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This will change everything. (FibreGarden to dig)

This will change everything. (FibreGarden to dig)

2015-04-24 13.00.09

Just a quick post to say something exciting happened whilst I was away at GISWORX last week, DigitalDales (trading/operating as FibreGarden) has started to dig in the ducting that will carry the community Fibre network.   This will be great for Garsdale Design as well as residents up Garsdale and Dentdale who will when completed have a word class fibre optic broadband network.   This will change everything around here.

To find out more read David’s blog, those in this area will probably have met David and you will see him driving up and down each dale trying to organise wayleaves and sort out network routes.  His blog posts are regular and a really good read, if you’re a rural fibre broadband supporter you must read it.

2015-04-24 12.59.45

Interview on BBC Radio Cumbria – fibre & future proofing rural broadband

Interview on BBC Radio Cumbria – fibre & future proofing rural broadband

2014-09-16 16.37.27_small
The legendary Martin Lewes!

but it’s far more than a picture or a map it’s one of the most sophisticated programs in the world for designing everything from housing estates to whole cities

On the 16th of September Martin Lewes (@martinlewes) from BBC Radio Cumbria came to visit our offices.   His interest was primarily in the local community broadband project called ‘FibreGarden’.   We had a chat about the work Garsdale Design Limited did and it’s exciting new working in 3D urban modelling using CityEngine.

Listen here to the Radio Interview with Martin Lewes on the Mike Zeller show fast forward to 1:55.12 [Broacast 24th September 2014]

I’ve been asked many times about why we need fibre optic broadband in our area and what it will mean for a business like ours.   Needless to say it will help us stay competitive and allow us to work from the Dales across the globe.   Fortunately they’re breaking ground in October and starting the actual laying of the cables!  You can find our more about FibreGarden (aka DigitalDales) by clicking here.


FibreGarden and myself on TV

FibreGarden and myself on TV

A bit of self promotion here …. I’ll let you watch it in peace… (you have to got watch it on the ITV site (link below)), check out CyberCity3D and ESRI promotional literature as well as some CityEngine and 3D action!


Community’s plan to install their own fibre-optic broadband

A community in South Cumbria could pave the way for areas all over the country to be part of a high-speed broadband network without waiting for any big companies to install fibre-optic cable in their area.

Homes and businesses in Garsdale and Dent have teamed up to create their own community broadband company and are hoping to connect their homes in the New Year.

Fiona Marley Paterson reports.


Review: DropMyEmail, backup for those without adequate broadband?

Review: DropMyEmail, backup for those without adequate broadband?

First up full disclosure: One of my old friends from secondary school has recently started working here. He did not ask me to write this review but I did start using it because I know and trust him.

You probably should backup your stuff somewhere….

Backups, I think everyone reading this will agree are essential if you want to ensure your stuff isn’t lost or damaged by some event, virus or sheer stupidity….   At work we have a system for backing up our data, emails are important but being in control of our data word documents, ArcGIS maps etc.. is essential.  At home it’s a different story it’s not word documents that are important it’s photos and emails.

So I have a solution for photo backups, basically a combination of external hard drive, main PC and Dropbox.   My broadband although not quick can cope with the odd photo or two that I want to share and keep.   It also feels natural to go somewhere take pictures and when home back them up.

Emails are another story, I get a lot, not all are important but it is my life blood at the moment all my life, from receiving that first email from a lady who ended up being my wife to photos of friends, announcements of births, deaths as well as work related emails with important attachments.   Then there are all those online purchases, receipts, serial codes etc!!    Now I really should have a backup of these, Gmail is good but it isn’t perfect and you do hear stories of people who have lost all their emails.

So I have been using an old version of outlook to periodically download all my emails and attachments off gmail and others… trouble is  I less and less use this PC and whole months go by without me using it.   That’s down to me using a work PC during the day and an iPad at home nowadays.

A while back I noticed that one of my old friends had jumped from his then employer Google to a startup called DropMyEmail.  Wow, I thought what the hell is dropmyemail?

Basically is a service that allows you to backup multiple email accounts in one place from a single dashboard. It’s really easy to use and despite a Web Of Trust rating issue (someone seems to have rated it as untrustworthy but is talking about another site), I can assure you it is safe.

It’s quick and easy to setup and can be logged into using twitter, facebook or google accounts, once in you get a free amount of space that you can boost with referrals and the like but 5GB starts at $10 a year which ain’t too bad at all in my book.   You can manage the backups in one place which is great and if you do have multiple accounts the backups can all be searched from here.   Attachments to emails also get their own attachment manager which is very useful and can be used to share them on a number of services.

So why use this service over other methods?   Well for starters if you live in a rural location in the UK and your broadband is poor this could be very useful reassurance. Since it doesn’t rely on you downloading emails to your PC all you have to worry about backing up is your photos, you did do that right? 🙂

Not for everyone I admit, esecpially if you have good broadband speeds.    Also if you don’t trust companies to keep your data safe well I’m not going to convince you!   If you’re interested head over to their site and take a look, it’s free for a set amount of data and if you’ve got multiple email accounts like me you’ll be wanting to upgrade pretty soon.

Summary: Email backup service for multiple accounts
Why? If you’ve got poor internet connections but still need backups of your webmail this is for you.
Rating: For me personally I give it a 4/5 it looses points because their sister site for backing up websites (dropmysite) is not integrated with dropmyemail

Rural Broadband in Cumbria

Rural Broadband in Cumbria

If you follow me on a social network you might have noticed me repeatedly jumping up and shouting look at me I’ve been on TV…. for this I apologise.   I was interviewed as part of a piece BBC Sunday Politics Show was doing about Cumbria’s broadband somewhat stalled initiative.   A local community group called Fibre GarDen was well represented, these guys I am pretty sure will be installing their own Fibre optic data network very soon.   I am helping also them out with some mapping.

CityEngine makes an appearance on BBC North West, and yes that is my work station…

So here is the link which should take you to the 44 minute mark where myself and Garsdale Design make our grand appearance …


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Attending the ESRI UK Conference

Attending the ESRI UK Conference

Okay why a post about some weird acronym type company?  Well in the world of GIS (Geographic Information Systems/Science), ESRI (Environmental Systems Research Institute) a software/consultancy company is a big player.

Yes they are a big corporate entity but in some ways they feel more like a movement, so when their yearly conference comes round I get excited.   Not content with just advertising their products to their customers it feels as if you’re at an event for the GIS industry as a whole.   Whatever issue you might have with ESRI’s software ArcGIS etc… you can’t fault the staff’s enthusiasm and professionalism (well that’s my experience anyway) especially at events like this.

Why the blog post this year? Well because I submitted a paper about using some software in our workflow called CityEngine and was asked to do a presentation on both days.   You can find out more about ESRI here and ESRI UK here, I would also recommend some Wikipedia research on GIS.
You may have come to this post because I mentioned you somewhere, if you want to add something more (links, information etc…) or correct something contact me or add a comment to the relevant post.

  1. ESRI UK Conference – Day 1
  2. ESRI UK Conference – Day 2
  3. ESRI UK Conference – My Presentations
  4. ESRI UK Conference – People I met
  5. ESRI UK Conference – Thoughts for the Future, suggestions for ESRI UK
  6. Back in London – not really related to the conference more musings of visiting our nation’s capital.


The Great Grey Asby (Part 2 – Thoughts) #gab10 #ruralbroadband

The Great Grey Asby (Part 2 – Thoughts) #gab10 #ruralbroadband

It was part way through these #gab10 presentations that I realised what bothered me so much:
Great Asby Village hall and the attendees!
Can you see it?  Well of course you can, the majority of attendees look somewhat, how shall I put this? Grey-haired?  I know @loulouk’s post suggest there was no one under 45:

“All of them, I think, were over 45. Bar Rory’s team, the guest speakers and a few ‘experts’ invited along, no one in the hall was under 45. Someone apparently said they were struggling to enthuse their local parish with the opportunities broadband would bring to the community, and that they had responded that if the older generation couldnt be enthused then maybe the under 20’s could be. The reply? There aren’t any, they’ve all left because there is no broadband.” Source : A Shiny World “#gab10”

Well I was there and I am 32!   But the point is well made, but I think I have an answer to this riddle of why few younger people turned up.  
  1.  for me I had to leave early as it was bonfire night in Sedbergh at 7pm
  2. Saturday’s are difficult for many if you work all week a meeting in the middle of nowhere about computers isn’t that enticing…
  3. I got my invite via Twitter, how were other people identified?  My guess is through Parish councils and local businesses?   If it’s via community groups we know these are not attended well by working age younger people, just because we don’t have the time!

This really goes to the heart of the matter and I know from Twitter and blog posts that a lot of people went away heartened and enthused by this initiative.   “Boo!” to BT and “hurrah!” for local community projects.   I left feeling differently, and yes I know I left just before the round table sessions.  So here are my general thoughts and please note I often like to play devil’s advocate!
There’s a reason why I don’t live near my parents home and business in Sedbergh, and this may come as a shock to some of those at Great Asby on Saturday, it is not due to lack of superfast broadband.   Broadband is way down on my list of priorities when choosing a house.   Is it affordable and near where I work?   That’s what I care most about.   I live in Carlisle and broadband speeds are shockingly bad, so bad that my parents house in Sedbergh outperforms mine at home.   Do I care that much?  Not really as Carlisle is where I could afford a house.  I basically can’t afford to care.
Essentially my family (wife and daughter) and I been priced out of certain areas in Cumbria.  Whose fault is it?  It’s the retired people, or people like my parents (who could retire but choose to work) the news that the over 50s are taking over Cumbria is not a surprise.   With their final salary pensions and young retirement age they got on to the property ladder long ago and now post work have decided to purchase houses in rural areas without it seems much thought as to their future (when they need care for example).   Combine that with Cumbria’s Local Planning Authorities’ obsession with limiting new houses and allowing barn conversions only for holiday homes.  We young working age families never had chance of being able to afforde houses in rural areas of Cumbria.
At Great Asby you’d be forgiven for thinking that broadband will solve everything, the young will stay if they have fibre optic in the village.  No we won’t and we can’t, fibre optic broadband will just add more value to the house prices and working age young people with families will still not be able to afford living in these rural areas.
To avoid the perils of house price rises due to superfast access we need to ensure that fibre is universal (that way it isn’t part of the purchase decision on a house).   I would think most people want a national infrastructure for fibre broadband (I do), but to deliver a national infrastructure either the Government needs to step up and do it or large private companies need to be forced to do it.    Either way, small local projects funded with what is effectively peanuts cannot deliver in a comprehensive way a meaningful solution.   Sorry but they can’t.  
This argument that national fibre is prohibitively expensive to deliver is nonsense.  Yes it is expensive but we could perhaps look at what government spends its money on, for instance do we need the ability to blow half the world up with nuclear weapons (I’m talking trident)?   Or here’s a novel thought: if fibre optics will truly change our country for the better perhaps we’ll recover those costs and then some!   Remembering the meeting I know that fibre has a life of 50 years or more…   The railways were very expensive to build but have paid us back in revenue and new business opportunities over and over.   Let us not think short term costs here, we should consider this a long term investment, not a long term cost.
Most people boo’d at the mention of BT in the meeting probably because they seem to be abusing their monopolistic position.  But let’s face it, that’s the nature of capitalism and it’s not necessarily BTs fault.   BT is a private company looking after themselves and their shareholders (and shareholders are often pension providers I might add!).   Rather than criticising and complaining about BT we should be using its massive reach and infrastructure as part of the solution.   Any superfast network must be a national project, because exclusion is a national issue whether you are in a rural area or in a inner city deprived area.   
The people meeting in Great Asby were there to ensure that rural areas are not excluded from access to the internet at superfast speeds.  The issues being tackled at the meeting are bigger than some piece of cable being laid and we shouldn’t forget that.  This is not really about the technology this is about access to services now and in the future.

A Last Word … 

It was a great meeting and I was surprised at the number of attendees I just hope that expectations are not raised by the politicians and civil servants so much that even small successes are seen as disappointments.

I also hope those that attended are active within other areas to, for example planning and the provision of new affordable (by that I mean cheap not shared ownership) homes in villages as well as using local services such as the post office.

As important as fibre optic broadband is there are other things out there of equal or more importance.  My advice/hope is that these extraordinary people who attended Great Asby on Saturday are not distracted by the flashy technology.

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The Great Grey Asby (Part 1) #gab10 #ruralbroadband

The Great Grey Asby (Part 1) #gab10 #ruralbroadband

Apologies for the title but if you attended you’ll know why I’ve called it that and if you read on (part 2) you’ll find out why!
First find Great Asby…
So on Friday the 29th October I received a direct message (DM) from a Louis Mosley (@louismosley) who works for Rory Stewart the MP for Penrith/Eden area.   The message was an invite to attend a “Broadband Champions Inaugural Meeting”.  This was somewhat out of the blue, now I’ve had the occasional discussions with people on twitter in regards to rural broadband access (@RuralUK and @cyberdoyle to  name but 2) and I followed various threads.   To me there seemed to be people and communities out there doing interesting things to get there internet access.
So I looked into it and saw that Rory Stewart would indeed be attending and that this was part of a long running campaign to get broadband access to rural areas.   Not only that but Cumbria had been chosen as a pilot area to receive government funding (£10-15 million) to increase access to broadband for rural communities.   I won’t go into more details about the history of it or indeed the specifics if you want to read more look at the related links at the end of this post to start you off, this post would be too long otherwise.
The other thing I’ve been doing at the moment is reading Rory Stewart’s book (on my Amazon Kindle) ‘Occupational Hazards’ if you know what I do and have seen my previous post you’ll know why.  
The upshot after some initial research was that I decided to go, I really didn’t know what would happen or who would be there but looking at the map I thought that this might well be poorly attended and somewhat of a ramshackle meeting.  With a politician trying to convince the locals that he actually cared….  (I’m a cynic)
So on Saturday I drove off to Great Asby (an adventure in itself!), when I arrived cars were parked everywhere (they’re still there on StreetView!), so my initial thought about it being poorly attended was trashed immediately.   I was glad I came and now very curious.  
After what can only be described as a good queue (we are in England afterall) I collected my name badge and entered the hall which was packed with people, however something was not quite right and I just couldn’t place my finger on what bothered me (I’ll come back to that in a bit).  
I recognised a couple of people, one of whom I’ve been doing a job for, but otherwise a lot of strangers.   On ‘registration’ we were given a luggage tag and asked to pin it on a map of Cumbria as to where we represented.   I noted that, if I’d known they wanted a map on a single piece of paper I could have helped out there!  
It was here at the map where I met @imhelenj who recognised me from my name as someone from Twitter (unusual apparently to be yourself online, or perhaps a lack of imagination on my part!?).   I must make my first apology, I am normally quite confident but for some reason I was a little nervous and my brain wasn’t quite engaging so words didn’t come easily as a I struggled to look up in my head twitter names and jpgs!  Did I know her?  Had I talked with her?  She had been in some of the conversations but I don’t think we have ever talked directly and just recently she retweeted something of mine .  
During the time before the meeting started @RuralUK found me and said hello.  Again please accept my apologies I was a little overwhelmed and conversations weren’t exactly flowing from me.  In hindsight @RuralUK and I have plenty to say to each other as we have chatted on twitter on a number of occasions.
We all sat down (if we could find a seat) and Rory Stewart got up and presented a very good session we learnt about Great Asby’s broadband initiative as well hearing from people like CISCO and BDUK.   There was also some good Q&As with most of the people who presented.  Rather than me repeat all that we learnt you could just watched the sessions online from here.  
Part 2 will be my thoughts on and from the Great Asby meeting.
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