RIP Gerry Anderson creator of Thunderbirds and fireball XL5

RIP Gerry Anderson creator of Thunderbirds died today. But he was ALSO the creator of Fireball XL5 :) which was my favourite as a child :)

I showed this to Aditya (the opening and the end song – I wish I was a space man) .. he finds it cool. Its interesting how youtube can bridge the generation gap!

45 seconds of advice from Steve Jobs that directly impacted my life ..

This 45 second clip (from Steve Jobs) below directly led to a change in the direction of my strategy/life and to the creation of my start-up  feynlabs .

I have played it many times.

Someone posted it after Steve jobs’s death and its 45 seconds well worth spending!

Before I saw this, I used to think that the process I am using to teach programming to Aditya (son) – may not be so radical after all ..

But (partly) inspired by this – I decided to submit the process as a paper in one of the world’s leading educational journal.

Never could I have anticipated the impact of that move and the change it would have on my life and business in late 2011 and 2012!

Have a look at this video (only 45 sec from Steve Jobs)

Books and documentaries that have influenced me in 2012

Here are a list of books and documentaries that I recommend in 2012.

They reflect both my personal focus – for example my focus on my new start-up feynlabs, world events(Olympics), my personal tastes and ethos (humanism, an amateur interest in anthropology) and my work in (mobility, start-ups, Smart cities and tech policy)

These books are ones that have influenced me i.e. not just books I like – but books I have read over and over again – and have made a change to my thinking (hence image of classic books below as a cover image for this post).

As many of you know, I am an avid collector of comics .. but my comic collection does not figure here – although its well read many times :)

Comments welcome and also suggestions on books I should read

Let me start with Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart - Howard is a friend and mentor for years and I describe this book as a ‘manual/handbook for the social web’ – in a review on my blog  Book review – Net Smart – by Howard Rheingold


Eleanor Roosevelt’s You learn by Living I first heard about this book in a brain pickings review   - highly recommended and especially inspiring the quote “When you adopt the standards and the values of someone else … you surrender your own integrity. You become, to the extent of your surrender, less of a human being.”


17 equations that changed the world  is a great way to create a conversation with a 9 year old about science and maths – from fourier transforms to Einstein’s equations. Very much recommended (and in general Ian Stewart books on mathematics)

Daniel Kahneman’s thinking fast and slow  - has got many excellent reviews on the Web .. A long read – but well worth it


 Matthew Syed’s bounce - This was the first of the three books that I read as a result of the Olympics i.e. what makes the difference between competition, talent and practice – especially practice which distinguishes the gold medal winners

This is the second ‘Olympic inspired’ book - Dr Steve Peters is coach to many of our Olympic winners and his methods relate to the mind = Dr Steve Peters – The Chimp paradox

and ofcourse the third book on the Olympics theme is Lord Coe’s biography (released post olympics) i.e. not his previous book


Will power by Roy Baumeister is not your usual Ya di Ya from a life coach – this is very detailed and scientific study on changing behaviour. Don’t agree with all – but certainly a good approach and influential



Creating Magic

Lee Cockerell’s creating magic is based on the Disney institute and is all about superlative customer service learning from the Disney approach. Lots of cool insights from someone who has done it himselves


I re-read Ray Kroc’s classic Grinding it out. Its a journey of a true entrepreneur. Very inspiring!


I first heard of Why startups fail by David Feinleib – when I met David in Amsterdam for the Perfect Storm event which I was chairing. This book is written by someone who has deep experience of building companies and was very useful


Another friend from the VC world - Tarang Shah’s Venture Capitalists at Work: How VCs Identify and Build Billion-Dollar Successes - which I reviewed previously on OpenGardens 

Massimo Banzi’s getting started with Arduino  IMHO is one of the best books to get started with programming which I also reviewed on OpenGardens  

Aditya (son age – 9) and I first saw Brian Greene’s books in the American musuem of Natural History in New York  and I think we got them all! I like The Hidden Reality 


Triumph of the city by Edward Glaeser is a great book about Smart cities – very much a part of my work

A second reading of Craig Venter’s biography - I am a big fan of Crain Venter’s work.

I am also a big fan of the Dog Whisperer – Cesar Millian’s book (Cesar Millan – Be the pack leader) is one of the best self development books (for humans!) in my view ..


Sooo many people whose views I respect recommended Aldous Huxley that it was indeed high time that I read the Brave new world 


Algorithms + Data Structures = Programs (Prentice-Hall Series in Automatic Computation)

My work with  feynlabs also meant I had to re-read the classic Algorithms + Data Structures = Programs – Love it’s simple style and approach

MEP James elles recommended me to the (free) book Citizens in an Interconnected and Polycentric world – I love this vision because of its emphasis on individual empowerment. I reviewed Citizens in an Interconnected and Polycentric world

Steve Blank and Bob Dorf’s classic Startup owner’s manual was well read this year again because of setting up a new company


I added one more ..

Simon Dixon’s Bank to the future I first met Simon Dixon when he presented the keynote at forumoxford at Oxford University which I chair and I since bought this book. The depth and passion of Simon’s knowledge about this field are very impressive. A deep insider/visionary/futuristic perspective on banking – most of it was a surprise (and a shock!) to me ..




Finally a few documentaries ..


Ardipithecus was with good reason, one of the most significant discoveries last year – and Discovering Ardi continues to be a classic documentary I love

 Evolve – created by the History channel was a birthday gift in November from Aditya. This is a very good documentary on evolution based on specific strengths – eyes, claws, jaws etc.

Finally, I have been following the work of Alice Roberts  and the incredible human journey is an incredible documentary.

So, that’s it! Any suggestions for reading based on the above tastes welcome :)

Image source:





What’s the best book to get started with programming?

Due to our work at feynlabs, I was recently asked – What’s the best book to get started with programming?

There are many great books – and some programmers would recommend books like Kerninghan and Ritchie .

They are being snobbish ofcourse :)

But K and R really is not a starter book.

Today, one could recommend any python book – and I love Python especially as a language to get started with programming ..

But my recommendation for one of the best books to get started with programming is a not so mainstream book  called Getting Started with Arduino by Massimo-Banzi

 Arduino is well known ofcourse as is Massimo Banzi in tech circles (as co-founder of Arduino)

But this book is not so well known.. and when it is reviewed, it is from a perspective of working with LEDs etc.

In contrast, my approach and review for this book is as an ideal book to get started with programming (which is perhaps not intended by the author – but it works for us!)

There is an excellent TED talk by Conrad Wolfram on Teaching kids real math with computers. This talk was one of my big inspirations for teaching computing .. the same issues Conrad wolfram talks about with respect to maths also apply to programming (teaching of)

So, if you extrapolate to programming, you need to teach programming in ways in which it could be used (and not give kids unrelated problems which have little bearing in real life)

Specifically, this book talks of ‘interactive devices’ – which in my view are one of the major new future trend for computing itself.

Computing is changing – fundamentally – Both hardware and software are becoming Open Sourced. Value will lie in human innovation where we will use a combination of HW SW and Algorithms to create value.

If you accept this future for computing, then Arduino, Raspberry Pi etc are key devices and they shape the future of computing.

Interactive devices(below from the book) follow a simple process of set-up and loop i.e. waiting for inputs



This trend brings us to a larger world of ‘Physical computing’ which is simplified through devices like the Arduino

So, why does this book help learn programming?

a)  It ties the physical computing / interactive devices idea very easily and leads very quickly to real life problems

b)  It is only 118 pages!

c)  There is a very useful appendix C from pages 95 to 107 which coves variables, control structures, operators, IO, math functions, comms. Essentially, this brings many computing concepts very quickly to the forefront and in a real-life context.

Hence, Aditya and I found it a great book to get started with programming!


Aditya and I announcing feynlabs at forumoxford event in Oxford University + slides

Aditya and I announcing feynlabs at forumoxford event in Oxford University

Here is a copy of our slides 

Book review – Net Smart – by Howard Rheingold

This is a long overdue review of Net Smart – by Howard Rheingold

It took me a long time to review it because I read this book a few times over as a reference book.

Net Smart is an ambitious attempt – even by Howard’s standards ..

A while ago, I had a conversation with a friend who jokingly asked: “Who backs up the Web?” Treating the Web as an ‘IT system’, this led to a discussion about “Should there a manual / handbook for the Web?”

Of course, it is a flawed analogy to compare IT systems to the Web – but I have since been intrigued by the question:  If anyone were to ever write a ‘handbook/manual’ for the Web, what would it look like?

I think – Net Smart would come closest to such a handbook – if we were to ever have one.

Not from a technical sense but from a sociological sense – from the standpoint of using the Social Web and teaching our kids about the fundamental skill of engaging with cyberspace and ‘how to thrive online’

The book is about – How to use social media intelligently, humanely and mindfully.

It is an optimistic book and it makes a welcome change from the scaremongering of Nicolas Carr and Susan Greenfield.

Howard sees the ability to engage with cyberculture as a core skill – much like driving a car for the current generation and he proposes that it is not an automatic skill

While we all engage with social media in one way or the other, it is a skill that can be improved.

Further, he sees a time lag between the technology and the social revolution (ex: there was a time lag between print and the social impact due to widespread availability of books).

In that sense, we are living ‘in the time lag’ and the changes that are happening around us will be apparent only in retrospect.

Howard believes that the skill of digital literacy can make a difference between being empowered or manipulated – being serene or being frantic. Furthermore, he sees competency in engaging with cyberspace as a two-fold skill – i.e. the technical competency of using the tools and also the social interaction of engaging with others.

Howard classifies these skills into five competencies: Attention, Participation, Collaboration, Critical consumption of information (crap detection) and network smarts. Attention is a core skill on the web and critical evaluation of information is the key to the future of the Web itself as an information source.

The ability to engage with social media is a key skill for the evolution of humanity itself

How crucial is this skill to humanity?

There is a very insightful statement from Howard early on in the book which says that if he were to reduce the essence of homo-sapiens in one sentence it would be “People create new ways to communicate, then use their new media to complicated things together”

Thus this book looks at both the past and the future – based on Howard’s history of understanding social media and virtual communities – long before these terms were understood.

Anything I could suggest to improve the book?

Regular readers of Howard’s books – of which I am one – would find this book written in a different style. It’s much more longer – probably because of it’s sheer scope and ambition. But there are many excellent reviews of this book and also interviews on the Web ex – this interview of Howard Rheingold by Prof Henry Jenkins about Net Smart which help to navigate the detail.

From an OpenGardens perspective, I found the comparison with videotext very insightful. In the early days, the old media companies invested heavily in the videotext systems but as the book says “Billions of dollars were spent on videotext experiments but none of them included ways for the medium’s users to communicate with – much less create content – for each other”

This is an optimistic book and very much resonates with my views

Like many people who use the Web extensively, I am always looking to optimise my time on the Web – and the book thus has a direct payoff.

All in all, a must read book – with an ambitious goal. The book page is Net Smart – by Howard Rheingold The amazon link is  Net Smart: How to Thrive Online By Howard Rheingold

A video preview below


Why Interoperability is critical to making the Internet of Things work ..

Interoperability is one of the key barriers which prevent IOT from unleashing its true economic potential.

In simple terms, Interoperability is the ability of diverse systems and organizations to work together (inter-operate).

From an IT perspective, Interoperability is a property of a product or system, whose interfaces are completely understood, to work with other products or systems, present or future, without any restricted access or implementation.(Wikipedia).

This definition places two requirements on systems

a) All interfaces must be disclosed and

b) There should be no restrictions placed on implementing these interfaces (for ex IPR, branding, licences etc).

However, for complex systems like IOT, Interoperability must extend all across the stack.

Specifically, Interoperability must extend to the service/information level where two systems must have the ability to exchange information seamlessly.

Interoperability is critical for IOT for the following reason. 

Today’s  Internet  is  primarily  characterized  by applications with a human in the loop.  This makes Interoperability a  bit  easier,  as  the  humans  are responsible for processing the “semantic” part of the communications (i.e. the meaning). But when we have pure machine to machine communication(with no human presence), semantics become critical. Hence, Interoperability is fundamental to the success of IOT. See this excellent paper Building the Internet of Things – Jari Arkko, Ericsson Research.

Much of the current focus in the Internet of Things is also on the lower parts of the stack: designing the (ex IPv6). However, this is only the first step for true IOT interoperability if we are to achieve the vision listed above. For  instance,  it  would  not  be enough for a light switch from one vendor to control lights from another. For true interoperability we need semantic interoperability, the ability of the devices to understand  what  the  data  they  communicate  means. Standardization is the best way to achieve this level of semantic interoperability

Many organizations are involved in standardization in this space. For instance, W3C is involved in the standardization efforts on IoT beyond the Web itself for example – Device coordination for binding devices and services as part of distributed applications, Dynamic adaptation to user preferences etc).

However, to truly standardize at a data/semantic level for IOT, we have to undertake two steps

a) We have to first achieve success in a specific vertical (ex Transportation)  and

b) We have to then work with other demonstrators to share and adopt common meaning for achieving interoperability at all levels of the stack.

Why is it essential? To recap

Today’s  Internet  is  primarily  characterized  by applications with a human in the loop.  This makes Interoperability a  bit  easier,  as  the  humans  are responsible for processing the “semantic” part of the communications (i.e. the meaning). But when we have pure machine to machine communication(with no human presence), semantics become critical. Hence, Interoperability is fundamental to the success of IOT.

Image source:

Chairing webinos workshop on multi-device application middleware challenges

Chairing webinos workshop on multi-device application middleware challenges in Montreal 


09:00-10:30 Paper session 1;
Chair: Christian Fuhrhop, Fraunhofer FOKUS, Germany

09:00-09:30 Towards a Personalized and Distributed In-car Infotainment Experience Usingthe Open and Web-based webinos Middleware: S. Isenberg (BMW Forschung & Technik GmbH, Germany) K. Bangalore (Technische Universität München, Germany) M. Goebl (BMW Forschung & Technik GmbH, Germany) W. Haberl (BMW Forschung & Technik GmbH, Germany) U. Baumgarten (Technische Universität München, Germany)

09:30-10:00 Efficient Data Sharing for Multi-Device Multimedia Applications: H. V. Hansen (University of Oslo, Norway) F. Velázquez-García (University of Oslo, Norway) V. Goebel (University of Oslo, Norway) T. Plagemann (University of Oslo, Norway)

10:00-10:30 Virtual Browser for Enabling Multi-device Web Applications: B. Cheng (NEC Laboratories Europe, Germany)

10:30-11:00 Break

11:00-12:30 Paper session 2 / Panel discussion;
Chair: Ajit Jaokar, FutureText, UK

11:00-11:20 Follow you, Follow Me: Using Location Tracking To Mitigate Multi-Device Privacy Threats: B Paske (University of Oxford, UK) J. Lyle (University of Oxford, UK)

11:20-11:40 Application Architectures for Smart Multi-Device Applications: J. Chmielewski (Poznán University of Economics, Poland) K. Wolczak (Poznán University of Economics, Poland)

11:40-12:30 Panel-Discussion: Multi-Device App Middleware Challenges Moderation: A.Jaokar, Participants: All paper authors

 Christian Fuhrhop, Fraunhofer FOKUS

Stephan Steglich, Fraunhofer FOKUS
Ajit Jaokar, FutureText

Christian Fuhrhop, Fraunhofer FOKUS
Stephan Steglich, Fraunhofer FOKUS
Ajit Jaokar, FutureText
Nick Allott, Nquiring Minds
Katrin Jordan, Deutsche Telekom
Alan Baldwin, Samsung UK

For any further information contact 
[email protected]