slef-reflections on Business Matters


Conferences and events

Enterprise Week 2007

Posted by mjr 2007-11-14

I was in Bristol for other reasons again yesterday (as I was last Tuesday too), so I popped along to the advertised Trade Fair at City of Bristol College - or at least I tried to. If it was running, it wasn't an open door event, apparently. I left the business department some info on Cooperatives-UK and -SW anyway.

I'm a bit disappointed with Enterprise Week so far. It clashes with at least two other government-sponsored "Week" campaigns (one of them is Get Safe Online week, which I'll write more about next week) and only business networking groups seem to be pushing it heavily here. I'm reconsidering whether I'm going to go to events on Thursday or Friday as I'd intended.

The Social Enterprise People: Opposites Attract is running at Ely tomorrow (Thursday) but I'm a little hazy on when it starts and finishes.

Other than that, I've not had any responses to asking what events are happening. Is England not very enterprising in 2007?

Posted by mjr 2007-11-09

Next week is Enterprise Week in the UK and Thursday is Social Enterprise Day - what are you doing next week? Are you holding your own event, or going along to someone else's? What do you hope to get out of it?

The enterprise week web site is http://www.enterpriseweek.org/ and please leave comments here.

London LinuxWorld Postponed

2007-09-19 (Permalink): IDG World Expo announces:

"It is with regret that we must announce that LinuxWorld Conference & Expo London 2007 has been postponed until spring 2008."

Anyone interested in an UnConference? At least we shouldn't cancel that.


Cooperatives SW

Cooperatives SW is the regional council of cooperatives and mutuals in South-West England (Gloucs, Bristol, Wilts, Somerset, Dorset, Devon, Cornwall and the Isles). I attend on behalf of the small workers' cooperative partnership that I work for.

The Conservative Co-operative Movement

Posted by mjr 2007-11-08

I wasn't going to post again today, but the launch of The Conservative Co-operative Movement says something fundamental about the insanity of UK politics. I'm just not sure *what*.

I've kicked off a discussion and poll on Co-opNet about the CCM to see what reaction it gets.

September steering

2007-10-09 (Permalink): I was at the September meeting of the Cooperatives SW steering group a couple of weeks ago. We had two new members (Alex Lawrie from Upstart and Alan Bonner from RadCo) and a guest from Co-operative Futures. Unfortunately, we seem to have lost our only member from a Credit Union.

Our guest told us about how important it is to put information about co-operative business models into Business Link and offer paths from BL "Information and Diagnostic Brokerage" to co-operative development bodies (CDBs). I agree with that - by and large, BL were hopeless about anything other than a sole trader business when I used them (in 2000 and again in 2002/3) and knowing more about co-operative development would have saved me about a year of confused administration. (However, my then-local CDB was also a competitor, so they weren't much help even once I found them.) There are also some other ideas to connect CDBs to funding better, which the CDBs are going to develop with our blessing and bring back later.

Related yet different, we were told that the Regional Infrastructure for Social Enterprise is about to launch a trade association and may exclude all co-operatives from it by mistake.

Other than that, it was mostly about getting promotional materials and plans in place for the Co-operatives SW Annual Meeting in Exeter on Monday 22 October ( places available to all co-operative members).

July steering

2007-07-10: Yesterday was the July meeting of the Cooperatives SW steering group. As usual, we started with introductions over a snack, including welcoming our new support worker, then reviewed developments on open topics from the last meeting, including production of the new promotional leaflet. We need some good quotes from relevant politicians or prominant local cooperators to finish it up, as well as a bit of data from Cooperatives UK.

Other topics included planning for the October 2007 annual meeting, communications (if you want a Cooperatives SW newsletter and meeting details and you don't currently get them, please leave me a comment and I'll put you in touch with them), surveying and maybe an outward-facing event in 2007. We also happily accepted applications from Upstart and Radstock (no website? small pic) to join the steering group. I'm particularly happy to have another workers' cooperative there.

Amongst other topics and announcements, there was some troubling feedback about RISE-SW not being talkative about this summer's social enterprise support bids. Does anyone know more about this bid?

First meeting

At the 2006 AGM I was elected to its steering group and today (2007-01-22) is my first meeting. I'll be going along and learning about how coops are communicating and marketing in the region, and hopefully something about the nuts and bolts of structural funding. I think that's what BASIS bids are.

I'll be travelling to the meeting by train on First Great Western, who have hit the headlines this morning because of a mass protest against overcrowding on the Bristol-Bath route. It'll be extremely unusual if there's any overcrowding on daytime Bristol-Taunton trains. I'll bike to the easiest station, but I can't remember whether I can take my bike on these trains.

Aside: The above was blog 128 on the BBC's First Post blog. Firstly, funny to be a power of 2. Secondly, the name just makes me think of hot grits and Natalie Portman.

So, what happened at Cooperatives SW?

I left home a bit late and rushed to the train stop, but the journey was easy after that. There was quite a good turnout at the meeting: Chris (chair), Alex (clerk), Paul (treasurer), Brian (secretary), Malcolm, Paul, Andrew and myself IIRC.

Continuing: A promo leaflet is on hold until after funding is sorted out; No mutuals responded to a funding request letter; The reply to the BASIS grant bid is expected some time in January; The database update is waiting on Plymco as far as I could tell.

Financial: the clerking contract went about 700 quid over budget last year and has been reduced to a skeleton service until funds are sorted out again. Donations from the Coop Group and Midcounties were forecast but aren't in the bank yet.

AGM: the aim is to return to more of an event next year. Holding it in October should hopefully avoid the transport and weather problems of the 2006 event.

Fund-raising: Chris to draft a bid for the cooperation fund to try to secure enough money for a support worker. The priorities would be clerking and event organisation, with possibly marketing, communication and news-production tasks. Numbers to come from the support tracker that Alex has been using. Need some sort of corporation to apply. Alex, Brian and myself to assist. 12 February deadline. Reply expected in March.

Future work: newsletter deferred to mid-March. News items to Alex.

Paul (I think) mentioned that some Healthy Eating Partnerships seem to be promoting their box schemes as 'Food Coops' when they are not cooperatives at all. We need to contact partnerships and find out which is doing what.

Alex handed out a few Principle Six speed-networking packs. Interesting idea.

Paul mentioned Cornwall Switch which will find the best green energy supplier for you (even if you're not in Cornwall).

Next meeting 16 April 2007.


Good Business

Nationwide - UK's First Email-Security-Clueful Bankers?

2007-09-27 (Permalink): I'm checking available banking services for work. I'm looking mainly for features like accessible free-software-friendly internet banking, integrated VISA credit card and easy-to-access counter services and I have a preference for mutuals.

I did a double-take when the email enquiry reply from Nationwide arrived. It started with the line

"-----BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE-----"

That's a first. Their key's on my preferred keyservers and everything. Wow. I can't find a page on their web site about this, but it looks intentional.

Bank email security has been irritating me for some time. Very few of my customers use GnuPG yet, and even fewer of my providers. Well done Nationwide!

niq commented:

"Speaking as a longstanding (and broadly speaking happy) nationwide customer, I've never seen that. The only emails I get from them are reminders to please go online and view my statements. I'm uneasy about those: the fact they send anything by email might lower the barrier to entry for phishers.

Was this a reply to email addressed to an individual there, or a "dear nationwide" inquiry?"

It was a "dear nationwide" one, which made it all the more surprising. There should be a follow-up reply with the rest of the answer, so I'll watch with interest for GPG on that one.

Run on the Bank

2007-09-17 (Permalink): For one UK bank, "innovation" has included funding long-term home loans mostly with short-term inter-bank loans. So, the increased costs of obtaining inter-bank loans during a credit crisis caused Northern Rock to obtain support from the central bank, the Bank of England.

Once that became public knowledge, as it must, it started a predictable run on the bank, as described in Guardian Unlimited: Between Rock and a hard place - savers besiege bank. Savings are leaving at a rate of almost a billion pounds (1.6bn euro?) each day just now.

In turn, that makes the bank's loans-to-savings ratio even more extreme, which then worries more savers and we're into a feedback loop, with queues growing out of the bank's doors, customer sit-ins [BBC West] and other unsettling side-effects.

Northern Rock is a former member-owned building society which demutalised (converted to a shareholder-owned bank) in 1997. In just ten years, it has become committed to a business model which seems to scare many of its savers. Would it have done that if it was still controlled by its savers and borrowers? Is this exodus of savings going to be matched by loan customers moving away too? Will any of these customers return to the mutual and co-operative sector?

It now seems sort of academic whether Northern Rock is on the list of online banks that work with free software, as commentators suggest it may be taken over soon.

2007-09-18 Update: the UK government has guaranteed all deposits in the dodgy bank. This is a bad thing, as explained on niq's soapbox: Race to the bottom.

Saying that Green is Good

I was asked:

"How can I change the ways I communicate to set a good example of green-ness to company employees? Does anyone have some ideas? This is rather outside of my knowledge field. I guess anything that decreases carbon footprint is probably good?"

Most of this is obvious. We know we should be doing it, but sometimes the usual "too hard" excuses get in the way. Just doing it and making it clear why you're doing it is the biggest step. Like hand-correcting a small error in an internal note instead of reprinting, using both sides of the paper or 2-up printing, or moving to electronic communication instead of paper where possible.

Two of my consumer co-operatives ( the Cooperative Group and the Phone Co-op ) take it a stage further: communicate it to others and persuade them to take similar action. tCG does this with its Climate Challenge pledge and Climate Doctor online Q+As. Phone Co-op ask customers to switch to paperless billing and put profiles of green companies into their (online) newsletters.

Two more asides:

Carbon footprint is not the only aspect of green-ness. It's the most important and popular just now, but there are things that reduce carbon footprint but aren't very green (nuclear power, for example).

Greenwashing is a danger. I feel that communicating that you're very green when you're not really will cause you more trouble in the long run than accurately communicating limited green-ness.

How else would you practice green communication?

In reply to my comment about "things that reduce carbon footprint but aren't very green (nuclear power, for example)", Felipe Sateler asked:

"Why is it that nuclear power isn't green? If residues are disposed of securely, then there should be no problem with it."

It's not green mainly because we cannot yet dispose of nuclear waste. All we do is reprocess it, bury it in high concentrations and pray that the containers don't leak or get vandalised while it's being transported through our major cities, within arm's length of the public on train platforms or after burial, until it has decomposed enough to be "mostly harmless".

There are also the problems of the amount of energy used in constructing and operating the power plants with all their security measures; and energy security for England, because current nuclear fuels are relatively rare and imported, and nuclear power stations are often built in flood-risk areas. Our nuclear power system seems very fragile.

Read more from Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace UK about why nuclear is not green.

Train Travel

Unlike the disgruntled travellers, I'm quite happy with how my travelling went on 7 March. First of all, I saved a few pounds by buying a National Rail ticket across London instead of a London Zone 4 ticket. It was a bit further to walk at the end (National Rail stations aren't as close together as London Underground ones), but not much.

Secondly, on the return leg, I arrived at Paddington to see a departures board full of Delayed messages. It seems that there was an 'incident' at Burnham, Bucks.

I couldn't tell whether my booked train was going to run or not, so I went to the Great Western customer information desk where the nice lady endorsed my ticket to open it for travel on any trains in the right direction. I think she might have been glad to have a customer not ranting and raving about the delays, as well as wanting to clear the hundreds of people from the station as soon as possible.

As it happened, I got an additional service out of London. It looks like my booked train was cancelled - the additional train looked like it was pulled out of storage and overdue a refurbishment - torn seats, worn carpets and engines that sounded none too smooth, but they got us there. Then, a good connection at Bristol meant I arrived home a little earlier than originally scheduled. Well done Great Western! An elegant recovery from utter chaos, as far as I could tell.

Bristol Wireless selling reconditioned computers

Over at Bristol Wireless:

"Computers for sale from £50 ... 5+ in stock ... internet-ready, virus-free computers from our base in St Werburghs Community Centre."

(seen via BBLUG)

Gossypium

I love email newsletters that move slickly from ranting to advertising. Here's one from Gossypium:

"We believe that something is critically wrong with all those head in the sand neoclassical giant companies, that have been built on economical models that we would now consider antique and even dangerous for the human evolution.

New business models like Gossypium have managed to rebalance the relationships between the economy, society and the environment.

It is now accepted by all that we will need to change and that there is no turning back.

We as a brand are trying to make this easier by offering positive alternatives.

So here is our great T-shirt collection"

Source

I just wish I could do that in such an amusing way. But I can't, so I'm currently shuffling a few things around to make my Business feed a bit more work-relevant.

If you are subscribed to my Business-only feed for the Media items, please switch to the Hacks feed. Meanwhile, Webmastering articles will change from the Hacks feed to the Business one. And there's some more changes which I'm still working out. Watch this space.

Contracts for people to work on Free Software

This is a reply to Andrew McMillan Contracts for people to work on Open Source Software, posted on my blog because of yet another stupid eyetest.

It looks like there might be a loophole: Clause 2 maybe gives ${COMPANY} rights to access the source code of later versions, just because ${EMPLOYEE} used one version at ${COMPANY}.

I don't think it's fair for ${COMPANY} ownership to be the default instead of joint ownership.

I didn't spot anything obviously missing.

I'd like to see ${COMPANY} changed so that the workers are owners rather than merely employees, but that's probably not on offer ;-) However, that's part of how TTLLP side-steps the question - it's a partnership, not a employer-employee situation where the employer's owners try to own the fruits of the worker-employees' labour in addition to the company's assets.

Marc Fargas commented about the work-grabbing contract clauses --

"From clause 2 I understand the ${COMPANY} has access to later version **used in the ${COMPANY}** ""of such software in use at ${COMPANY}."", not any later version, just those used while being in ${COMPANY} as they may be depending on such code."

So, is this (all versions of (such software in use at ${COMPANY})) or ((all versions of such software in use) at ${COMPANY})? Whoo, a lawyerbomb - it's unknowable unless it's reached court.


TTLLP

Telephones

And the award for worst-addressed post yet goes to COLT Telecommunications for:

"TTLLP
Qewstoke (should be Kewstoke)
Summerset (should be Somerset)"

The dangers of using foreign call centres for data collection, I guess. At least they got the name, street and postcode correct, so it arrived.

The post itself was pretty interesting. It said that 0870 numbers will stop being revenue-shared from February 2008, which seems to be confirmed by this Ofcom press release from April 2006 which I hadn't noticed. TTLLP trades its revenue-share for hunt, voicemail, fax termination and so on, so I wonder what will happen to that service after Feb 2008?

We recently signed up for numbers where we get outbound SIP to PSTN calls too. I was undecided about which number to use in future, but I guess this means TTLLP will switch to 0844 or 01934. There's a bit of flaming going on at Say Not to 0870 which reminded me to update our entry there.

The COLT mailshot came with a calendar to try to persuade you to move your 0870 numbers to them and you can order your own calendar on their site - pictures are holding hands, walking under an umbrella, Brussels Grand-Place (I think), tulips, rowers maybe on Lake Ontario, a diver, a boardwalk, dandelion seeds, walking through fallen leaves, the Millenium Wheel with fireworks, illuminated pine tree, starting an avalaunche and London commuters. Can anyone spot a theme there? I don't.


Statistics

Dude, where's my ad budget?

Or: Collateral Damage by the Cult of Celebrity.

Or: The Hidden Costs of Downloading Porn.

(No, I've not seen the film filked in the post title.)

I got a work call from the advertising manager of one of my customers. They are just starting out with pay-per-click adverts. I understand that it's been working OK for the last few months, increasing their number of sales and general interest by enough to cover the cost. In general, each time they refined their campaigns or spent a little more, they saw a positive result.

I got a call because since the start of February, they were suddenly spending a lot more money, without any corresponding results. Was there foul play? Had a competitor noticed their adverts and kept clicking them from different browsers? In short, was someone running a click-fraud attack on them?

This is the sort of question I enjoy. (I did a statistics degree, but I don't use it directly in most of my work.) I massaged the logs and computed some general-purpose statistics. First, I looked for obvious attacks: were any particular machines or domains responsible for most of the clicks? Most non-IT people use the same ISP at home and at work, in my experience, so if it was a particular competitor, I'd expect to see lots of clicks from one domain.

Nothing really stood out. The next thing I looked at was the geographic locations, very roughly. The pay-per-click adverts are targetted at European users on European sites. If it was some sort of distributed denial-of-service attack, I'd expect to see some increase in American and Asian traffic. Where were visitors coming from?

I looked up locations by the first part of the IP address, which is crude, but good enough for this. You could even do something similar with the the xkcd ipv4 map - it looked like most of the addresses were in Europe, which is what I'd expect. There was one interesting US grouping, but that turned out to be one of the ad networks checking their ad links were still valid.

So, I compared the time distributions of clicks now with clicks a month ago (when the ads were working fine). There were increased numbers of clicks just before 9, just after 17 and midnight-4 local time. I could dismiss the clicks just outside 9-17 common work hours as people looking to buy for their hobbies, but midnight-4 is a bit strange.

Looking in more detail, the midnight-4 clicks were coming mostly from ad placements on one site. Looking at that site, it seems they specialise in 'sexy videos' of celebrities. Needless to say, that was not my customer's intended target market!

I used that information to look at the whole dataset and see how much of the increase was due to that one site. Almost all of it was from there. Scores per night.

Did any of those visitors stay long? Nope. It even looked like some of them were just private web spiders, downloading a page and all links from it, which I guess people might use to bulk-download videos overnight.

So those results were sent to the advertising manager and they've updated their campaigns to exclude that site and any others related to sexy videos. It reminds me of the John Wanamaker quote

"Half of my advertising is wasted, I just don't know which half."

Maybe by working out statistics from the logs, we can reduce it from half for web ads - or at least limit it to half?



Directories Survey

I'm looking at placing our directory adverts for the coming year, but most directory salespeople won't give useful statistics. So I'll run a SLOPpy poll:

Which of the following directories would you use to find webmasters, sysadmins or software developers in England? Just tick the boxes, put any I've forgotten in the others box and click Send (and put your name if you want to be in the thank-you message).

Current Results

As of 30 April, I had 26 responses to my survey asking which business directories people actually use to find people like me, and 15 of them looked like an attempt to rig the poll! Of the others, only W3CSites, FreeIndex and the Chambers of Commerce got much support. I also asked a couple of other forums, where only FreeIndex got much support. A very interesting result and quite different to what I expected.

Thanks to Alan Pope and Sandy for participating - everyone else ticked the box for no publicity!


Comments are moderated (damn spammers) but almost anything sensible gets approved (albeit eventually). If you give a web address, I'll link it. I won't publish your email address unless you ask me to, but I'll email you a link when the comment is posted, or the reason why it's not posted.

This is copyright 2007 MJ Ray. See fuller notice on front page.