What Price a Cup of Coffee?

Coffee has become increasingly important to me as I’ve got older. Y’know I’ve started to realise that I really like coffee. I’m no expert on coffee roasting and I usually go for a fairly medium flavour (Clipper Organic Arabica is my coffee of choice, primarily because it’s a fairly middle-of-the road taste but also because it is Fairtrade – something I feel strongly about).

However for me coffee isn’t about the drink but what the drink means. It is the chance to have a quick break, a relax, some time away from what ever I’m doing. This is of utmost importance now that I have 3 children, sometimes looking forward to a coffee is the only thing that gets me through the day! I enjoy coffee alone and also with friends, it’s a great way to get things out of my system and allow tensions to drift away. I also drink a reasonable amount of coffee while working (usually decaf if I can) and now and then drink it away from my PC!

Yesterday I read a post on the library Scribbles blog entitled What price a cup of tea? Apparently in line with the European Work directive Canterbury Christ Church University Library has issued an instruction by memo stating that staff should no longer take tea/coffee breaks unless they are happy to make the time up.

As Andy Ekins, the author of the blog explains:

Nothing much has changed. Staff are still having a break, their working pattern hasn’t altered a great deal, and the amount of work they are doing during the day is unchanged. What has changed is their attitude toward the job. Some staff now feel that they need to work to rule rather than be trusted to manage their own time. Some staff (me included) regularly work extra hours, or work at home in the evenings. Some staff give up mornings, evenings, or weekends to come in outside their normal hours of work. I have done this on many occasions during my six years here and never once have taken TOIL or been paid overtime. This recent development has left some staff wondering if they should be committing so much of their own time to work issues when their employer is so strict with the working day.

Taking a break is so important. I’ve talked about it a fair amount on this blog, especially in my early days as a remote worker, because breaks are one of the first things that slip when you are working from home.

I need to make myself have regular breaks because they keep me fresh, motivated and working effectively.

Staff also need to feel that their employer actually cares that they are happy in their job.

Back in February 2009 I wrote that staff remain an employer’s most valuable asset and how the recession was causing employers to forget this.

We are all still fighting for jobs but I do believe it is the organisations that treat their staff with respect who will come out fighting and with their head held high. A cup of tea or coffee is worth its weight in gold if it keeps your workforce working for you, rather than in spite of you.

Andy concludes his post by asking:

So what price have the Senior Management Paid for their cup of tea?
Potentially I think one of the highest prices they could have paid: the morale, support, and dedication of their staff.

Someone in their management team may well be kicking themselves that they didn’t take a little more time-out before they distributed their memo. Maybe a cup of tea or coffee would have cleared their head?

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Look! We’re on Google Street View!

Yesterday morning the buzz on Twitter was about the newly updated Google Street View service. Although Google launched their UK service back in March last year only 25 cities were available. Google have now updated their site to 96% UK coverage with nearly a quarter of a million miles of British roads photographed.

The images are captured by a fleet of Google vehicles including vans, cars and trikes, all specially modified with a panoramic roof camera. Their current platforms include nine directional cameras for the 360° views, a GPS unit for positioning and laser range scanners.

Our house (in the middle of our street…)

Everyone’s first instinct once they realise that the images are live is to search for their own house. Mine was there looking just like it does in real life. Both our cars were outside and you can even see our cat sitting under one of the cars and peeking up the Google camera. Google maps coverage hasn’t been that great in our area and the satellite images available are nothing to write home about, so when I first saw the Google street view of my house it struck me as being pretty impressive. It’s not only impressive it is actually quite scary. The fact is that anyone who knows my address can now see what my house and my road look like at the click of a button. OK so I’m posting the image here, but that’s my choice. Google Street View have taken away my choice about whether or not people can see my house. The implications of that are incredible, in fact it’s hard to know at this stage what they will be.

The images in my area were probably taken over 6 months ago. I’ve yet to discover a date stamp and I don’t think that data is actually available. Some people have said that they can pinpoint exactly when the photos were taken (I know mine were taken on a Tuesday as our green bins are out!). One suggestion is to find your nearest newsagents and look for a news board outside with the date on. There are probably ways you can find out, but then the overall view of the UK is like a huge jigsaw puzzle so definitive dates are probably tricky. After a virtual tour of my town it’s amazing how many things have changed since Google visited. Shops have closed and new shops have opened, walls have been painted and signs have been replaced…but the fact remains that you can pretty much experience what it is like to walk round my town without actually visiting it.

Street View Uses

On the Google street view site there are suggestions of how we can use the images. Ideas range from promoting your business by showing them your building facade, nearby amenities, landmarks and lesser-known attractions to embedding views into geography and history lessons. As a remote worker having a real world view of the planet at our finger tips could make life a lot easier. We can all be armchair tourists never having to travel again. Last week I visited Sheffield to run a workshop. While there I checked out the University as we are holding an event there in the Summer. I could quite easily have used Google Street View for about 90% of what I needed to see. Admittedly it couldn’t have taken me inside buildings and sometimes it is difficult to get a feel for how far apart locations are but it now seems difficult to justify a £70 train fare and £50 overnight stay when the job can be done from a PC.

Organisations like the National Trust, VisitBritain, VisitEurope and the Tate Gallery have all already embarked on projects using Street View. The Tate has linked up locations depicted in images in its collection with the the online street view image from today. Users can see how urban and rural environments have changed and consider how artists such as Turner and Constable painted views that are now lost.

Privacy

So what about the privacy issues? I must admit that seeing my house up there for all to see did make me feel a little exposed at first. Most of my life is already on the Web: there are photos, videos, status updates and my inner most thoughts (but only the ones I chose to share). So now my house joins the list, what’s the big deal? Well critics claim that street-level information could be exploited by criminals. Despite steps to preserve anonymity (Google’s technology automatically blurs number plates and faces) people can identify themselves on photos. Google has made it very easy for people to request that inappropriate photos be removed but will people be able to find the inappropriate photos of relevance to them that are out there? That is a needle in a haystack challenge for anyone. Apparently some places have tried to stop the Google car entering their area but still their town is available online. As for me I’m undecided. There is no doubt that this is an amazing tool…but sometimes it feels like that for everything amazing there is a price to pay.

I thought the Tweet observation made by Bethan Ruddock (bethanr on Twitter) was interesting:

odd to see everyone’s responses re street view – we’ve been on it for over a year. guess I’ve just got used to it..

Maybe it won’t be long till being able to do a virtual tour of every neighbourhood in our country seems as normal as can be. Right now I find myself in the funny position of feeling both a little bit vulnerable and a little bit impressed by Google’s offerings of the day.

The Lowering Costs of Teleconferencing

A colleague recently alerted me to this Twitpic photo taken by Andrew Back of a book page showing 1982 teleconferencing costs. A three way call could cost up to £250 a go! Just think of the pressure on you to say something worthwhile!!

Teleconferencing still isn’t that cheap. At UKOLN we use BT Conferencing for conference calls and expect to pay approximately £50 for a 3 line 30 minute call.

Despite the rise in use of VOIP conference calls continue to be a fact of life at most organisations that employ remote workers. The key is to get the most we can out of them. I wrote some suggestions on how to do this back in September 2008 – All the Fun of a Phone Conference.

Where Exactly are You?

…or the problem with location data.

Geolocation by hawaii

Occasionally, as an end of month treat, I’ll pop down to my local pub and make use of their free wifi. They sell quite nice food and it’s good to get out of the house for a while. Most people wouldn’t be able to tell where I’m working from. It’s all part of that ‘beyond the office’ thing I’ve talked about many a time on this blog.

At the moment not a huge amount happens to my location data, well at least not that I can see. Things are changing though and details of where you are when you use your laptop or mobile are becoming much more useful

I’ve already mentioned that Google have recently introduced optimised search suggestions based on location on both the iPhone and Android platforms. They’ve also been running their Latitude service since early 2009. Location data is already being used to help users navigate new spaces, aid them in finding nearby services, personalise weather reports, the list goes on. See wikipedia’s entry on location-based services for more details. There’s also a comprehensive look at geolocation apps on the Hawaii blog.

Use of location data is likely to be a big one at the Institutional Web Management workshop I chair. Last year we had a session on building an institutional geolocation service, this year there is an even keener interest in geolocation and mobiles.

So what’s the problem?

Last week the read-write web blog reported that John Morris, general counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology had said at a Congressional hearing on location data and privacy that:

The writing is on the wall that there will be baseline privacy legislation introduced. It will require location be treated as sensitive data, like medical data. You’ll need to do more than just post a disclosure statement.

The issue is that “many users are concerned about their location being exposed in ways they don’t control, and that have adverse impacts on their safety and freedom.

The read-write web blog argues however that “it is the culture of sharing by default that makes location-based services what they are.

The concerns are not new. Back in 2008 The Centre for Digital Democracy told the BBC that “while these services will be a powerful force in our lives they are a potential privacy nightmare.” This reaction was in response to the launch of Yahoo’s Fire Eagle which lets users manage information on where they are.

Again it’s the usual privacy versus transparency/sharing argument.

So some questions to consider…

  • Although there is probably an option to turn off location-services on devices are users always going to remember?
  • Are you happy for your location data to be shared?
  • Do you want your boss to know that you are in the pub during work time?
  • Do you want your colleagues to know that you’ve ended up in the police station?
  • What about if you are an estranged from your partner and don’t want them to be able to track you down?

It’s clear that there are lots of times when we want to keep our location to ourselves.

Back in 2003 J.E. Dobson and P.F. Fisher wrote an article for IEEE Technology and Society Magazine entitled Geoslavery in which they compare the use of Geographic information systems (GIS) technologies to George Orwell’s concept of big brother. The authors, both GIS experts, quote a colleague who said “Invent something dangerous enough, and screw it up badly enough, and you’ll have a job forever.

Much can be done with location data, and therein lies the rub….

What do people think? Will legislation prevent the rise of many location services?