endings and beginnings: cycling, HR and Talis

It is the end of the summer, the September rush starts (actually at the end of August) and on Friday I’ll be setting off on the ferry and be away from home for all of September and October 🙁  Of course I didn’t manage to accomplish as much as I wanted over the summer, and didn’t get away on holiday … except of course living next to the sea is sort of like holiday every day!  However, I did take some time off when Miriam visited, joining her on cycle rides to start her training for her Kenyan challenge — neither of us had been on a bike for 10 years!  Also this last weekend saw the world come to Tiree when a group of asylum seekers and refugees from the St Augustine Centre in Halifax visited the Baptist Church here — kite making, songs from Zimbabwe and loads of smiling faces.

In September I also hand over departmental personnel duty (good luck Keith :-)).  I’d taken on the HR role before my switch to part-time at the University, and so most of it stayed with me through the year 🙁 (Note, if you ever switch to part-time, better to do so before duties are arranged!). Not sorry to see it go, the people bit is fine, but so much paper filling!

… and beginnings … in September (next week!) I also start to work part-time with Talis.  Talis is a remarkable story.  A library information systems company that re-invented itself as a Semantic Web company and now, amongst other things, powering the Linked Data at data.gov.uk.

I’ve known Talis as a company from its pre-SemWeb days when aQtive did some development for them as part of our bid to survive the post-dot.com crash.   aQtive did in the end die, but Talis had stronger foundations and has thrived1.  In the years afterwards two ex-aQtive folk, Justin and Nad, went to Talis and for the past couple of years I have also been on the external advisory group for their SemWeb Platform.  So I will be joining old friends as well as being part of an exciting enterprise.

  1. Libraries literally need very strong foundations.  I heard of one university library that had to be left half empty because the architect had forgotten to take account of the weight of books.  As the shelves filled the whole building began to sink into the ground.[back]

Broken Soldiers, Tibetan Monks, and the Love of God

A few weeks ago Nad took part in a fund raising event for injured forces; on the television this week I watched “Battle for Haditha” recreating the events leading to a massacre of Iraqi civilians by US Marines and “The Passion” recreating the events leading to the first Easter and the crucifixion of Jesus; and in the news are the reflections of 5 years of bloodshed, occupation, freedom, and fledgling velocity (choose your own words) in Iraq and of rioting in Tibet.

Look around you, can you see
times are troubled, people grieve
see the violence, feel the hardness
all my people, weep with me

Kyrie Eleison, Jody Page Clark

pulling a plane for charityNad maintains the website for ForcesHospitalCharity.org, which was set up by the emergency services at Birmingham Airport in response to seeing the injured soldiers brought back from Afghanistan and Iraq. The charity does not in any way support the forces in the field, or politically support the conflicts themselves, but is purely about humanitarian aid for those people who have returned, often with severe injuries, and for their families. However, despite this Nad has been criticised by those who ask “question why (he), a Muslim, (has) chosen to support a charity that attempts to aid the very soldiers that are killing our brothers and sisters abroad.” (see Nad’s blog entry).

In the “Battle for Haditha” both US Marine’s and Iraqi ‘insurgents’ were shown as people who in different ways cared and protected their own. It is natural and human to care for those close to us, who share ties of family, nationality, race or religion. Those closest to us, our children, parents, friends, have first place in our affections and often a special call on us. This human love is a good thing. But is not the end of things.

I was disappointed that the Dalai Lama, whilst outspoken against Chinese actions against Tibetan rioters, was relatively muted in addressing Tibetans themselves. The riots there began with Tibetan crowds attacking ethnic Han Chinese and even Muslim Hui1. The targets here were not police stations and public buildings, but shops, homes and ordinary people. It seems the Chinese held back for fear of international sentiment while ordinary people were killed or made homeless. Then when the Chinese security forces were unleashed they struck hard … hitting back at those who had hurt their own.

Dalai LamaIn the Dalai Lama’s press release he says that “a form of cultural genocide has taken place in Tibet”, “the Chinese government discriminates against these minority nationalities”, and in their response to the situation the authorities “believe that further repressive measures” are the way forward – this is I am sure all true. However, in contrast, about the rioters themselves, the Dali Lama merely says “the demonstrations and protests taking place in Tibet are a spontaneous outburst of public resentment built up by years of repression”.

Why is it so hard for him to denounce the ethnic attacks of Tibetans themselves as well as the repression of the Chinese authorities? But I know I am the same, overlooking the understandable failings of those close to me or those I support, whilst feeling righteous anger over the way they, the other, treat my own kind.

The Dalai Lama shows a deep, and human love for those he is responsible for.

In Gethsemane, one of Jesus’ friends, tries to defend him when temple guards come to arrest him2. The unnamed disciple (I always assume Peter), strikes with his sword and cuts off the ear of the High Priest’s slave. Jesus admonishes his followers and heals the slave. On other occasions Jesus talks with, shares food with or heals Jewish Priests, Roman Centurians, lepers and prostitutes – friends and enemies, the unclean and the immoral,

In a recent blog “A Charter for Compassion“, Nad discusses a TedTalk by Karen Armstrong on the Golden Rule. This comes in many forms, some more about harm “Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you”, some about behaviour “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”3. Most personal is the form from Leviticus “Love your neighbour as yourself”.

But who is my neighbour? My family, friends, the Welsh (maybe even the English), people I work with, the person next door, in this Internet age perhaps FaceBook friends, or people who add my photos as Flickr favourites? Jesus is asked this and in response tells the story of the “Good Samaritan”. In school I recall we wrote variants of this where the Jew and the Samaritan were replaced by rival football teams, or Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. This story of the Samaritan caring for someone who would have despised and persecuted him goes beyond human love, it is the love of God.

If the story were told today who more likely that an injured British soldier and young Muslim man.

Those who criticise Nad, show that very human love, just like the Dali Lama, just like I see so often in myself – caring for those close to us, “our brothers and sisters” in race, religion or political beliefs. In working beyond that, Nad shows no less than the Love of God.

  1. see Guardian report
    Oh my God, someone has a gun …‘[back]
  2. Matt. 26:51, Mark 14:47, Luke 22:50[back]
  3. see Wikipedia’s page on the “Ethic of reciprocity” for a wide variety of versions fo this from nay cultures and religions[back]

after the ball is over …

Last week’s HCI2007 conference and the Physicality workshop now all finished (except sorting out the the final finances for HCI … but I’ll forget that for now!)

Being part of the organisation of things you always see so many things that are not as planned (like going wrong), but for the delegates it all seems a well-oiled machine. In this as in many other domains, the mark of a rubust system is not whether or not it fails, but how it copes with failure. This is the heart of my principles for appropriate intelligence when designing ‘intelligent’ user interfaces and also ‘fail fast programming’1 when designing and debugging critical computer systems.

Great to see so many old friends … and meet new people … and after able to show Nad2 the glories of the Lake District.

windermere lake district mountains lake district in winter

  1. I must make web pages for this some day … but see debugging notes I did for a software engineering course a few years ago[back]
  2. see his blog on arriving at the conference and his Flickr photos of the Lake District[back]

face to face with myself – Nad’s blog on Live Search

Nad has been blogging about Live Search‘s new features for searching for images of different kinds (see Finding Faces with Live Search). he used me as an example and it was weird both the images it found of me, but also the occasional images that also showed up that were not of me, including a golden Budda (!). There is something quite poignant about the near random associations that come with the ‘mistakes’ on the search. One image was of a national guardsman about to leave for Iraq. the link was tenuous, his name was Alan and he was at Fort Dix, but seeing the photos of his children and his going away cake (stars and stripes and plastic tanks), gave me a very odd feeling of connection to someone far away and in so different circumstances.