but there’s a good number of lessons that any developer and data head could learn.

Defining the Data Story

Want to do your own, fair enough but consider these real quick points.

  1. What message/information are you trying to convey? Who’s the audience?
  2. What data do you need and, more to the point, is it open and easily available?
  3. Can you build it? If not, do know someone who can help?

 

The Success of #OpenData Portals is Not the Data, But The #Community Around It.

It Started With A Tweet

Between bouts of Beechams Powders I had been glancing over some of the open data NI tweets….  then I said this.

Which prompted this kinda of response….

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So I thought I’d better come back and expand on what I meant, Twitter is not good for everything especially when you’re mentioning respected peers.

Open Data is a Means To An End, Not an End In Itself

While startups suffer from the “build it and they will come” syndrome we all know deep down that it rarely happens. The same is applicable to open data, just because it was published there’s the looming reality that it won’t attract anyone to use it. It’s no criticism of the portal, the people who’ve put the work in and those who have the responsibility of running it. It’s called “life”.

The challenge is getting people interested to do something with the data. While you can put a hackathon together (Kainos run good ones from what I can tell) that’s only the beginning, because the longevity of open data initiatives is what happens after the iPad and Oculous Rift prizes have been handed out. It’s about curious people wanting to things with the data available in their own space and time.

This means regular meetups with developers to do something for the public good. This was attempted with the likes of code4pizza (something that Matt Johnston and others worked hard to bring to reality in 2011), you bring your skills and they’ll bring the pizza. It was a great trade off and I saw some great applications.

Companies and maker spaces (like the excellent Farset Labs) who can hold these regular meet ups (and should be aided with shouldering the cost) will ultimately show the ability and insight of the open data that’s available to Northern Ireland.

Showing Examples

While it’s great to have the data available it’s pretty useless without code examples, and even Excel spreadsheet examples, to show how to do things with the data available. Open data without examples is like handing over a bunch of ingredients without a recipe. While you can stick put something together nothing beats a bunch of examples.

Like I said previously, my current employer MastodonC open sources as much code as it possibly can. You want to pull Met Office Data and plug it into Hecuba, well we open sourced that. Oh and Hecuba is open sourced too.

Ultimately we need the WOW factor, “I’m doing some cool schizz with this data”.

Open Data is a Social Movement, Not Only a Business One

For government open data is a positive PR opportunity and while it’s taken a while to get there, it is there. The road map looks good but, like I said earlier, they cannot stop at the, “we built it, now go and use it” but need to support and nurture the developer and startup community to make use of what’s available.

It’s not about training data scientists or data journalists, that’s looking back historically about what’s happened, the joy of open data is attempting to predict what’s next.

The world needs only so many infographics on historical events, open data should be about working out the future for the positive.

Now go on, amaze me. The response we want from the community, business and the executive on what we can collectively do with the data is this….

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It’s just hard to convey in 140 characters…..

OpenDataNI Relaunch and some fun projects. #opendatani #opendata #dataissexy

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As the Open Data NI portal is having a relaunch this morning (a bit early for anyone outside of Belfast to get to if you don’t mind me saying). That said, here’s a quick recap of the posts I’ve previously done with the data available.

All the code is open sourced so you can play with it and mess around as much as you want.

My thoughts are this. You can have all the suits in the room you want, if the community isn’t buying into it then all open data initiatives are wasted. It’s about empowering the people to make discoveries themselves.

I wish the portal all the best.

 

Open Sourcing Proof of Concept Grant Projects – #nistartups #startups #code4pizza #techstartni #littledeliapp #receet

File this in “this will probably annoy a lot of people”….

The Proof of Concept grants in Northern Ireland are a good idea, let me get that bit out of the way first.

While I personally find it limiting to those that can apply for it (i.e. you need the cash first then claim it back afterwards, fine when you have £2.5K, £10K or £40K slushing around in the bank account but to most mere mortals it’s a hard one to pull off) the grant is a good way of testing the concept of a product.

What I find disappointing is the outcome of the work that’s gone in to these project, especially on the software front. The PoC is treated by some as “free” money to prop up the web developers, app developers and consultants in the province.

A lot of projects never see it past the early adopters but that means it shouldn’t stop others.

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Code Ownership

We’re talking about public money, so my question to you is this, is the product of effort from a proof of concept grant public when it’s no longer required by the originator? Why do I ask this? Well there have been some good ideas that got the PoC money, made a cracking product and then died only because of sales and marketing. Sometimes the idea is dropped because the individual thinks it’s a dead duck. The question remains though, could someone else pick up the baton and do a better job?

Open Sourcing The Idea

As the money is essentially public, cannot the product of effort be public too? If we look at projects such as LittleDeliApp and Receet the effort was done via PoC money. In isolation they were good products but were going to take insane growth to make any profit. I wrote a post last year about such ideas.

If a project is classed as dead then I firmly believe that the public element of the product should be placed out in the open for someone else (or an organisation) to give it go. The hard part is in the marketing and selling and where a good chunk of money would be spent. There’s tons of folk who will code a product up for you…. but who conducts the rest of the orchestra?

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While I’ve never taken PoC money (or any other public money to build product for that matter) I’ve always tried to open source what I possibly could, using this blog as the vehicle to teach and hopefully inform. From Hadoop and Spark to recommendation engines, even sourcing bus stop locations via an iPhone app, I’ve put it on github for all to see, learn and use from. We should be doing the same from a PoC project view point. These projects could teach the next wave of coders, leaders and marketers.

Northern Ireland’s Collaborative Function

With an open sourcing of dead PoC projects the work isn’t wasted, the public money potentially isn’t wasted and the originator hasn’t lost anything apart from a touch of ego bruising perhaps.

The projects out in the open you can open the gates of opportunity for others to make use of what’s been publicly financed. Big data projects, excellently built apps. Entrepreneurs could start a business with a good head start, the development companies could pitch for maintenance work while the team gets built. More positive stories of entrepreneur’s giving it a go in the global marketplace can only be good PR pieces of Invest Northern Ireland.

It’s Happening Elsewhere

While I’ve had the thought of what to do about existing deadpooled PoC projects I’ve not written about it. It wasn’t until work with MastodonC that all of this has been brought into sharp focus, where we open source everything we potentially can. The benefits are two fold, firstly people use our software and give us honest feedback on the product, secondly developers will fork the project, add to it and improve what’s there. It’s a win win.

Projects I’ve worked on try to be open from day one. The mantra is “make the repo public”, it certainly galvanises the attention on how you develop, what you publish and how you test. Exposure to developer ridicule makes you a better programmer.

And it’s not like MastodonC to open source just the little things, full platforms will get opened up wherever possible. The idea is to make them better over the long term.

Conclusion

For Northern Ireland to make better products and be more collaborative it starts with the publicly funded projects, things that the originator hasn’t really lost on. These code pieces, blueprints and plans should be opened up to give someone else a change. That person might see the link that the other couldn’t see.

If you want more successful startups we’re going to have to open up and share a lot more.

 

Dead Unicorns, No One Is Fooled By Your Valuation – #startups #unicorns

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I Had A Squeee Party…..

Okay I admit it, I had a little “squeeeeeeeee!” party this morning. There were no guests or booze, only a cup of tea. Why? Common sense is starting to prevail in investor land when it comes to technology startups.

The unicorns are getting a reality check and the odd leg hacked off to bring them down a normal size. Fidelity Investments slashed 25% of it’s stake in Snapchat. Dropbox had a mega write down from Blackrock Investment too (24%). Square payments IPO was set 35% lower than valued…. see a small pattern emerging.

Blessed Are The Investors

Investors aren’t daft, they’re in it for the long haul and it’s only about one thing for them, making a return. Investors are not there to realise your dreams, if that’s your thinking then it’s time to take a hard look in the mirror.

Chris Douvos at Venture Investment Associates put it perfectly, “These are companies that had extremely high valuations based on momentum and hype, and which are at last returning to earth.

Hype 101

Technology company valuations are the biggest hype metric going. In true Dragon’s Den style it’s the simple multiplication of equity raised divided by the % of the company gone and the multiplied by 100 to get a valuation headline.

If you are “struggling to find a way to monetise” then it’s reality check time and a series look at the drawing board. Silicon Valley startups can get away it for so long but you certainly can’t. Just to add to that, your pie in the sky cash forecasts, their worth nothing too.

When the likes of Snapchat is failing to figure out a way to make money (it’s advertising but even that’s hard to do) then there’s a little hope for us all. It’s also very worrying that if they can’t get their act together I’d say there’s another thousand in the Valley suffering from the same dream state.

So What Is Your Valuation?

There’s a few different types of valuation in addition to the hype cycle method.

  • Asset-based Valuation – based solely on the balance sheet
  • Comparable transaction value – when compared to it’s peer group (could be dangerous comparing your valuation to Twitter though, so get real)
  • Discounted Cash Flow – given its stream of future cash flows and its cost of capital
  • Dividend discount model – given the dividend stream it intends to return to investors

I dare you to get your accountant to give one of those a whirl….. dare ya!

The Bottom Line

Investors are here for one thing, to make more money then they had to start off with. One method of doing that is finding a venture that will make them money. That means finding a company with a 95% chance of exiting with 3x or 5x their input or a route to profit. Either way, it’s your head on the block to deliver that. It’s not a game….

It’s time to put a clear route to revenue and profit first. Here’s to the new reality.

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