Order & structure in the midst of chaos and disaster

6 photos showing images related to Ebola and data mapping

Images used with permission from Flickr Creative Commons. See https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

It’s always of interest to me to see ways in which data can be turned into information which can become knowledge. In cases of disaster zones or health scares, it is so important that real-time and geographically located data is captured, mapped and then re-used to aid decision-making. While many of us are aware of health workers who have gone out to West Africa to aid the fight against the Ebola virus, did you also know that teams of data workers are also out there, mapping the on-the-ground info and co-ordinating the information management to help understand where need is greatest and explain how the virus has spread. Read more in this article from The Telegraph about how powerful geolocated data becomes in disaster zones – and the challenges that the data mappers face: Data mapping in disaster zones

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What to do when you want weather in the past not the future?

Map of Colwyn Bay showing location of weather station and options to search by hour in past

Options to search weather in the past

As a Brit, I naturally have an obsession with the weather. As Basil Brush said, “What a lot of weather we’ve been having recently!” This month though I had cause to find out what the weather had been like hour by hour over the previous week.

Thanks to a tweet to the Met Office, I learnt of the Bureau of Meteorology Weather Observations Website allowing you to search by different variants at specific locations in the UK (and beyond?) on an hourly basis. So the graphic above (click to enlarge) shows that the nearest weather station to my point of interest of Pwllycrochan Woods, Colwyn Bay between 9 and 9:59 am on 9 Dec 2014 recorded the temperature as 7 degrees.

Absolutely amazing use of info!

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“I’ve been loved before, so love me again”* – I’m loving the organisation!

Window of the Children's Society Shop, Crewkerne, Somerset

A well organised charity shop

Being a fan of recycling, reusing and saving money, I’m all for charity shops. However, my tendency for organisation means that I tend to feel a bit uncomfortable looking round the traditional clutter in many shops – just as I do at car boot sales and vintage shops. Things tend to be thrown together in a random, uncategorised way that somehow offends my sensibilities. However, one of my local charity shops has really impressed me with the way they have organised and categorised their stock. Take a look at these photos and if you are like me, you will feel a restored sense of calm :-)

*re-use of slogan with thanks to Age UK

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The irony of trying to connect to telecomms companies when (not) getting connected

Painting effect of Telecomms tower from Flickr Creative Commons

from flickr Creative Commons. See copyright licence at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Original copyright ©2009 Axel Buhrmann
See more at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/snapeverything/3322503191

Having recently moved house, and needing the home office to be connected, we were keen to arrange ahead of time the visit from the PlusNet engineer. As is often the case, this was not smooth sailing. All the assurances were there that the engineer was set to come in a 5 hour period between 1pm and 6pm, but after waiting, it got within 15 minutes of 6pm when I phoned the customer service line. I was told to keep waiting as he might still show up.

Given that I was speaking to a telecommunications company I pushed a little – did they not have the engineer’s number? I could understand that they couldn’t give me that directly, but I was incredulous to be told that the customer service team did not have access to this information OR to anyone who did have this info. In such a connected modern world, it seems very odd to me that the person doing the work on the ground who has their own work mobile with them, is disconnected from the teams that the customer has to contact.

In any situation where things are not going to plan, the key to the customer not feeling ignored is INFORMATION. Linking up information and information pathways that support this would surely be a way for one telecoms company to have an edge over the others? Being told exactly where the engineer was at or why they were delayed would have reduced my extreme frustration when there was a no show.

Added to that, following this up to reschedule the visit was also difficult – the frontline customer services staff had clearly not been empowered with either the information required by the customer or the authority to access this. Calling in, I was told that they could not call me back and that outbound calls had to made by a different team – clue, another opportunity to miss information and a frustrated customer who has to go through all the information again when the return call was finally made.

Of course, it did all get sorted in the end, but it took longer than it needed to because the PlusNet staff did not have access to the correct information to sort the problems out. A little internal restructuring and empowerment seems like an easy win to me! I’d be interested to know how others find dealing with this industry?

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Japanese rail timetables

Despite the frequent confusion when travelling in Japan, a country whose language, concepts and culture are so different to the UK, I was really impressed with their rail network on my last visit there.

How’s this for an easy to read timetable (as long as you know your 24 hour clock):

Japanese rail timetable for Saturdays & holidays. Has each hour of 24hr clock on left with the number of minutes past that hour written to right hand side

Japanese train timetable for weekdays. Has each hour of 24hr clock on left with the number of minutes past that hour written to right hand side

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The struggling High Street….

Photo of the shop, Republic, in Yeovil Somerset - closed with no info for public on opening hours

We all know that high streets have had a difficult few years feeling the pinch from the recession and the switch to online shopping. However it can be hard to feel too much sympathy when at times shops don’t appear to do much to help themselves. Based in the rural southwest, the shops here tend to have shorter opening times. The photo above was taken at 5:10 pm, 7 August 2012. It wasn’t the only shop already closed at that time of day.

Moreover, there was no information in the window about when the opening times are so that shoppers can plan a return trip. For those in full time employment at places with no flexibility, it becomes very hard for them to shop on the high street other than at the weekend.

Even when practicalities mean that shops cannot compete with those in the larger cities, providing customers with a little info might prevent them making that switch fully to shopping online. Just a thought.

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The scary power of google search – good tips and tricks

Magnifying glass over google logo

Google has certainly captured the search market, being the majority of people’s first choice of search engine and for many their default homepage. But I would venture that most people use only the most basic of searches from the search box. Here are some tips that you can use to enhance searching and if you’ve time to kill, solve a riddle:

How to solve impossible problems: Daniel Russell’s awesome Google search techniques

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The life of a Digital Nomad

As someone who can work solely via a laptop and internet connection, I am not restricted to working in one place.  I’ve also been contracted as a Digital Mentor with Cosmic and as such have been running Jelly in various locations across Devon.  Here’s a brief montage of my offices since the beginning of the year:

Monks Yard, Ilminster, Somerset various dates
Various photos of The Monks Yard workspace

Home office. various dates
Home office

Kochel am See, Germany, 19 Jan 2011
Workstation at Kochel am See, Germany with snowy view through window

Coffee Republic, Newton Abbot, 24 Jan 2011
Venue at Coffee Republic for Newton Abbot coworking 'Jelly'

Boston Tea Party, Barnstaple, 25 Jan 2011
Room used for Jelly coworking event, Boston Tea Party, Barnstaple, Devon

Yeovil Innovation Centre, Yeovil, 26 Jan 2011
Montage of various Jelly rooms and facilities at the Yeovil Innovation Centre

Exmouth Business & Wellbeing Centre, Exmouth,
27 Jan 2011
Jelly room at Exmouth Wellbeing + Business Centre

The Barrel House, Totnes, 1 Feb 2011
Inside of and view from The Barrelhouse, Totnes, Devon

The Ilfracombe Centre, Ilfracombe, 3 Feb 2011
Room location for Jelly coworking at The Ilfracombe Centre, Ilfracombe, Devon

River Cottage Canteen, Axminster, 7 Feb 2011
River Cottage Canteen, Axminster, Devon

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Flash, Bang Wallop, What a picture!

Collage of old Victorian family photos

Faces from my past

On Friday 4th Feb 2011 I was able to indulge in talking about 2 of my passions – old family photographs and information management! I presented a short 10 minute talk to the Taunton 4N networking group entitled ‘Flash, Bang Wallop, What a picture!’

I explained what information you could find within an old Victorian photograph in terms of:

  • info about the subject – their age, gender, height etc
  • info from the fashion & hairstyles worn
  • info from the setting of the studio and subject’s pose
  • info from the setting of the photograph -  the shape & design of the mount
  • info taken from looking at the photographer’s details

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Dropbox – helping you manage your information on the move

I have revolutionised my working life! My fellow Digital mentors at Cosmic have introduced me to Dropbox – perfect for those of you who work on the move, as a digital nomad.

Dropbox is an application which allows you to host your files on its servers ‘out in the cloud’ with local copies downloaded onto your different devices: desktop computer, laptop and smartphone.  Each time a file is changed and resaved locally, it automatically resyncs with the Dropbox servers and updates the other local folders next time those devices are online. This also means that your files are automatically backed  separately from your machine. So losing your laptop does not mean losing your information.

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