Not ready to #DeleteFacebook? Here’s some baby steps…

I admit it. I still haven’t taken the plunge to #DeleteFacebook. I can’t remember the last time I posted anything on it, but friends still invite me to events and send me messages via Messenger. Likewise, I haven’t brought myself to using VPN as standard, or Tor for that matter!

That said, here’s some things you might like to try, that have stuck for me. Let me know what else I’m missing!

Use Firefox, and enable first-party isolation. This isolates cookies so that only the site which you were accessing when the cookie was ‘dropped’ can access it, making it harder for folks like Google and Facebook to track you across multiple sites. If you can’t quite quit the Google Chrome habit, try installing the Privacy Badger extension instead.

Switch to DuckDuckGo for your search. If you’re giving Google everything you’re searching for, you’re just making it easy. While you’re at it, review your Google privacy settings.

Consider changing your DNS to 1.1.1.1. It’s not perfect — you’re trusting CloudFlare rather than your ISP or other DNS provider with your privacy, but it seems like the best of a bad set of options for now. Limitations in other aspects of internet protocols like SNI, and the fact IP addresses themselves can identify the site you’re accessing means this will unlikely to be completely anonymous for the immediate future.

Consider disabling Facebook Platform. The horse has definitely bolted the stable door, but at the very least it’s worth reminding yourself exactly who your data has already been shared with…

Unfollow all your Facebook friends. This does nothing for your privacy, but wonders for your time. My feed is empty — but I can still check up on individual friends when I think of them, and they can still invite me to events.

Are there other habits you’ve successfully changed to increase your privacy online? Would love to hear them!

Exploding cows in Minecraft…

Last weekend I was at Womad festival, helping kids fire exploding cows from catapults in Minecraft. Not my usual line of work as CTO, or typical festival experience for that matter!

I was volunteering with Devoxx4Kids who organise events worldwide where children can develop computer games, program robots and also have an introduction to electronics. CERN had invited Devoxx4Kids to take part in the workshops happening at the Physics Pavilion.

We ran 3 packed out workshops across the weekend, with children ranging from about aged 6 to 13. While there was a whole range of knowledge levels, almost everyone was familiar with Scratch — and they most definitely knew far more about Minecraft than me!

Warm up before a session!

The workshops involved writing some Java using Minecraft Forge and Eclipse in order to introduce a catapult into the Minecraft world, understand the impact of angles on how far the catapult could fire, and ultimately throw some surprisingly explosive animals!

As volunteers, we were split around 50:50 between those that had a technical background or not — it wasn’t about showing off our own technical knowledge — more asking questions and helping the children stay on track with the activity. A particular shout out to Cesar and Dan, whose hard work meant the rest of us could just turn up on the day!

It was humbling to see how well our attendees all tackled the challenge — their thoughtfulness on variable names for their animal of choice, and somewhat more destructively, delight at changing how big an explosion to create when it landed!

While it was only a small taster, hopefully it reinforced the realisation (for both parents and children!) that by coding they can actively change the world they experience in these games, and perhaps continue to grow an interest in technology.

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Starting a remote working journey

Today I head to Gran Canaria for a month. Not for holiday, but to work. I’ll be leaving my friends and work colleagues back in London, whilst trying to convince them that this isn’t all about sitting on a beach and surfing all day long.

I’ve always read with admiration and a fair dose of jealousy the stories from various digital nomads around the web. Free to go where they will, work as they please. And yet I’ve never felt able to take the plunge.

While I’m only dipping a toe in to start, this is as much a company challenge as a personal one. At FundApps, we’ve grown to a team of 8 so far, all based in London. We want to foster a great place to work, and realise creating a remote-working friendly environment is a big pull for many people (as it is for ourselves). We’re also planning to expand into the US, and so we know we’ll *have* to soon deal with the practicalities of asynchronous working with a remote team in a different timezone.

We’ve grown as a clustered, centralized unit based in London without having to address these kinds of questions up front — so we’re now having to retrofit a remote-friendly culture. Working from home a day or two a week is pretty easy, when there’s still enough in person interaction to cover up any cracks in your approach to remote working. But when you take away that regular in-person contact, all that effortless information you pick up in the office fades away.

How do you make sure everyone knows what’s going on? Feels included? Feels part of a coherent company culture? How do you keep learning and sharing knowledge? How do you hire and interview? On a personal level, how does the reality stack up? How do you replace the personal contact that you’d normally have in the office with colleagues?

I know to do this well will be hard, especially with the rest of the team still being a core coherent unit back in London. But I’m hoping this will be an opportunity to learn a lot — and share the experience, both from a personal standpoint, and as a startup founder.

Onwards! I have a flight to catch.

PS I would love to hear your own thoughts. Do you care about remote working? What have you tried? What’s worked or not? Or what’s putting you off, or holding you back from trying it — either personally or at your company?

Talking at the London .NET User Group

I gave my first ever presentation yesterday at the London .NET User Group (held at Microsoft’s offices in London) on their “Open Mic” night yesterday. The talk was on “AJAX in ASP.NET” and I amazed myself and actually really enjoyed the experience! A number of people commented on my decision to write code as I talked in the demo (rather than pasting it and talking people through it), and by the sounds like this was a good option (provided you remember what you’re writing!) – but you’re obviously fairly limited on the amount of code you’re going to be getting through. On the other hand, if you can’t write it in the timescale of the presentation, then maybe the demo’s too complicated anyway! For anyone who’s interested, I put the slides and demos online here.

Anyhow – my thanks go out to Ian Cooper for giving me the chance to take part – and everyone attending for being so supportive. I’d really urge anyone who’s got a topic that they’re interested in and knowledgeable in to think about giving speaking a go – if I can do it, anyone can! :-,,)

Next stop… the DDD day in October. Hopefully!

Home for Christmas

I’m back home for Christmas now (yes, I know – its barely december… what can I say…?), so I thought I’d finally update my various blogs! It’s been a busy past few months…

In mid-October, I attended the first Microsoft “Connect” event held in Barcelona. The idea behind this was to bring together community leaders from around Europe – along with Microsoft – to discuss what Microsoft can do to help the communities, and to promote their new Codezone initiative. Around 80 people attended, half of which were community leaders. It was a great few days, with some very interesting debates sparking off. The weather was gorgeous too – I took the opportunity to stay on for a few days to see the sights – though had to downgrade from the hotel Microsoft put us up in to a somewhat less classy hostel!

Next up (literally 2 days after getting back from Barcelona) was the first Microsoft Student Partner meeting of the 04/05. For those of you unfamiliar with the programme – it basically targets the most enthusiastic students around the UK taking Computer-related degrees, and encourages them to promote Microsoft initiatives such as the Imagine Cup and MSDN AA – with a few goodies such as a years MSDN Universal subscription to help them on their way! The first day included some team building exercises to break the ice – these actually worked very well, despite my initial scepticism – plus an evening out in Reading (with an almost-open bar). Unfortunately I had to miss the second day of the more interesting technology stuff, but it was great fun – thanks to everyone in the Academic team for a great day!

Towards the end of November we had the third community leaders meeting in the UK. The meeting in Barcelona really made me appreciate how ahead of the game the UK DPE team are – so thanks go out to them once again! During the day we were updated as to what the other community leaders in the UK have been up to – and what Microsoft has been up to on our behalf. We also had a 30 minute slot with Alistair Baker – MD of Microsoft UK, and a marketing session discussing how to write “copy’ that had been requested at earlier meetings. There were also further discussions as to what exactly Codezone should be – especially in the UK where the language issue simply doesn’t apply, given our easy access to a wealth of material in the states.

The following week I headed off to Copenhagen to discuss just that,with a smaller group of community “influencers’ around Europe,and a collection of Microsoft people, including the Codezone program manager Doug Seven (of dotnetjunkies and sqljunkies). It’s been great that Microsoft are actually bothering to ask the community how best they can support us – rather than assuming whatever they do is good for everyone! During the meeting we bashed out the various issues of how to make sure Codezone supports the existing communities as best as possible, without competing – how best to support federating content on the site, what features the codezone platform should offer to third party sites, how offline events can be promoted, and whether the site should be used to track things such as individual’s contributions to the community. As soon as I’ve got a proper summary of everything discussed, I’ll post it here! Also, keep an eye on Doug’s blog.

So, time for a bit of relaxation now! I’m also starting to vaguely plan a 6 month trip around the world – but sadly not until early 2006! I figured after exams every summer for the last 7 years, I’ll deserve a break!