The Linx 7 tablet – so bad, it’s good

linx7So, as a bit of research and development, I bought a Linx 7 tablet the other day. It was pointed out to me by my pal Paul Webster, who thought it had some intruiging digital inclusion possibilities.

First up, the bad bits. The Linx is cheap, and nasty. It has a plastic case that feels less than sturdy, a tiny screen with a fairly terrible resolution, a pretty slow processor and a measly 1gb RAM.

It also runs Windows 8, which is just as weird as everyone has told you. The most bewildering part for me, still, is that you can have two copies of the same application installed and running on the same machine depending on whether you are in the mobile view or the traditional desktop view. The universal apps of Windows 10 will hopefully fix this.

So, a pretty damning review so far. However, here is the good news: The Linx 7 is £76 on Amazon right now, and that includes a year’s subscription to Office 365. That’s worth £79. Do the maths!

The Linx also features some rather neat connectivity options. There’s a mini-USB port which is used for charging, but can also be used with the included adapter to plug any USB peripheral into the tablet – such as a mouse, or a printer say. The mini-HDMI port means you can plug this thing into a standard monitor you have lying around, and it has bluetooth so a keyboard is no problem.

What all this means is that you can have a fully operational – if slightly underpowered – PC with the full and latest version of Office running on it, for significantly less than a hundred quid. That’s frankly amazing.

Anyone who makes heavy use of their computer is not going to be able to use the Linx 7 as a replacement for their laptop or whatever. Never mind an iPad, it makes a lot of the cheaper Android tablets look and feel well made. But what it does, thanks to the price point and the provided software, is put a proper computer in the hands of pretty much anyone who can spare 75 quid.

Given that the first personal computer, the Altair 8800, cost about $500 fully assembled in 1975 (which is over $2,250 in today’s money), and did little more than flash a few lights, I’d call that progress.

Enabling government as a platform?

On Saturday at GovCamp 2015, Mike Bracken announced the enabling strategy, the approach GDS is developing to deliver something they call government as as platform.

Here’s the nice, short video that explains it:

Now, this is very sensible and it is hard to argue against it. The one quibble I have is whether this really is government as  platform.

There’s no doubt that what is being proposed is a platform. However, when one thinks of well known platform plays outside of government – Amazon Web Services, Microsoft’s Azure, Google’s Cloud Platform, Salesforce and so on – the point is not that a platform has been developed, but that anyone can use it.

To me, what is being proposed by GDS is closer to a service oriented architecture – in itself a Good Thing and certainly not easy to achieve across as complex a system as government. Instead of building big end to end systems, we have a set of building blocks that can be assembled in different orders to create different systems. This saves time, and money, and creates more interoperable systems.

Perhaps, once all this is in place, the plan is to open it up to other organisations to make use of these service building blocks to develop their own tools. I hope so.

Imagine how good it would be if a supplier to government used the same financial platform that their customers were using? Could make life a hell of a lot more efficient.

Update: From GDS’s Deputy Director, Tom Loosemore:

The triumph of the nerds

If you have a few hours to spare, you could do a lot worse than to spend them watching the three episodes that make up Triumph of the Nerds, a 1995 documentary charting the history of the microcomputer industry.

From the Altair 8800 through the Apple II to IBM’s PC and the dominance of Microsoft, there are tonnes of lessons about what it takes to make technology companies succeed.

As I say, well worth a watch. Just to be helpful, I’ve embedded them below.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Backblaze – cloud backups made easy


I worry about backups. Do you worry about backups?

The best way to have backups is to ensure you have three copies of everything important and one of those ought to be somewhere other than where your computers are kept. These days, that means the cloud.

I have a fairly standard Seagate 3TB external hard drive connected to the somewhat old and crumbly iMac on my desk. This machine worries me more than any, largely because it has our archive of family digital photos on it, going back some ten years. I use Time Machine on the mac to ensure it takes regular backups automatically, which sorts out the local copy.

For cloud backup, I chose Backblaze which is a great little cloud backup service which gives you unlimited space to backup your macs or PCs, at the remarkable cost of $5 a month per computer. It runs in the background keeping everything up to date without me needing to worry about it.

Of course a lot of my working documents are stored in Dropbox, which means I have a further copy of them. But for those big libraries of thousands of priceless digital photos, the combination of automated local backup to a hard disk and the cloud storage offered by Backblaze seems to be working ok for me.

Death of the filesystem

From Jan Senderek, the founder of Loom, a photo management startup:

Kids today who start out with iPads and iPhones will never or rarely be in touch with a file or a folder. They won’t care about the type of data created or consumed on their devices. Apps are used to generate and consume content such as photos, emails, and news. They are the new ‘folders’. To try to find a file extension on an app or mobile device is hard. The interface and experience deliberately takes away the need to know whether an image is a .jpg or .png because you don’t need to know. Even if the next generation still uses a desktop at home or at school, the iPad will shape their behavior. The next wave of consumers are using cloud-based services to consume content that isn’t file-based like Facebook, Spotify or Netflix. Content provided by these services no longer sits on a computer taking up valuable hard drive space or requires conscious awareness of the makeup of the file.

The way computers work are changing. More convenience, less control.

“Kids today need a licence to tinker”

Nice article by John Naughton on the state of IT education in schools:

What is happening is that the national curriculum’s worthy aspirations to educate pupils about ICT are transmuted at the chalkface into teaching kids to use Microsoft software. Our children are mostly getting ICT training rather than ICT education.

And if you can’t see the difference, try this simple thought-experiment: replace “ICT” with “sex” and see which you’d prefer in that context: education or training?

How we got to this ridiculous state of affairs is a long story. It’s partly about how education departments, like generals, are always preparing for the last war. Thus, while we’re moving into a post-PC age, our ICT curriculum is firmly rooted in the desktop computer running Microsoft Windows. It’s also partly about the technophobia of teachers, local councillors and officials. But it’s mainly about the chronic mismatch between the glacial pace of curriculum change in a print-based culture, and the rate of change in the technology.

Interesting things in Peterborough

1. IBM, Opportunity Peterborough and Peterborough City Council are working together on a project which aims to transform Peterborough into the leading sustainable city in the UK.

From the IBM website:

The collaboration has outlined plans to launch a Sustainable City Visualisation project, which will initially focus on building a new online platform to monitor and analyze data on Peterborough’s energy, water, transport and waste systems. This data will be used to produce a real-time, integrated view of the city’s environmental performance. Residents and city officials will be able to log on to the web portal and easily access the necessary information to make more informed decisions about resource usage. For example, the city will be able to make suggestions to improve home water and energy usage, while being able to work more effectively with the utilities to plan the long term energy and water infrastructure that is needed for a sustainable future.

Interesting stuff, and something I’ll keep an eye on. GreenMonk is a great source of analysis on sustainability and IT, and here is a link to all their posts which feature IBM, who seem to be doing quite  bit in this space at the moment. It’s vital for local government to be seen to be leading on this agenda too, so it’s an interesting collaboration.

Hat tip to James Governor for mentioning this story on Twitter, where I picked it up.

2. The RSA are working with the Council in Peterborough to run the Citizen Power project. From the project’s Ning-based site:

Working in collaboration with Peterborough City Council and the Arts Council East, the Citizen Power project will span two years and be made up of a number of programmes based around the arts and social change, an area-based learning curriculum, a sustainable citizenship campaign, user-centred drug services and the use of online social media. Together, these different programmes of work will aim to address Peterborough’s challenges as well as work towards achieving the city’s potential.

I see David Wilcox is being his usual challenging self on the site, which is good, and I have joined to see where I might help (I’m a fellow of the RSA myself). Must say, the fact that the launch event for this local community based project in Peterborough took place in John Adam Street isn’t particularly inspiring. It will be interesting to see how this one pans out.

Good to see interesting things happening in Peterbough – it’s just down the road, and was the nearest big place to where I grew up.

Flickr credit: basegreen

City of Angeles moves to Google Apps


Google Apps will also help conserve resources in the city’s Information & Technology Agency (ITA), which is responsible for researching, testing & implementing new technologies in ways that make Los Angeles a better place to live, work and play. Because the email and other applications are hosted and maintained by Google, ITA employees who previously were responsible for maintaining our email system can be freed up to work on projects that are central to making the city run.

By ITA estimates, Google Apps will save the city of Los Angeles millions of dollars by allowing us to shift resources currently dedicated to email to other purposes. For example, moving to Google will free up nearly 100 servers that were used for our existing email system, which will lower our electricity bills by almost $750,000 over five years. In short, this decision helps us to get the most out of the city’s IT budget.

The decision to move to Google Apps was not taken lightly. The city issued a request for proposals and received 15 proposals, which were evaluated by city officials. The top four proposals were invited to give oral presentations, with CSC’s proposal for Google Apps receiving the highest marks. This decision was reviewed and discussed by the Los Angeles City Council which, after a healthy debate, voted unanimously to move forward with Google Apps.