Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Green Rural Idyll - Urban Realiity

Listening to the Today programme this morning I heard about a competition for designing a sustainable community. What worried me was that the main strand was for a rural image. Now the majority of the UK population lives in towns and cities.

I live in a former industrial part of the Black Country - and where I live is relatively green (thanks Google Maps). I can walk to shops and train stations, and overall it should be possible to live a low impact life style here. What we need are schemes to make it easier - or cheaper - to live these life styles. Here are a few suggestions:
  • Encourage small markets in urban areas - with greengrocers and the like - and not overpriced 'farmers markets'.
  • Relax planning consents to allow people to add things like passive solar heating - I'd love to add a two floor glazed porch to my house.
  • Relaunch something like the 'Dig for Britain' campaign - say with reduced council tax if you have a productive vegetable patch.
  • Encourage car sharing schemes and cycling - the best way is to get rid of the Tax Disc and make fuel more expensive.
  • Relax the Clean Air Act to allow people to burn wood - and encourage coppicing in Urban Green space.
  • Sort out the behaviour on busses - this probably only requires a little bit more enforcement.
  • Convert larger redundant buildings into small business centres - with lots of smaller units to start-ups and shared workspeces, so people can walk to work.
Spending time discussing how we can build new, green villages on green field sites will only offer a small scale solution in even the medium term - we need to change our towns and cities, and do it now.

Friday, October 26, 2007

France and Linux

I've just got back from a three day break in Lille. Lovely city, good food and friendly people. Anyway, on my way back by Eurostar I stopped at the railway station newsagents. I counted nine - yes nine - Linux magazines on their shelves - compared to maybe 20 MS Windows (tm) based magazines. This is in comparison to the average UK railways station where you will be lucky to find one.

Spain has been using Linux widely for a while, the Extremadura project for example. So why are these countries apparently so far ahead of the UK in behaving sensibly and using Free Software? I can think of a few possible reasons...
  • Language - the regionalisation of Linux may be one reason - it is easier to customise a Free Software solution for your needs;
  • Anti-Americanism - are there countries naturally more suspicious of US products?
  • Money - are there more people looking for low cost effective solutions in these countries?
  • Common sense - are we just slow on the uptake in the UK?
  • Risk aversion - is there something in the UK psyche that makes us more risk averse than others in Europe?
Well, thoughts please!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Becta - unfit for purpose

(the British Educational Communication and Technology Agency)
I was thoroughly amused to observe that Becta decided to report Microsoft to the Office of Fair Trading for anti-competitive trading in schools. The centre of the complaint is that the deal that Microsoft are offering schools is not good enough.
Back in January Dr Stephen Lucey, Executive Director of Becta negotiated an extension to the previous, anti-competitive deal saying:
"Becta welcomes this extension and the considerable savings already accrued under the MoU, estimated at around £47 million over the last three years. This extension will ensure that schools can continue to benefit from the discounts set out in the original MoU for a further 12 months. We work on behalf of schools to make sure that if they choose to purchase Microsoft products, they can get the best value from those licensing agreements."
This Memorandum of Understanding was originally reported to the Office of Fair Trading by members of the Free Software community some four years ago. Becta were dealing with a convicted monopolist - both in the USA and Europe. They were dealing with an organisation which is only interested in making money from its products. Becta may be ridiculously over funded for what they do, but they are as nothing compared to their adversary. Is anyone surprised that they ended up with a bad deal last time - what does surprise me is that they noticed this time!
If this was Becta's only failing then one might be prepared to forgive them. I have spent quite a bit of time working with them over the years, and have found them to be completely out of touch with reality. Here are a few examples...
  • Becta don't recommend products, they 'approve' firms. How stupid is that? So an approved company only produces good products?
  • Becta have no contact with real schools. I work in real schools - and have done for many years. Every contact I have had with Becta leads me to believe that their employees just never go to real schools.
  • Teachers don't use email. There is a clear failure of Government - and Becta their agents - to get teachers to use email. I know, I'm offering families free computers, and can't liaise with my teacher contacts because a good half of the senior staff I'm trying to contact do not use their email.
  • Failure to appreciate Free Software. Becta's misunderstanding of Free Software has been made clear over the past few years, and is possibly most obvious in its failure to appreciate the potential of Moodle.
There are some good people working for Becta, but they seem to me to be so tied down with procedures and bureaucracy that they cannot function effectively. The organisation has clearly run its course. They are followers not leaders - and educational ICT in the UK needs leadership.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


The last few days have been spent mainly on a new project - thePILOTS.
I'm excited about this project as it is a way to improve the skills of technicians working in schools, SMEs and the third sector. The materials we are working on are designed for delivering with free software, specifically GNU/Linux. The qualification itself is not, however, operating system specific.
The major challenges have been:
  • working out the content; and
  • determining the expected skills of the audience.
If you want to collaborate on this project, just send me an e-mail or sign up at Gna.org.