Archery: Severn Valley

Had a wonderful day shooting in Severn Valley yesterday. It was 36 target shoot with a 10:30am start, we finished around 3pm. What made this shoot different was that due to heavy snowfall the forest was covered in snow before we began, during the course of the day this did melt away but we did have a couple of rather sudden blizzards to contend with as we went round the course.

Not only was it very cold the ground was also incredibly muddy so I found that I was walking around rather gingerly in case I lost my footing and fell down a hill again. The turnout on the day was exceptional given the bad weather. We were represented by Richard, Alex, John, Simon, Cliff and myself – we had to split into pairs so I spent the day shooting with John.

It was not one of my better performances … I shot well below my usual par but this didn’t change the fact that we all had immense fun. Richard and I both forgot to pack our camera’s so I took some pictures with my mobile fun which have been uploaded to my flickr account, and here’s a couple of my favorites from the day:

Everyone arriving and getting ready to start

Us lot 🙂

Me shooting and trying very hard not to fall in!

John always smiling!

It was a great day, and full credit to everyone from Severn Valley Yeoman’s for organising the shoot and setting up a very challenging but enjoyable course.

Making Tea and the Semantic Web

Abstract. Making Tea is a design elicitation method developed specifically to
deal with situations in which (1) the designers do not share domain or artefact
knowledge with design-domain experts, (2) the processes in the space are semi-
structured and (3) the processes to be modeled can last for periods exceeding
the availability of most ethnographers. We propose a set of criteria in order to
understand why Making Tea worked. Through this criteria we also reflect upon
the relation of Making Tea to other design elicitation methods in order to pro-
pose a kind of method framework from which other designers may be assisted
in choosing elicitation methods and in developing new methods.

Download paper here, by Monica Schraefel and Alan Dix.

I periodically check up on Alan’s homepage at Lancaster University and have a read through any papers he has made available. Earlier today I found an interesting looking paper entitled: Within Bounds and Between Domains: Reflecting on Making Tea within the Context of Design Elicitation Methods – the abstract for which I have transcribed above.

Just reading the title made me smile as I recalled many an evening spent listening to Alan talking to me about an idea, or helping me understand something I was struggling with, all over a cup of tea (actually usually over several cups of tea!). I wasn’t sure what to expect from this paper, but I’m glad I read it, it proved invaluable for a number of reasons but primarily because it actually led me back to the Semantic Web, and some of the work we are doing at Talis. Whilst on the face of it this assertion might sound somewhat tenuous but maybe it isn’t … as I’ll try to illustrate briefly(ish)…

The paper describes some of the history behind an attempt by a group of computer scientists to design a digital version of a synthetic chemists lab book. However because the computer scientists were not experts in the domain or had very little experience in chemistry they struggled to understand the process that the chemists followed. Whilst they could observe the chemists doing their job and glean some information through interviewing them they simply could not understand the critical issue with reference to the lab books – when, how and why certain things were recorded and others were not. If your trying to create a digital replacement it’s absolutely imperative that you can understand what it is the user is doing and why. It’s at this point that Making Tea became so important …

In frustration, among the team of Canadian and British computer scientists and
chemists, the group made tea, a process embraced by both nations for restoring the
soul. It was at this point that the chemist-turned-software-engineer on the team said
“Making tea is much like doing an experiment.” The rest is history. The design team
took up the observation and used making tea to model the process of both carrying
out an experiment and recording it. To wit, the team’s chemist make tea multiple
times: first using well understood kitchen implements, where questions were asked
like “why did you not record that?” “You just did 20 steps to get the tea ready to pour,
yet you’ve only written down “reflux.” Why?” From kitchen implements, the team
moved to chemistry apparatus set up in the team’s design space. From there the team
moved to the chemistry lab. The results of the exchanges in these spaces informed the
design process. Indeed, they also informed the validation process: design reviews with
chemists in various positions, from researchers to managers to supervisors, were car-
ried out by making tea, and demonstrating how the artefact worked in the tea-making
experimental process. This time it was the chemists’ turn to interrupt the presentation
with questions about the artefact and their process.

The paper goes on to describe why ‘Making Tea’ worked so well as a design elicitation/validation method. I won’t provide a summary comparing it to other methodologies (you can read the paper for that) but I will summarise the four criteria that Monica and Alan identified that made it so successful in this example.

  1. Neutral Territory: Making Tea created a neutral space that was not owned by either the system designers or the domain experts – the intended users of the application. In a smiliar vain (although not exactly the same) having a neutral space you can go to to carry out design elicitation activities has proven hugely beneficial in our own experience at Talis. I have seen that removing ourselves from our offices or normal environment to spend time as part of a multi disciplinary team to focus on understanding and designing a solution to a problem both helps to focus us and place everyone on an equal footing in an alien environment. It also forces us to come together … thats important.
  2. Boundary Representation: When the problem domain is understood by both designers and users this forms a point of contact or reference that both groups feel comfortable with, and can relate to each other – it not only offered a way for domain experts to describe their tasks and activities, but also one where software engineers could offer back potential new designs
  3. Disruption: By being similar yet different from the actual process being represented, Making Tea forced the users to reflect on their tacit activities. To my mind this should be simple to appreciate for anyone who has ever pair programmed. When you constantly have someone asking you what your doing, asking you to talk through your thought processes, as disruptive as it might seem it actually forces you to reflect on what your doing. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ll start to explain a piece of code I’m writing to someone, and then find that the actual processes of having to articulate what I’m doing reveals very quickly that I’m doing something wrong or failing to see the bigger picture.
  4. Time Compression: Making Tea reduced the time taken for a normal ex-
    periment into a period that could be completed in a participatory session
    .The net effect of this is at facilitates rapid iteration of both observation of processes and each design. This sits quite well with the Agile mantra of rapid iteration and constant feedback.

I guess I like Making Tea, this entire metaphor feels very comfortable. It also got me thinking about some of the work I’ve been doing at Talis. I’ve been spending a fair amount of time looking at ontologies to represent different kinds of knowledge. Most recently Rob and I have been looking at how to model Workflow’s in RDF … it doesn’t sound particularly tea-like yet I can’t help but think that our current efforts to try and get closer to our users and also others working in this domain is going to help us understand what we are trying to build far better than trying to be purely academic in our approach to researching this area.

Now back to the tenuous Semantic Web link I mentioned earlier. Monica is working at Southampton University on a number of their semantic web projects. She was/is the Project Lead on MyTea, which tried to re-imagine the original work that the Smart Tea Project team mentioned in the paper did in building a digital lab book. What the MyTea project attempted to do was enhance the original work by integrating the tool with Semantic Technologies and what the folks down in Southampton refer to as The Semantic Grid ( they also run an active project called myGrid which appears to bring all this together ):

The Semantic Web and Semantic Grid, however, are motivating a possible sea change in the way scientists make their work available. With the Semantic Grid, a Web-based technology for sharing data and computation, scientists can share information in richer forms than traditional lab books and publishing has allowed. They will be able to make rafts of data generated in experiments available to other scientists, and to the public for compariosn exploration and study; they can share analyses of information and collaborate in new ways.

Now I’m not sure what the current status of either of the projects is since the paper was originally written in 2005, and the sites don’t look like they have been updated in a while other than myGrid. from my perspective im interested in the work flow modelling they talk about. Yet in additon to that there is something that does touch on what we are trying to do at Talis in building a platform that facilitates this notion of a Web of Linked Data – how to find ways of enriching existing applications by providing the means to link data together in ways that have never really been possible before. We have already seen the amazing things we can do with data and applications when you fundamentally accept that what we are talking about is not a technology change as such, but rather a complete paradigm shift.

This post does feel a bit strange due to the somewhat tenuous links and a bit of tangential reasoning but it’s forcing me to reflect on something I’m struggling to articulate at the moment … but that’s not a bad thing.

Is the Patriot Act haunting Google Service’s?

Read an interesting article on the Globe and Mail entitled “Patriot Act Haunts Google Service“. According to the article many people are suddenly deciding to spurn Google’s services and applications because it opens up potential avenues of surveillance by the US Government:

The U.S. Patriot Act, passed in the weeks after the September, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, gives authorities the means to secretly view personal data held by U.S. organizations…

…organizations are banning Google’s innovative tools outright to avoid the prospect of U.S. spooks combing through their data. Security experts say many firms are only just starting to realize the risks they assume by embracing Web-based collaborative tools hosted by a U.S. company, a problem even more acute in Canada where federal privacy rules are at odds with U.S. security measures

It’s an interesting piece. The cynic in me wants to argue that privacy is really just an illusion anyway? Let’s face it there has been a war over privacy in the U.S. and it’s been fought over last eight years, following 9/11. Under the guise of misguided laws like the Patriot Act civil liberties have been eroded and consequently it’s the average person that suffers: in the current climate, where Governments can exercise the Patriot Act then nothing is really secure. If a users personal information is no out of reach of any government agency that decides it wants it, and there are no legal protections, then how can we say that data is private?

Google has in the past tried to protect its customers data, and has had numerous run in’s with the U.S. Justice Department over it’s stance, but rather revealingly, the company has always refused to state how often government agencies demand to see it’s data or whether there have been any reviews under the Patriot Act. This really shouldn’t viewed as a dig at Google, you could replace the name Google with the name of any US based company, and the same would hold true.

It never ceases to amaze me how politicians always play the national security card along with the patriotism card; they want to convince people that if they don’t support laws like the Patriot Act, and allow some their civil liberties and rights to be eroded, and in some cases completely discarded then not only are you unpatriotic, you’re also helping the terrorists. If your not with us, then your with them … Oscar Wilde really was right …

patriotism is the virtue of the vicious



Down the blue night the unending columns press
In noiseless tumult, break and wave and flow,
Now tread the far South, or lift rounds of snow
Up to the white moon's hidden loveliness.
Some pause in their grave wandering comradeless,
And turn with profound gesture vague and slow,
As who would pray good for the world, but know
Their benediction empty as they bless.
They say that the Dead die not, but remain
Near to the rich heirs of their grief and mirth.
I think they ride the calm mid-heaven, as these,
In wise majestic melancholy train,
And watch the moon, and the still-raging seas,
And men, coming and going on the earth.

               -- by Rupert Brooke – a resounding success!

As I write this I am physically shattered from yesterday! But the physical pain is a small price to pay in support of what is a worthy cause, and what was a wonderful day. Here’s a quick account of the day.

For me the day started at aroud 5am, Richard was going to pick me up fairly early so we could meet up with Rob, Izzy, Alex and Phil and help set things up at the Airport. After I got showered and dressed, I had to sort out some more formal clothes for the evening, after the walk we were all going to be at the Arden Hotel for an auction to raise more money for the Charity, but I had to take a change of clothes with me since we weren’t going to have time to come home. Got all that sorted and SMS’s Rich asking him if he wanted me to make breakfast and so he popped over and had breakfast with me and we left for the airport just after 7am.

When we reached the old Elmdon Terminal at Birmingham Airport, Alex met us there with a Car parking pass that Rob had arranged for us. We all met up and Rich and I carried the stretchers into the terminal, where members of the armed forces had already begun to congregate. Even though it was fairly early and quite chilly everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves and looking forward to the day.

When we all got into the lounge area we relaxed a little as we waited for everyone else to arrive, this included other members of the armed forces, police, fire service and officials from the airport. When pretty much everyone had arrived the airport staff ran through the process for getting the various “teams” of plane pullers out onto the runway, where flybe had provided a Plane for us to Pull.

Those individuals pulling the plane had to be escorted in small groups, to have their photos taken and special passes made up, and assigned to a member of airport staff who would stay with them whilst they were on the tarmac pulling the plane. Whilst this might sound overly complex, and it was, the various security procedures had to be observed and adhered to, consequently it did take a while before the Plane Pullers were out there. Richard, myself, Alex and Izzy all stayed in the terminal and took photographs from there. We also put on our cool T-shirts for the day which everyone marching ( who was not in uniform ) wore.

Izzy, Richard, me, Alex

The group pulling the plane were comprised of representatives from each of the various divisions of the armed forces as well as the police and fire service.

We watched and cheered on as the guys and girls pulled the plane – it was an impressive sight. After they had successfully pulled the plane, the airport and armed services laid on a special treat, everyone who had been out on the tarmac was escorted over for a tour of a massive Military C-17.

Pulling the plane!

After the tour of the C-17 the walk began, symbolically, as a stretcher bearing a “patient” was carried off the C-17 by members of each of the divisions represented on the day. As the stretcher was carried out of the airport the rest of us joined in the march behind it, and off we went. Me armed with Camera, snapping away at everything!

The “patient”, Private A. Houghton, carried on the stretcher.

At this point its probably important to point out the extent to which we were supported on the day. First and foremost the Airport Police Service, which Rob is an Inspector in and was chiefly responsible for organising the day, ensured that through out the day the marchers had a police escort as well as refreshments during what turned out to be quite a grueling experience for many of us. Along with the Police, West Midlands Travel provided a bus for the day that followed us in case anyone needed a rest or further refreshments, this was a wonderful gesture on their part and was appreciated by all – especially when the electronic sign on the front was changed to say “Pulling Together”, and thats really what the day was about.

Our Police Escort!

The Pulling Together Bus!

The 14 mile walk was an experience I wont forget in a long time. The troops who marched with us were wonderful people, they were animated, funny, but above all inclusive – they made me feel like they really appreciated what we were doing and that they were proud to be marching with us. I had some wonderful conversations with the troops during the March, and we all had a great deal of fun … largely due to the chaos we were causing on the streets of Birmingham.

onwards we march

…its a god job she does’t weigh a lot 😉

The lads from the RAF

In wanting to collect as much money as we could from drivers and pedestrians you’d often see us along with the troops running into the middle of the road stopping traffic and asking for donations, and whist this did cause a few traffic jams everyone out there seemed to be supportive. We collected a huge amount I think, and much of that was down to the infectious enthusiasm of the troops who were with us who not only marched 14 miles but probably ran twice that distance in and out of traffic collecting money from drivers who wanted to contribute. It really was a sight to behold.

The troops collecting money from drivers and passers by.

During the 14 miles we had two breaks the first was Solihull Fire Station and the second was at Billesely File Station. Refreshment were served to everyone on the march by members of the 6th Solihull Scout Group. We also paused for a little while when we reached Touchwood Shopping center in Solihull, a few of us were allowed inside to collect money.

infectious enthusiam!

Every mile along the march we paused so a different “team” got to carry the stretcher, which gave us a short respite. I have to confess that I was a wreck by the time we finished, my feet were blistered badly because the trainers I wore had started to leak in the rain and this caused a lot of pain but I stubbornly refused to stop … was intent on reaching the end … plus I wasn’t about to have Richard making fun of me … lol

Even the girl scouts helped out

We started the walk at roughly 10:15am, and we reached Selly Oak Hospital at roughly 3pm. Where we were met by The Lord Mayor of Birmingham, along with Commander Murphy from the Navy and Captain Gibbs from the Army. It was a wonderful feeling crossing that finish line with the Lord Mayor and others applauding our efforts. We proceeded into the Social club at the Hospital where everyone got drinks and the Lord Mayor, Captain Gibbs and Commander Murphy all gave speeches thanking us for our efforts. It was a great way to end the walk and the comments that these men made were all very touching.

The Lord Mayor of Birmingham talks to us all

Captain Gibbs addresses us all

Commander Murphy addresses us all

Rob also made a speech thanking the troops for their efforts and telling them that people here at home do support them. Which I think was important for them to hear. I’ve already commented on why I supported this event, and Rob touched on a couple of those reasons during his speech. For me Rob was one of the heroes of the day, this event would not have taken place if it had not been for his efforts in organising it. I personally know how stressful it was for him, and how nervous he had been leading up to the event. Yet, he did a wonderful job right to the end. I can’t praise him enough … I know that many others feel the same way.

Rob makes his speech

Inspector Rob Williams, hero of the day.

After the speeches everyone chatted for half an hour before we caught the bus back to the airport. At this point I was struggling to walk, in fact hobbling is too generous a term for the way I was moving – much to everyones amusement! Rob had invited me and Richard out for a meal before we all had to get to the Arden Hotel for the nights Auction and Disco. Richard and I rushed over to his folks place, where we got showered and changed into our slightly more formal outfits for the evening. We then headed over to Rob’s place and we all went for a bite to eat at a very nice restaurant.

After that we paid a quick visit to Rob’s office where we collected all the items for the nights auction and raffle and headed over to the Arden Hotel. The evening went really well, the auction raised more money and everyone had a great time. The live band were entertaining and I think everyone had a lot of fun.

Rob auctioning off Krusty the Clown

Rob and Alex drawing the raffle

The band entertains us all.

All in all it was an extraordinary day and one that I won’t forget in a hurry. I’d like to thank everyone who took part on the day. I want to say how wonderful it was meeting so many of the troops who marched with us, all of whom were a credit to the uniforms they wear … but most of all they were wonderful human beings.

… finally many thanks to you Rob for your efforts, and for making me feel like my contributions were valued, both before the event and after it.

You can view all the pictures from the day on my flickr account here.

Desert Rose

             Desert Rose

I don't know why I drove down that road
but it sure turned my life around,
And I'm darn glad no one else could see
What it was that I had found.
But out there in the desert
where hardly nothing grows
surviving through the loneliness
there stood a little rose.
I looked upon it with tenderness
as I touched it with Love
I knew it was special
because I felt it from above
Now I often think of that road
and the day it came into my life
The Love I gave has caused a change
For the Rose has become my wife.

                    - By Timothy A. Cook

First the good news …

Support for the Forces Hospital Charity site I set up and maintain with help from Richard for our friend Inspector Rob Williams is gaining momentum. So far we have raised £8500 which is phenomenal. I’m really looking forward to the Plane Pull and the 14 mile walk on Saturday, I think it’s going to be memorable. Check out the Sponsor and Donor pages to see how many Oranisations have come out to support this cause and to each of them I offer my thanks.

… then the not so good.

Some people have felt the need to question why I, a Muslim, have chosen to support a charity that attempts to aid the very soldiers that are killing our brothers and sisters abroad. Ordinarily I would respond by saying that its a personal choice, and leave it at that (and tell them where to go – diplomacy isn’t always one of my strong points). Yet some of the vitriol that has been leveled at me by people trying to post comments on this blog has led me to think carefully about a slightly more reasoned response. I don’t seek to justify why I live my life the way that I do … but I do want dispel a few myths I think that a few of you are living under.

The charity that I’m supporting is seeking to build a garden, that’s all! A small recreational place to provide an area where families can visit their wounded sons and daughters in relative comfort. This charity isn’t supporting an ideology, or a political stand point or seeking to justify the presence of British troops in any theater of combat anywhere in the world. It’s seeking to provide comfort for a group of men and women who have, regardless of their personal or political views, tried to perform their duty to their country and in doing so have suffered serious injuries.

The members of our armed forces do not have the luxury of choosing where they fight, or against whom. We don’t live in a society where we allow our soldiers to make those decisions, that’s what governments do. That’s partly why we call it democracy. It’s also why it’s important, during elections, for us to consider who it is we are voting for and whether those individuals will honestly represent our views or whether they’ll charge right in simply because an American President insists that they do. I’d be interested to know how many Labour Muslim Members of Parliament actually voted against the government when the issue of whether we should deploy troops in Iraq was first put before the Commons. Perhaps if some of them had taken a stance more in keeping with the views of their constituents rather than voting in a certain way because they were afraid to incur the wrath of the Party Whip and in doing so limit their own political future – well perhaps then more could have been done to sway the government at the time.

It’s also important to remember that the same troops deployed in Iraq today could be deployed elsewhere in the world tomorrow serving a completely different role, like helping to deliver aid to places devastated by natural disasters or in peace keeping roles as part of UN deployments. From working with troops I know that the vast majority are decent men and women trying to do their best, in what are often very stressful and demanding situations … yet it’s easy for us to sit here and forget that they are still just human beings.

I can’t help but believe that in as much as it was our lack of humanity that has gotten us into the mess we are in … it is only our humanity that can hope to rescue us from it.

That’s why I’m supporting my friends on Saturday … for no reason other than that Hope.

I hope you can understand that.

I hope you can respect that.

Khayyam’s Quatrain: an Interpretation

The original:

This Universal wheel, this merry-go-round
In our imagination we have found
The sun a flame, in the Cosmic lantern bound
We are mere ghosts, revolving, the flame surround.

                  -- Omar Khayyam

An interpretation by Shahriar Shahriari:

In our imagination, the Cosmic Wheel
Will cause us pain and cause us heal
We find our source give life and steal
We are phantoms that think and feel.

                  --  Shahriar Shahriari

… both are beautiful, and inspired.

Ae Fond Kiss, and then We Sever

          Ae Fond Kiss, and then We Sever

Ae fond kiss, and then we sever;
Ae fareweel, and then for ever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I'll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I'll wage thee.

Who shall say that Fortune grieves him
While the star of hope she leaves him?
Me, nae cheerful twinkle lights me,
Dark despair around benights me.

I'll ne'er blame my partial fancy;
Naething could resist my Nancy;
But to see her was to love her,
Love but her, and love for ever.

Had we never loved sae kindly,
Had we never loved sae blindly,
Never met -or never parted,
We had ne'er been broken-hearted.

Fare thee weel, thou first and fairest!
Fare thee weel, thou best and dearest!
Thine be ilka joy and treasure,
Peace, enjoyment, love, and pleasure!

Ae fond kiss, and then we sever;
Ae fareweel, alas, for ever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I'll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I'll wage thee.

                       by Robert Burns