People Social Media

Build a #HouseforRudolph

Homelessness is a huge and growing problem in Ireland. This year more than 800 children and their families have lost their homes,

Focus are working to eliminate Homelessness.  This Christmas we want kids in Ireland to build a #HouseforRudolph and the parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, friends to donate to support.

Its easy. Build a house in Lego or Minecraft or draw your house. Or make it any other way. Take a photo or a video. Upload it to  Facebook/Twitter/ Instagram/Youtube/Pinterest wherever  your friends will see it. Tag it #HouseforRudolph

Then text HOMELESS to 50300 to give €4 to Focus Ireland this Christmas

Here are three boys who’ve done their bit, and asked Michael D Higgins, Ryan Tubridy and their pal Hubert to build a house too. (Ff anyone can let the first two know we’d appreciate it)

Tell your friends. Have fun. And donate. Build a #HouseforRudolph  and help end homelessness.



A straw is a small thing

As my Dad used to say “A straw is a small thing but it shows how the wind blows.”

The Brick is a small thing too. A bit bigger than a straw but as Damien Mulley pointed out

Not 100,000 people marching on the streets, but lots of bricks to be built on. And a straw can break a camels back.


Image Joey Gannon on Flickr via CC license

People Social Media Technology

From rec.humor.funny to Twitter

Eoin Kennedy is running the second open conference Congregation in Mayo. This is the intro to the piece I wrote as price of entry.

I can’t think of a worse way to spend time than to take most of a weekend, drive across the country and discuss techniques to use Social Media to market your business.  I can’t think of a better way to spend a weekend than to engage with interesting people around how we share and shape the world we live in.  From a distance Congregation may be either or both of these things. A bit like Social Media itself.

I first used Social Media in 1989. We called Usenet and there is a very small distance between it and social media we use today.   I used it to consume volumes of Star Trek parodies on rec.humor.funny and have serious discussions on Neural Networks with researchers from around the world. What is most interesting about Social Media isn’t its newness, it’s that we keep making and remaking similar tools to help us sense and share and shape our world.

you can read the rest of it  here

Photo Credit Ledelle Moe via Flickr


How we use our technology

My father used tell me a story of an old lady, Mary Dwyer. Mary’s house got ‘the electric’ during rural electrification  in the 1930’s.  Asked how she found electricity Mary declared it to be a wonderful invention. As it got dark in the evening she could turn on the light in her living room, then she could easily find the candles and light them before turning the light off again.

Much like Mary we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of the power and potential of our technical tools.  For the first twenty years electricity was only used to power light bulbs. Then the electric motor was invented. And life changed.

Image via Brian Herzog on Flickr



The tl;dr version is – go see the movie.

The slightly longer version. Possible spoilers. Interstellar is a beautiful movie.  Raised on a diet of Issac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke and Fredrick Pohl I was reminded of some of the vastness of space tonight. And like any movie there are holes to pick. In the end its beautifully filmed, scored and acted. It is more artistic poetry than scientific prose. But that is OK.  There will invariably be comparisons to 2001 (which Clarke wrote the screenplay for and based on his original short story).  While the ending of 2001  reflected an almost drug induced journey into Innerspace and a cold subjectivity, Interstellar is at its heart a story about the love a father has for his children.  Cold and clinical Interstellar is not. It is beautiful. And ambitious and hopeful.

poetry Quotes

An almost advent moment of serendipity

Found in one of those moments of serendipity that makes you smile. Thanks to an almost 5 year old email from Ciarán Ó’Gaora

Reading I’m reminded of John Fanning‘s advice to read less business tomes and more fiction and poetry.

Patrick Kavanagh

We have tested and tasted too much, lover-
Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder.
But here in the Advent-darkened room
Where the dry black bread and the sugarless tea
Of penance will charm back the luxury
Of a child’s soul, we’ll return to Doom
The knowledge we stole but could not use.

And the newness that was in every stale thing
When we looked at it as children: the spirit-shocking
Wonder in a black slanting Ulster hill
Or the prophetic astonishment in the tedious talking
Of an old fool will awake for us and bring
You and me to the yard gate to watch the whins
And the bog-holes, cart-tracks, old stables where Time begins.

O after Christmas
we’ll have no need to go searching
For the difference that sets an old phrase burning-
We’ll hear it in the whispered argument of a churning
Or in the streets where the village boys are lurching.
And we’ll hear it among decent men too
Who barrow dung in gardens under trees,
Wherever life pours ordinary plenty.
Won’t we be rich, my love and I, and
God we shall not ask for reason’s payment,
The why of heart-breaking strangeness in dreeping hedges
Nor analyse God’s breath in common statement.
We have thrown into the dust-bin the clay-minted wages
Of pleasure, knowledge and the conscious hour-
And Christ comes with a January flower.


Image Derek Swanson


Quote of the day

In praise of better questions

“The uncreative mind can spot wrong answers, but it takes a very creative mind to spot wrong questions.”

Anthony Jay


Image Caroline on Flickr

Quotes Science Technology

Looking up with a sense of wonder and curiosity

I grew up with a sense of wonder and curiousity.

Carl Sagan, Issac Asimov and Nicholas Casey helped imbued me with a love of science. The third person was an amazing Science and Physics teacher.

Oscar Wilde said “We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars”

And Sean O’Casey wrote

Boyle: An’, as it blowed an’ blowed, I ofen looked up at the sky an’ assed meself the question — what is the stars, what is the stars?

Joxer: Ah, that’s the question, that’s the question — what is the stars?
Boyle: An’ then, I’d have another look, an’ I’d ass meself — what is the moon?
Joxer: Ah, that’s the question — what is the moon, what is the moon?

Over a decade ago a group of scientists asked similar questions and following their curiosity did something to find out the answers. Today a tiny probe sent 500 million kilometers finished a 10 year journey and in a monumental step for our species landed on a comet. It is a truly wonderful day for science and for wonder. Today instead of looking down the human race looked up.

As a species we need to choose wonder, choose science and hope, choose courage and ambition.


Design for desktop is the new dad dancing

Design for desktop is the new dad dancing. It’s embarrassing and often frustrating for your audience. Back 12 years ago not designing for poor bandwidth was the error of the day. It was the worst form of  dad dancing.

Developers who were used to building client server systems were running applications on internal LANs and then wondering why customers were crying over the speed of deployed websites. Latency issues and dreadful bandwidth were typical problems. Throw in usability issues and there were plenty of disasters.

These days not focusing on mobile first is the same sin. Its all very well to worry about how well the screen will look on the shiny 4K desktop screen but its much more likely that the customer will look at it first on the device closest to hand – their phone. That link on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn that they follow to you. Thats probably on their phone.

Even if you’re not building an app your site needs to be mobile first. Especially if you’re not build an app, and even if you are building an app.

Google measures load time of websites in fractions of a second.  Your customer is judging your site on their phone in a similar timescale.


How to raise €6,000 for charity in three weeks

A couple of months ago a friend, John Holland emailed me about the Focus Ireland “Shine a Light” campaign. Sleep out for Focus Ireland, raise some money.  In a fit of enthusiasm I signed up.

Only later did I realise that the target for the campaign €5,000. My initial reaction was a stronger version “oh bugger”.

Eventual total was €6,076 (€25 offline).  Here’s a summary of how I raised the money and a few interesting things I learned along the way.

Step 1: Astroturf your own charity page.  Arriving at a page that is blank is interesting. What do I donate? What will other people donate. Working on some idea on signalling theory so the first few donations on the page were from me.

Step 2: email a bunch of friends. So the next step was a general email to a few dozen people which brought in another few hundred euro.  Also a very kind friend did a little astroturfing of her own and put in a few smaller amounts suggesting some of the people coming to the page might be scared off by the €50 donations.

Step 3: Small bit of blind panic wondering how we’re going to get to €1,000 much less €5,000

Step 4: Go for broke. So with a few thousand twitter followers and 1,500 people I actually know on LinkedIn I decided to do a little bit of email and social media marketing.

Step 5: Create a link to the page in to see how many people will click through to the page

Step 6: Download the email address of 1,500 people on LinkedIn and email them asking for sponsorship. I started by emailing the first 30 people individually. I then switched to BCC’ing groups of people. At this point after about emailing 1,000 people via BCC on my GMail account in groups of 200 I broke Gmail and it wouldn’t let me send any more emails.  I switched to another Gmail account for the last 500 or so.

Quite a few people emailed back and those donating drove the sponsorship over €2,000.

Step 7. Starting to think with my analytical hat on I decided to pull the email addresses into MailChimp. First step was to remove anyone who’d bounced, or sponsored or for some particular reason didn’t make sense. This took the totals down.  I pulled in the data and split into two groups – split on the surname rather than anything else and send in two different lots. One in the middle of the night, one the following morning. (To make sure that nothing blew up with the first campaign).

The analytics on this are quite interesting. Relatively high open rates and quite a different click through rate on the two groups.

This drove the sponsorship over the €3,500 figure which was great.

I was also tweeting and Facebooking the link  and some money came in this way.

Step 8 was to redo the Mailchimp campaign a few days before the sleepout. Segmenting into 4 groups of quality. People who’d opened > 2 times, people who’d opened 1-2 times, people who’d opened once and people who hadn’t opened at all.

At this point I discovered that Mailchimp had flagged me and was reviewing my account. With only a few days to go I decided to go back to the Gmail approach.

This time I asked for a very specific €5-10 figure. To try and not intimidate anyone. I removed anyone I knew who’d sponsored me or who’d replied privately and reran the campaign.

In my third mass emailing I watched the figure go over €4,000. Then with a €900 anonymous donation hit €5,000.

And it kept on going.

Here’s a summary of what I learned

People are generous. The amounts varied from €5 to €900 and each donation was great. I’d love to know who donated the €900.

The Sponsorship page for Focus Ireland is dreadful and needs to be improved. About 450 people arrived at the page and about 200 people sponsored. Somewhere along the line thats a few thousand euro in sponsorship that was lost.  At an average of €34 per person donating thats qu

Very few people who landed on the link after I hit the target sponsored me. I’m not sure if this was a case of target unlocked and people felt they were off the hook or for some other reason. I’d love to understand more.

Most important of all.  There are over 5,000 people homeless in Ireland. Over 45 families were made homeless in Ireland last year and Focus needs all the support you can give. You can donate here 

as a p.s. hear are some of the raw analytics from Mailchimp

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