Tuesday, 29 September 2015

The Second Sleep Out

This year I was, once again, asked to take part in the Sleep Out by the wonderful people at Cathedral Archer Project, after last year’s attitude changing experience I couldn’t refuse.

I asked for volunteers from among my work colleagues this year and, to my surprise, not one but four people stepped forward.  As both the one who had done it before and the oldest I found myself de-facto leader of the little band, a role I both relished and feared.

Together we began the process of collecting sponsors and preparing us all for the event. As the day of the event got closer some of the team began to express some fears and reservations about the event and what may occur, I tried to allay some of those fears but also wanted them to know that this was not to be a night in a five star hotel.

This year, for me, was different to last of course. I knew something of what to expect both from the night outside and the people we would meet. You could say, some of the initial shock-value that left such an impression on me last time out. Not so from my colleagues of course.

As last year, the evening began with a talk from the project staff who related some of the projects aims and directions to us along with some stories of those the project had helped. Rather more statistics followed this year, which sadly only one of which I can remember with any accuracy (it takes approximately £1000 per day to keep the project going). There were others around average ages, life expectancy on the streets and average time spent on the streets, but I don’t want to quote them here as I can’t guarantee their accuracy (I’m happy to put these in at a later point if anyone confirms them to me).

Whilst some of these stories and statistics were shocking and informative, nothing quite prepares you for the stories told by those who are going, or have recently gone through it.

We then moved outside, picking our spots outside the cathedral front. I don’t know whether I noticed it more than last year, but we seemed to get more looks and stares from those using the tram stop or walking by than last year. Two of my colleagues in a move of bravery I’m not sure I would have done, simply walked over to the tram stop and began telling the people what we were doing and why. (I was VERY impressed).

I was nursing an ankle I had sprained a couple of week before and as such didn’t move too far this year, not taking the tour of spots that the homeless sleep in or the tour of the project itself. I thought as I’d done both last year I would really know it all. I was wrong and now wish I had gone on both.

As laid on my sleeping bag in the relatively mild evening I could sense something, a tension in the atmosphere, something I couldn’t quite out my finger on. I looked around me at the people gathered near me my fellow sleep-outs were either on the tour, sat chatting or like me, just sat. I noticed there were markedly more homeless people with us this year than last.

When my colleagues returned from the tour of the city centre, I was told of some of the things they have seen and stories they heard. They had been told of a murder between two homeless people. A story that had a profound effect on more than one of my colleagues, was this the source of the tension? I have no idea and probably never will. It certainly brought home to everyone that life on the streets can carry the highest peril of all.

Sharing the experience with people I knew made the night itself considerably easier to bear than last year, plus meeting someone from last year and being introduced to others made it much more of a sociable occasion. Something which I contemplated later, you only seem to see homeless people in ones, on their own, not in groups small or large. Why is this? I assume there is a reason.

Chatting, playing strange card games, talking about the issues we were there to raise awareness of passed the time, but even so, there were times of silent contemplation and boredom.

The boredom is bad, really bad. As you lay in the artificial orange light on the hard ground, failing to sleep, you mind runs and races. Every shout from the street, every passer by is carrying some imagined (or real) threat. Even though I had done it before and come through unscathed I still felt genuine fear at times, something is a way of daily life for the homeless.

About 3.00am people started to bed down and attempt sleep, I manged a few snatches myself. Around 4.00am the temperature took a very noticeable dive (something I was spared last year). In my borrowed sleeping bag (thanks Will!) I was warm, but any part of me that peeked out felt cold, uncomfortably cold and this was nowhere near freezing point. Another reminder of the harsh reality of life on the streets.

About 5.00am I got out of my bag and walked around a little, get the blood moving again in my very sore ankle and perhaps search out a warm drink. Everyone else seemed to be asleep, so I walked around the cathedral alone for a while, cold, miserable, in pain and alone. From both Sleep Outs, this was the most I felt the reality of being homeless. No hot drink, no warm places to go, nothing to stop the pain, no one to talk to, nothing to do. I was in the middle of one of the foremost cities of the UK and utterly alone both physically and metaphorically. Of course, a swift kick to one of my colleagues was have given me someone to talk to (or be sworn at by) and I was only a matter of few hours from my own bed, to be homeless means nothing to look forward to but more of the same tomorrow and the next night and the next ……..

I clambered back in my bag, wearily and clumsily and laid there, shivering and feeling very sorry for myself and laid awake, waiting for the breakfast call. Mercifully this was less than an hour and we were roused and gathered our things together and moved thankfully into the project for breakfast (bacon and hot tea always tastes good, but so much more so this morning!).

Certificates presented (and my name apparently changed to Daniel Beresford!) and some reminders that our befuddled and bedraggled state was the norm for far too many people and whilst we were staggering off to a warm house and comfy bed, they would start another day, that may include an incomprehensible government claim form, talking to a government employee about their claims and trying hard not to lose their temper!

As I look back at two Sleep Outs, it’s good to see the progress. From one colleague (Mollie) starting off (and sadly unable to be there) in the first instance, to me stepping out on my own last year, to leading a team of five (my sincere and profound thanks to the amazing Sean Hawkins, the wonderful Rich Chadwick, the incomparable Jon Pritchard and the simply awesome Elizabeth Spence) into it this year. From wondering if I’d scrape £100 in the first year in sponsorship to raising over £1200 this year. I feel proud. Proud to help in such a small way, proud to have stepped out, proud to be associated with such a worthy project. But most of all I’m proud of my work mates for coming with me, for developing their own stories and desires to make the world a tiny bit better.

I have already had two more people ask about being involved next year. I will be there and you’re welcome to join us.


Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The Sleep out

After my recent adventure on the “Sleep out” for the Cathedral Archer Project in Sheffield, I feel compelled to put in writing my experiences and thoughts.

I would like to point out this is my recollection of the night and I have tried to do it chronologically but sleep deprivation and old age may mean some things are in the wrong order or missed altogether.

If you’re not familiar with the work of the project you might want to have a look at the web site: www.archerproject.org.uk. In short they are a charity that works with the homeless in Sheffield.

My involvement began after an email went round at Highlander asking for volunteers to take part in a “Sleep Out” for the project, with only a cursory glance at the details I volunteered, after all it’s not like they were asking me to run a marathon or anything difficult, just sleeping, I can do sleeping!

Anyway fast forward to the day itself. Nerves kicked in around mid-afternoon and I really started to wonder what on earth I was doing, especially I was getting no small amount of stick from my work colleagues (but more of them later)!

I arrived at the project in plenty of time, dropped my stuff and went to getting something to eat (and if I’m honest a little Dutch courage). So with a full stomach and my resolve artificially fortified I went back to the project.

We assembled (slowly) in room in the project. I was starting to feel a little out of things already as it was clear many others had come either with one other or in a group and I was alone. I had some brief introductory chats with some of the people around me (a big thank you to them for taking pity on a lonely confused old man!).

We had an introduction to the project from the big boss himself and some tales of previous Sleep Out events, none of which helped settle my nerves as some were rather scary! We also had some introduction the problems that homeless people face, some of which were expected, but some of which I had no idea about. Whilst it obvious is going to get cold and hungry, what I didn't think about was the long hours of boredom, simply nothing to do but walk around. Walking around also helps in other areas, keeping warm, preventing getting abused, getting things stolen and trouble with the police. We were also given a tour of the project and its facilities, there is as you might imagine a kitchen for supplying hot food, free breakfasts etc. Somewhat less obviously (to me at least) was the laundry and the mini dentists surgery (complete with dentist’s chair!). All of which is designed to help the homeless people the basics we take for granted.

About 9.00 PM we were finally moved outside for us to choose suitable spots on which to spend the night. My first thought was under one of the trees in the cathedral grounds especially as rain was forecast for the next morning, until it was pointed out the birds inhabit the trees, with the obvious that may bring, and that at least one of the trees is a horse chestnut and there were a number of conkers which could drop at any point!
My spot chosen I laid out my mat and sleeping bag and….. well that it really, there isn’t much else to carry when your homeless so I sat on it. And sat on it. Chatting a little to the people around me but already gaining a sense of boredom. I watched the people and traffic go past, looked at the architecture of the buildings facing the cathedral grounds, but this soon got dull.

Some soup and a warm bread roll was most welcome, both for substance and something to do.
The cathedral itself was playing host to a Mozart recital and the project had provided some collecting buckets to ask the audience for donations when they left (about 10.00 PM). This have me my first real insight into being homeless. I dashed forward with my new found friends and started to ask for donations, the first half dozen or so people I asked simply walked past me like I didn’t exist, as if I just want there. I found this both confusing and annoying, I decided to change my tactic somewhat and rather than simply asking I decided to explain we were from local businesses and were raising both money and awareness of the project. This worked much better and some money began to flow. So my lesson was learnt, people would give to me to give to the homeless but wouldn't give to the homeless directly. I have no idea why, but when I was assumed to be one of the homeless I was ignored totally but being from a local business made me acceptable.

We were invited on a short tour of some of the sites the homeless in Sheffield sleep in. Our guide, a former inhabitant of the streets, showed us his site and some of the tricks he used to stay hidden and why he chose that spot (a nearby restaurant kitchen door and CCTV being high on the list), we were also showed a few other doorways and location but stopped soon as there were people bedding down already and I for one was keen this shouldn't be a freak show.

Back at my spot I sat down again for a short while before boredom hot again and I went grab cup of tea and use the cathedral “facilities” (another basic denied the homeless).

Boredom, something I so rarely feel, with so many ways to entertain and educate myself, so many ways of filling my time on any other night were not there. Then I imagine that every night and every day. Each day the same as the last, each filled with long hours of nothing, it’s easy to see why people on the streets become involved in drink and drugs (if not already) just to fill the time or make hours disappear.

I was fortunate the evening was extremely mild and had thus far only laid on or sat on my sleeping without the need to get in. I had been idly chatting to those around me and sitting in silence, too dark to do anything like read (I sneaked a book along), some of my fellows attempted to play cards but the lack of light proved too much for them. Around midnight I decided to settle and attempted sleep. It didn't work. Discomfort, noise, breeze, bright lights, people moving even some already snoring combined to make sleep difficult at best.
A homeless lady joined the group and took it upon herself to thank each and every member of the group for their efforts and raising money (even waking a few up to say thank you). She exclaimed how we were the reason she had clean clothes on (she had clearly used the laundry) and how she had saved several week to buy new jeans and told us ho lucky she was a she had rescued a nice new jacket from a skip. Yes, she considered herself lucky, sat with people with jobs and houses and gadgets, she considered herself lucky. She sat for a while and began telling a bit about herself. I won’t recount what I heard, some of it was personal and not for publication of the web by me. But suffice to say, I struggled to hold back the tears that she let flow.

It’s during this time that the real scary moment of the night happened. A couple of men appeared (I didn't notice them approach), our self-appointed guardian (the guide from earlier) had stopped the men from getting too close and a standoff and argument ensued. Things got quite aggressive for a short while I genuinely feared an outbreak of violence. Thoughts rushed through my head as to how I would react if it did, what would I do, what on earth could happen, police? Ambulance?? In the few minutes my head ran riot, while others around me seemed calm or even a little amused. The two men moved off and began singing John Lennon songs as it from a distance for a while (yes really!).

Excitement over and heart rate slowing, boredom soon overcame me again and I did manage about 45 mins sleep. Waking to the sight of man vomiting near the tram stop. Nice.

A spell of dozing, brief spells of sleep and long periods of waking staring at the world. I slept for a while to be woken approximately 4.00 AM with a wet face, fortunately it was rain. I laid for while without moving, then became aware of my neighbours moving, I glanced over and was told (twice) it was raining, “thanks” I thought, I noticed. The drizzle lasted only about half an hour and I simple couldn't be bothered to move as some others did.
I drifted off again and awoke sometime before 6.00, we were told that breakfast was to be served soon, the highlight of the event, bacon! As we stirred, deliveries were being made to some of the shops nearby in advance of the Saturday trading. A delivery driver from Boots was closest and saw fit to shout abuse at us, I’m not sure that many of my neighbours heard the words used but I did and some were not pleasant. Nice advert for Boots there.

Bleary eyed and aching I stumbled into the cathedral and sat quietly waiting for food. We were thanked, a lot, and asked a few questions. After so little (or in some cases no) sleep could we now go and fill in a benefits claim form? Operate a computer with little or no training? And then have no sleep the next night and the next and then operate as a human being on any level. No, I couldn't. I had major trouble working out how to operate the ticket machine at the train station let alone doing battle with an incomprehensible government bureaucracy.

I walked to the train station numb, mentally and physically! The city looked calm, empty, pretty even in a way but I had seen a brief glimpse of how dirty and nasty it is for some people in the world. How, through no fault of their own a series of bad decisions the bottom falls out of someone’s world and leaves them with nothing, not even the basics we take for granted, not in some far off war torn country, but here beneath my feet, in Sheffield.

Did I enjoy it? No, though some of it was enjoyable.
Was it worthwhile? Resoundingly Yes.
Would I do it again? To raise more money for the project yes.
Would I recommend you do it? Without a moment’s hesitation, yes.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Sweaty Assets?

Ok so this is my third day in this job and already I’ve learnt so much. When you’ve been around as long as me you start to think you’re starting to have seen it all. But I haven’t, not in the least bit.

I like to think in the GIS world I was a bit of a “face”, pretty well known, that my opinion was taken note of and maybe that was the case. But I had lost sight of the fact that GIS is such a small part of the world of computing and so much has happened in that world that had passed me by.

One phrase that I have come across that I was unaware of is “Sweating the Assets”. When it was first mentioned my mind thought of me when I’ve finished a 6Km run. I have very sweaty assets then. But it appears the phrase is somewhat more above the waist than that.

Basically it’s getting the most out of your existing kit, not just IT, but any hardware that you use. Making your existing assets work as hard as possible for as long as possible before replacing them. To borrow a war time phrase “Make Do And Mend”.

Now that sounds a fine principle but how is it achieved?

If you have the expertise in house to carry out that maintenance schedule and have the time available to do that then it makes obvious sense to do that.

But what if you don’t?

A third party service that looks after it for you for a fraction of the cost?

There is going to be cost, let’s be realistic, no one is going to do it for free. But is it’s a lot less that replacing your existing IT hardware it has to make sense.

In these times of austerity and cuts it has to make sense to spend as little as possible but get the most out of not just any new investment but what you have already got.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Time to Go!

Yes so this is it, I’m leaving. After 13 years at the Hope Valley grindstone, it’s time to move to pastures new. Not only am I leaving CDR Group I’m also laving the murky world of GIS behind too!

What? Where? Who? Why? I hear you all cry! (In my imagination)

First the Where and Who. Highlander Direct, based in Sheffield, (http://highlanderdirect.com/page/index/) where I will be taking up the post of Account Manager. Further more I will be joining up some old work colleagues from a few lifetimes ago, namely Dave Haxton and Jon Pritchard, two fine upstanding citizens (raised eyebrows), who’s opinion I value.

The Why is rather more complex and has no one answer to it. Well it does in some ways, as you might imagine money is playing a significant part in this decision, but not that alone. I have had a growing feeling for sometime of being in a rut, doing the same things, having the same conversations with the same people, without really getting anywhere so a new challenge was beckoning. The world of GIS is a very different place to what it was 13 years ago when I began this adventure. We Geo-Evangelists have, if anything, been a bit too successful,  GIS is now mainstream, maps are everywhere, the value of location is recognised by organisations big and small. In short its no longer the lucrative niche it was. Don’t get me wrong, there is still business here and much of it, but it requires a speciality within the discipline itself. A boat, I fear, I may have missed. I’m already a Geo-dinosaur! Some asked a short while ago if Spatial was Special, I have to answer that no, not any more.

I would like to point out that I leave CDR with no animosity in my heart at all for them. Quite the reverse, they have been good to me and I hope I have been as good back. I wish the company and all those people I’ve worked with over the last 13 years all the success in the world. However a key to success both in business and in life is take new opportunities, but also recognise when its time to move on. It’s my time to move on.

Thank you. I really mean that, thank you one and all. Every one of you who I have come into contact with. Customers, suppliers, contemporaries, competitors and all other geo-bods, thank you.
For some of us the lines between professional and friendship have become blurred and its been all the better for it.

If you want to keep in touch, and I hope you do, I’m on Facebook, there’s only one Darryl Beresford on there! (Did you get the Highlander gag??), twitter (@daza66) or email darryl@python.co.uk.

It’s been emotional.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011


Once again I find myself blogging on that hottest of hot topics, Open Source.  Or in fact not just open source but the whole area of FOSS (Free and Open Source if you don’t know). 

I have read a couple of blogs/articles recently on the subject, or perhaps more pertinently I have read a couple of phrases that set me thinking.

Someone (It might have been Stephen Feldman) used the phrase “I’m not an Open Source evangelist”, while Mike Saunt in his regular magazine article used the made up word, “Gainsayers” in his article. Mike was specifically having a pop at those in the proprietary software world who were detracting from open source.

So what is my point?

Well, from where does the voice of balance come from? Everyone seems to have a drum to bang or an axe to grind, either for or against. I take Mikes point, but he is hardly independent in the matter, as Astun are based almost totally on open source. 

But where can an everyday punter in the street, or should I say office, get a balanced picture of the pros and cons? Who out there in the world of GIS, or increasingly in the whole IT world, is there someone who not only straddles both camps but fully understands them both? 

If you know little of GIS as a concept how can you make a decision that QGIS or ARC is the one for you. Not only are they competing products but have totally different ethos, upgrades and support behind them.

The world of GIS seems split on the issue, either embrace it, or reject it. You cant have both, it seems like you have to choose and then back that horse all the way.

In search of a third way? Possibly, but I'm not sure if there is one.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Where will it all end?

Open Source is with us to stay, I accept that now. It took a while but I now understand the fact that Open Source wont give up and go away. I may not whole like it or agree with it but I can live with it.

Open data too is with us to stay. I like this rather more. Or at least I though I did until I settled down to think about it,. nursing sick children gives you time to mull things over.

When Tim Berners-Lee shouted "Raw data now!" at the TED conference, I almost joined in with the video I was watching of it. Data collected using tax payers money should be made available to tax payers to use, analyse, make decision on and recycle in whatever way they see fit, data protection not withstanding. I still think is is a sound idea and one which should be pushed into law to force local as well as central government to do. Take a look at what Nottingham City Council have said regarding this to see the reaction against it.

But what of other free sets of data? Open Street Map & Ordnance Survey OpenData both collected in very different ways but both free to use. But both have impacts that seem not to be discussed. The opening up of some OS data was roundly greeted with cheers by the industry, unless of course you had a business based on selling that data or competing data sets. A cost that has been ignored by most, not wanting to tarnish the good news with the cost perhaps? Or more interested in how it benefits us and not what it costs others?

"Ah but you need to change you business model", "Innovate", "The world has changed" are the kind of things said by people who's jobs are not under threat from free data or open source software use.

But back to the data issue, what about data collected using public money that's not taxation? Gas, water and electricity? Telephone? Private providers to public services? Dental service?
I have seen calls for the opening up of almost ever data source, whether in private or public hands, largely it hs to be said from the academic community. But surely there is an event horizon here, eventually we all cough up all out data and no-one can afford to collect any more (except the publicly funded academics of course).

And whilst am having a rant at the the world of academia, I read yet again in GeoConnexion magazine this month that another GI application has been developed by a university and being sold in the corporate arena. A public funded body using its captive in house free workforce (students) going into direct competition with private comopanies that have none of the above.

When making things free, we have to look at the cost, to all concerned.

Friday, 15 April 2011

AGI Northern Group Conference - Part 2 the Post Lunch Sessions

Firstly lunch was very good with fresh cream scones to die for. One item was labelled as “Salmon Balls”, I didn’t know they had any.

Ok then first up after lunch was another twitter buddy, Duncan Hill of Europa Technologies. Duncan has been in the industry for a long time and it shows. He is slick and professional at what he does. The presentation was really a sales talk though very low key. Some basic education on Tile Servers was possibly of use to some watching. The product/service itself I think is good and pretty unique in what it offers. It could have been a lot more “salesy” than it was so marks to Duncan for playing that down, but it was a sales pitch. We all have a job to do and that’s Duncan’s so fair play I say.

Next up then was Tim Waters of GeoIQ. Tim was very warmly received and many in the room were well on board with what he was talking about. However I have to say I got somewhat lost around the middle and found the simple and glaring spelling mistakes and poor slides rather amateurish and showed a lack of care. But no faulting hitting the rooms G-Spot so to speak. Most in the room were big users and supporters of social media so anything that comes along and utilises that is going to go down well, especially if it then maps it! Tim also gave us the stat of the day: We produce more data every three days than in the whole of history to 2003. I have no idea where it came form or how true it is, but that statistic puts the “data deluge” into perspective. It also shows how important it is that tools like this are there to help us utilise and make sense of this data.

Nick Ilsley next of Transport Direct. Another popular talk that hit a spot, despite starting off with rather too much railway information than we needed to know! Very pleased to hear mention of the NapTAN database as CDR Group did some of the survey work that went into this. Also delighted to see how much it’s being used, apparently the second most downloaded data set on data.gov.uk. The usage and publication of data from transport Direct ticks every box. It’s open, it’s transparent and it’s useful, Nick also gave us the acronym of the day in GESDU (Geographic Efficiency Savings and Delivery Unit). Not often a civil servant goes down so well.

Coffee and more scones!

Ordnance Survey next on the PSMA. I totally failed to make any notes during this session for which I apologies whole heatedly. However I didn’t really see anything in there that was that new or at least anything I didn’t already know. Let me know if you thought different.

Ok now possibly the highlight of the day. Steven Feldman again with his second and I suspect preferred session. Ove the last couple of years Steven has perfected the art of the geo-rant. Taking a subject he clearer feel passionately about and then going for it. I couldn’t help but think of a wind up toy, you wind it up and goes like the clappers for a short while then stops again. The subject was Open Data and originally titled Is It Like Giving a Kid an AK47? I have to say he articulated fears that I have been saying for a while. It is way too easy to take the raw data out of context and use it to your own ends (poilitical or otherwise). I really wasn’t sure about the cheese analogy, but the furniture one worked very well. I didn’t agree with all he said, but loved the way he said it. Always good value, always good slides.

Last up the mighty Dr Bob Barr. Bob was the first industry speaker I heard, now almost 12 years ago. I was impressed then, I’m impressed now. No one knows more about UK geo-spatial matters than Dr Bob. He picked up Steven’s geo- rant and ran with it, also speaking with passion and verve. Again I didn’t agree with all he said and I know Ordnance Survey certainly didn’t. But his views on the Public Data Corporation were valid and should be taken into account by the powers that be. I think that maybe the good doctor should be appointed to the corporation himself.