Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Don't talk to me about....

Today I had one of those uncommon confluences of seemingly disparate items that spurred me into writing this piece. Oddly it started with me wanting to post something in agreement with a short paragraph in the speech CM Gorst gave to the IoD on the 8th December. You can read the entire item at

The excerpt that caught me eye was paragraph/sentence 7 “Globally,  the population is increasing, economic power is shifting and concerns are growing over climate change and future food, energy and water security “. I concur. I said so repeatedly on the senatorial election hustings in 2008 and especially in 2011. In politics as in investing there is a world of difference between being right and being right on time. Nevertheless it has to be said the CM has grasped something very important. The question is what we do about it? But that is not where I want to go today.

Annually we have a social survey in the Island. It one of our few good sources of opinion in that it takes a relatively large sample, meaning the results should be pretty reliable. The latest one is out now at Dismay hardly describes my feelings on seeing the chart at figure 6.4 :

If 60% do not think they have much if any influence over Jersey, who does have influence? Is it any wonder our election turnouts are so embarrassingly low? I do not propose to go into any detail about solutions here, but I will give a couple of exemplars as to the nature of the problem.

Recently the JEP have been running pieces on what various States members have achieved in their year since the elections. Again I'll eschew the opportunity for some humour at their expense. I want to go back the senatorial hustings at the RJAHS. Everyone of the successful candidates said they supported local organic growing when pressed, except arguably the now Chief Minister. So what have they done, these independent candidates? Has any of them bought a proposition, or even questions on the organic sector and its obvious decline locally?? Has any of them written to organic farmers to find out what is needed? Have they been in contact with the Jersey Organic Association about the problems? I can be pretty confident the answer is no, they have not actually done anything conspicuous. So what was the value of those repeated pledges at the hustings?

It was in trying to post a response (positively!) on twitter about the Chief Minister's speech I mentioned above that I discovered the Assistant Minister for digital etc had blocked me. I was somewhat surprised – I have been following him on twitter a number of years, and yes I do challenge some things he posts, but equally I often retweet his occasional blog posts too. For those who don't know twitter, it allows one to post short items and to choose who to follow ie whose postings you get to see. You can block someone from seeing your posts. The only reason I can see for doing that rather than simply unfollowing is to stop them being able to respond to your posts.

If I had to guess I would say the issue arose from a comment I made on another site about the senators recent posting on innovation see .  He had my hackles up before the end of the first sentence “Innovation is about dreaming up great ideas that change the world “ Simply not so, on so many counts. The piece is written from a very narrow and partial view of what innovation is and what it delivers. 

Perhaps the assistant minister knows more about it than I having spent less than a year in office, but it seems unlikely. I was there at the first AI blossoming, I worked for commercial research groups and centres for several years as the programme coordinator of the postgraduate training partnership with Cranfield University. I've been involved in patent battles (proving prior art), two trade sales of tech businesses I part owned, I was even an external supervisor for a couple of PhD students (one on multidimensional project management representation, the other on the application of AI to water asset management). While writing up my own thesis I was engaged as one of two people to set up and run what was them the largest medial trial database in Europe (100,000 cohort colorectal cancer study). My mate Dave and I set up one of the first commercial web sites in the UK, to support our SF and book trading business, before E-bay existed and EPOS software was available to us. Oh yes and I managed and co-owned a software house that grew in 5 years from a 4 person team to being bought out by one of our customers for several million pounds. That's just the software side for starters.

Really I am not bothered that the assistant minister blocks me. There are plenty of people about who will willingly tell him want he wants to hear. What scientists learn early on is that it is your critics and detractors that are your best friends in getting to the truth, the best explanation/model/solution.  Sycophants are of no assistance

Software projects can fail on the misplacement of a single punctuation mark in hundreds of lines of code. (It makes writing for people such a delight, thye being much more forgiving of my typing !) Miss-stated requirements and unacknowledged assumptions are usually catastrophic to projects. Opinion and theory count for little against delivering something that works. My best advice to anyone dealing with innovation and digital work is that practitioners are well accustomed to hearing & ignoring B/S and bluster. If you don't know your stuff, you'd be best to say nothing at all.