Not only that but I also followed in Jonny Ive’s footsteps and went to the same University too.
Of course, when I say I went to school with, what I really mean is that I was a first year at Walton High School in Stafford when he was in the Sixth form. I’ve a vague recollection of him as being this rather tall student who walked everywhere with an art folder under his arm.
By pure co-incidence I was at Newcastle Polytechnic too years after Ive had left and just before it turned into Northumbria University.
He, I’m quite sure, wouldn’t have even the slightest recollection of me and good thing too.
For some reason I chanced upon a profile of Ive written in the New York Times. It’s that’s the text of the Brian Buirge and Jason Bacher poster on his wall that jumps out.
“Believe in your f*cking self. Stay up all f*cking night. Work outside of your f*cking habits. Know when to f*cking speak up. F*cking collaborate. Don’t f*cking procrastinate. Get over your f*cking self. Keep f*cking learning. Form follows f*cking function. A computer is a Lite-Brite for bad f*cking ideas. Find f*cking inspiration everywhere. F*cking network. Educate your f*cking client. Trust your f*cking gut. Ask for f*cking help. Make it f*cking sustainable. Question f*cking everything. Have a f*cking concept. Learn to take some f*cking criticism. Make me f*cking care. Use f*cking spell check. Do your f*cking research. Sketch more f*cking ideas. The problem contains the f*cking solution. Think about all the f*cking possibilities.”
That’s a really good set of advice that should be taught in schools.
Not only that, but as I get to grips with understand the web, the social web and how it affects digital comms that’s also a set of advice to live by.
Like lighthouse keepers, you’re glad they’re there but nothing too much to get excited about.
Actually, that’s not totally the case at all. If you’ve children, you must take a look at their website for their family orientated programme.
Romans at Wroxeter in Shropshire I can vouch for. Select a venue and then take a look in the bottom right hand corner . There you’ll see a really great use of Flickr.
By posting into an English Heritage group you agree that you don’t mind if the image is linked to via the organisations’ website. That’s a brilliant idea. They’re also upfront about it too.
Can this idea be used in local government? No question. Does it cost money? Not a penny. But what it does do is this:
- It provide an extra resource for people looking to browse for a place to visit.
- It creates a presence on a popular social networking site.
- It builds links with the community who can really feel as though they own a small slice of the website.
At a time when budgets are tight and very painful cuts have been made at English Heritage, this is good work by the history geeks.
As I watched a tear run down my grandpa’s face I realised the First World War hadn’t ended.
This proud man with clipped military moustache and silver hair sat in a chair across from front of me.
This was 20 years ago. I was a teenager and had been ushered in slightly reluctantly to talk to him on one of his visits.
We chatted awkwardly for a while. I’m not sure how it came up but he started to recall what happened in 1916 when his father died 70 years before.
There was just me and him in the room, a ticking clock and rain on the windows.
He cleared his throat and paused. He straightened his tie and he looked above me at the clock on the mantlepiece as he composed what he was going to tell me.
He was three, he told me, when his father left him. A Liverpool docker his dad was called up to become Sapper Peter Molyneux in the Royal Engineers.
Like his brothers he was six foot, the life and soul of the party his bulk towering over others.
His dad was sent to Mesopotamia, modern day Iraq, to help protect oil supplies.
A last letter home scribbled in pencil was cheerful but his weakened handwriting gave the truth away. Sapper Molyneux died of dysentry three days later on May 22 1916.
“But that was war,” my grandpa said. “That was what happened.”
Looking back, I can remember every tick of the clock and inflection in his voice as he told me the story. As he finished a tear came to his eye and he reached into his pocket for the pressed handkerchief he always carried. He wiped it away. And I sat unsure what to say. So I said nothing. The conversation unfinished and I knew with crystal certainty it would never take place again.
Months later on Remembrance Sunday alone with a radio and the Last Post his tear came to me unexpectedly and I buried my head and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed.
But my Grandpa, protective of his mother, didn’t tell me what happened next. This emerged at a family funeral years later.
My grandfather’s mother could not cope. Shattered by grief and care worn by feeding five children she married again too soon to a man too fond of drink.
One thing isn’t clear. Did he persuade her to leave her children behind? Or did she die of pernicious anemia the product of a poor diet? We’re not sure. What is sure is that for three months the remaining children kept up the pretence of family life rooting for food in bins until their shame was exposed.
This was pain on top of pain on top of pain on top of pain.
I try hard not to, but even as a man with two children all I can see is life’s hard unseen hand slapping the small boy that grew-up to be my grandpa. A boy who looks strikingly like my own son.
Without a state to intervene the Molyneaux children were distributed to kind relatives.
As time went on, the boy grew up, married and was called up himself and sent in his father’s footsteps to Mesopotamia. This time it was World War Two.
On a lull in his duties in the desert near Basra he searched without success for his father’s grave.
That he could not find that grave was a sadness I felt.
Years later and long after my grandpa’s death I took up the search online. It took five minutes on the Commonwealth War Graves site.
It was as easy as googling and it felt wrong he was not there to see it.
Sapper Peter Molyneux is buried at grave XXI row F20 in the Kut-al-Amara graveyard near Basra along with 4,620 others.
When he died, my grandpa left me a wooden desk with a secret draw. In it I found a creased envelope and things from the Second World War.
Inside the envelope was a handful of sand.
I like to think of my grandfather in the Second World War stopping and picking up that handful of sand in Mesopotamia and carefully storing it when his search for his dad’s grave failed.
It’s a conversation and a story unfinished. It feels unresolved and I’m just not sure how to resolve it.
It’s what I think of on Remembrance Sunday.
But maybe that’s the Liverpudlian in me. They’re sentimental like that, are Scousers.
But it’s not all sad. My grandpa died achieving one of his aims in life. He became the oldest person to achieve an Open University degree aged 83 in the year he graduated.He also had three grandsons who have had seven grandchildren.Sapper Molyneaux’s great grandson – my son Joe Slee – bought a poppy for the first time this year.
He trooped into school with his 20p and came back with it on his jumper.
This is a good thing.
When he is older he may learn more about how war affected his family years before he was born.
So why is this story on a blog about digital?
Because the power of the connections that the internet makes cannot be over estimated.
It’s good to remind yourself of that – and other things.
2014 EDIT: My son is now 10 and for a school project we’re looking at Sapper Molyneux as being someone who died in the First World War. We’re researching him, his background and what life would have been life in Liverpool for him. We’ve already made some amazing discoveries and I’ll blog them later this year.
Open data cutting edge? Like top hats, Christmas trees and giant factories the Victorians got there first.
They may not have built a chimney sweep Google death map. But their approach was similar. Collect the data. Publish it. Draw conclusions. Argue for change.
Don’t believe me?
Look at Florence Nightingale in her funny lace bonnet. Historian Dr Stephen Holliday in BBC History Magazine August 2010 writes about how she used statistics to
revolutionise the care of soldiers in the Crimean War.
By using statistics – data – she painted a picture to show a revolution in care was needed.
“When she reached Scutari the base for casualties from the Crimea,” Halliday writes, “Florence calculated that deaths from disease were seven times those arising in battle and used the campaign to campaign for better food, hygeine and clothing for the troops.”
Battered by the force of Florence’s figures and cutting edge reporting that forged the reputation of The Times the British government was forced into changes.
After the war Nightingale used her Royal connections coupled with arguments based on charts and tables to press for better standards for soldiers who even in peacetime had death rates double that of civilians.
The result? Death rates fell by 75 per cent.
Florence herself said that statistics were “the cipher by way we may read the hand of God.”
We may have lost that religious zeal but it’s an argument Tim Berners-Lee would recognise as a modern-day Florence Nightingale with a passion for data.
Did she get it right all the time?
No. Here’s the warning from history.
By misreading available data Florence Nightingale later helped kill thousands of people.
She used statistics to wrongly argue cholera was an airborne disease. It wasn’t.
It took London GP Dr John Snow to collect his own data on death rates in his patch to argue they were caused by a contaminated water supplies.
So what’s the message to today’s open data pioneers?
That first data visualisation you have in front of you may not be the whole picture.
There may be more to it.
Remember the phrase ‘lies, damn lies and official statistics?’
Statistics were once hailed as the magic cure-all that revealed a hidden truth.
It’s been said that all data in some form or other is political. Let’s not see open data similarly tainted.
Florence Nightingale –http://www.florence-nightingale.co.uk/cms/
BBC History Magazine August2010 http://www.bbchistorymagazine.com/issue/august-2010
Crimean War data visualisation: Wikipedia.
Cholera map: Wikipedia
Tim Berners-Lee: Paul Clarke via Wikipedia