More on the trust … and kindness … of strangers

I was at Lords on Thursday and Friday. And will be there today. And probably tomorrow, Monday, as well. By now you may have figured out that I love cricket. Particularly Test cricket. This year, I’ve spent eleven entire days at a Test match, and expect to make another six. Of those eleven days, two had no play whatsoever, one at Lords and one at the Hampshire Bowl. But I was there. I’m not a fair weather Test cricket supporter.

My fascination with cricket started in Calcutta. Eden Gardens. India versus West Indies. 31 December 1966. I don’t think I missed a match between then and 1979-80, even made a few “rest days”. I was hooked. Bitten. Besotted. Entranced.

Incidentally I was at the Pavilion at Lords, courtesy of a friend, a few weeks ago. And I noticed the portraits on the landings as I walked up the stairs. Sir Garfield Sobers. Mansur Ali Khan, the Nawab of Pataudi, Junior. Two cricketing greats. Two men who just happened to be the opposing captains at that game.

Sir Garfield Sobers (MCC Pavilion Stairs)
Mansur Ali Khan, the Nawab of Pataudi, Jr (MCC Pavilion stairs)

I went to Eden Gardens many times those days, between 1966 and 1980. And I never saw India win. Not once. That’s cricket.

I’ve still never seen India win in India. But I have seen them win in England. That’s also cricket.

That first match, in December 1966, went off with a bang. Almost literally. Oversold tickets. Some fraud. A questionable decision by an umpire. And it was bonfire time. Seats were torn up, set alight. A problem. A problem that became more acute as we realised that the bonfire blocked our route out of the stadium, and it was heading our way.

Time to exit stage left. Except “left” was up, a dozen rows or so. It was the only way to escape the fire. Even in winter, Calcutta was warm, and the crackling seats just added some smoke and ashes to the ambience. (Incidentally, Smoke and Ashes is the name of a fine detective novel by Abir Mukherjee, set in Calcutta. If you haven’t read the Wyndham/Surrender-Not series, a treat awaits).

So we scampered up, my father and I. He told me, wait here, I’ll jump first, show you how, and then I’ll be there to catch you when you jump.

Gulp. I was 9. The ground looked like it was a mile away. There were people milling about, lots of shouting and noise, but others were jumping. No dropped catches in that cordon, which was comforting. My father jumped. Was caught safely. I jumped. Landed safely in the arms of strangers.

We ran for it, leaving the stadium. And other than having to watch my father get a sturdy lathi on his back, wielded by a burly constable on a horse for no apparent reason, we left the ground without incident.

The trust … and kindness … of strangers. In this particular case, I didn’t have a choice but to trust the strangers. They did have a choice about being kind. And they exercised that choice. They were kindness personified, encouraging me to jump, helping me jump, waiting for me to jump, catching me carefully, setting me down carefully, checking that I was okay, reuniting me with my father.

When you trust someone you make yourself vulnerable, in some way you’re at the mercy of the person/people you trust.

Some decades ago, I was travelling from London to Bangalore on business, changing planes in Delhi. The trouble was, the London-Delhi flight was landing at midnight and the flight to Bangalore wasn’t till 6am or so. A frustrating gap.

Once I learnt about the wait, I did the only thing that came naturally to me. I called a “five-star” hotel nearest the airport, spoke to someone there and arranged that a hotel car would meet us at the airport when we landed, whisk us off to the hotel, feed and refresh us, provide us a couple of rooms to get some kip before the next flight, feed and refresh us again, then take us back to the airport, this time the domestic wing.

Of course, sir. All he has was my name. All I had was his. And yes, we exchanged mobile phone numbers. No credit card details. No filling in of forms. We trusted each other.

He ran “front of house” for the hotel. And he was there himself, at 2am or something like that. Took us back to the hotel. While we were having our first cup of decent coffee in ages, he came and checked on us. Is there anything else you need, sir? Why yes…. we need our onward flights reconfirmed, and I could do with getting some sterling converted to rupees. Of course, sir, just give me the passports and the cash and the flight tickets and I will arrange that.

So we handed over our passports and tickets. And I gave him a thousand pounds to get converted to rupees. And off he went.

My close friend and colleague was both bemused as well as aghast. How long had I known the guy to whom we just handed our passports, tickets and a large sum of cash? I just met him, never seen him before, spoken once to him on the phone.

My colleague remained bemused and aghast. We had our kip, came back down, settled down for another cuppa. No sign of the manager. He had told us he’d be back in an hour or so. That was two hours ago.

It was now 445am. We were meant to leave for the airport in 15 minutes. No passports. No tickets. And out a good chunk of money as well.

My colleague was now somewhat less bemused and somewhat more aghast. I continued to sip my coffee.

The manager turned up a few minutes later. Sorry sir, the right person wasn’t there. I needed to wait. Let us go now, the car is waiting.

I knew he would turn up.

In the same way that he knew I would turn up at the airport. In the same way that I knew there would be an air-c0nditioned car waiting for us then. In the same way that I knew he would organise us “quarter-day” rooms.

We trusted each other.

Strangers. Strangers trusting each other. Letting themselves become vulnerable to each other. Running the risk of being let down, being scammed, having our pride hurt. Sometimes having somewhat more at risk than just pride.

Many years ago, I played a round of golf with a colleague. We drove to the back of beyond, to a course that neither of us had been to before. He parked his car, we got out, went to the pro shop, checked in for our round.

My colleague spent a few minutes looking at some clubs that were on display. Would you like to try those out, sir? May I? Of course.

Then, just as we were leaving to tee off, he said You’re heading out quite late. I’m going to be shutting up before you come back. Just drop the clubs in when you’re next in these parts.

Why? He trusted us. Yes he probably clocked the car we’d arrived in, the clubs we had, the clothes we were wearing. He probably made some high speed calculations as to whether he had the possibility of a sale or not, and weighed up the odds in some subtle way.

He trusted us.

The trust of strangers is important. And it’s underpinned by kindness, a belief in humanity. A belief in humanity running counter to our modern principles of suspecting everyone, criminalising everything.

As we move more and more into a world where everything is connected and everything is online, a world where everything is constrained by “algorithms”, we’re going to have to rely on the trust and kindness of strangers. (Incidentally time to read Kevin Slavin if you haven’t already).

Because there will be failures. Connections will fail. Batteries will run down. Software will crash. Devices will be lost or broken. The fantabulous AI system that tells the person at the edge what to do will be silent.

It will about you. And the person in front of you. Having to take risks, to trust each other. Knowing that sometimes you will be wrong.

This won’t just be about buying and selling, about trading. It will be about access to medical care, about access to finances, about access. Access to many things.

We’ve been carefully stripping human beings of discretion. Judgment. Empowerment. And mollycoddling ourselves into believing in “trustless” worlds.

The trust … and kindness … of strangers. Because in the end when the intervening systems fail (and they will) it will be down to you. And the stranger in front of you.

The kindness …. and trust …. of strangers

I met an old friend last week. We’ve known each other since September 1981, and have stayed in touch. We were embarking on a project, to visit every Wren church in the Square Mile, one by one, meeting as and when we can. No hurry. It was an excuse to meet, to walk the streets we knew well, to take time to smell the roses.

I had been a fan of Wren’s for a long time, probably since my first visit to St Paul’s, early in 1981. Working in and around the City meant you were never particularly far from a Wren church. When I moved to Windsor later that decade, I was entranced by the (possibly mythical) story of the pillars under Windsor’s Guildhall.

The superfluous pillars “holding up” Windsor’s Guildhall

Legend has it that Wren was asked to design the Guildhall. The powers-that-be rejected his submission; in their opinion the main room would not be safe without the addition of four central pillars. He gently reminded them who the expert was. They didn’t budge. So he relented. Sort of. He put the pillars in. Six inches short. Job done. Legend or not, I love the story. (If it was true, then it’s a classic They Would Say That, Wouldn’t They? opportunity which the councillors of the day wouldn’t have wasted).

While on the subject of noticing, and enjoying, little foibles left by architects, my walk around some of the churches led me to Philpot Lane. A regular haunt of mine when I worked, between 1999 and 2006, at 20 Fenchurch St, at the erstwhile headquarters of Dresdner Kleinwort, long since demolished and replaced by the Walkie Talkie. When I worked there, I used to meet friends and colleagues every day at the coffee shop that graced the corner of Eastcheap and Philpot Lane. It started off as a non-chain place, but became a Caffe Nero and stayed that way for many years. I think I must have been going there for over a year before I saw the Philpot Mice:

The Philpot Mice, locked in their interminable tug-of-cheese, gracing the Philpot Lane frontage of what used to be Caffe Nero until recently

I love walking, and often enjoy walking for walking’s sake; wherever I go, part of my joy comes from observing what’s around me, what I would otherwise fail to notice.

Anyway, where was I? Walking down Philpot Lane and on to Eastcheap with a friend. We walked around the City for a couple of hours that morning, ending at St Mary-Le-Bow. And then we bade our goodbyes and headed our separate ways.

When I got to Bank Station, the Waterloo and City Line was no longer running, even though it was barely midday Friday. “Planned closure”. So I walked back up the stairs, hailed a cab to Waterloo. Got there, picked up a cup of tea for the journey home, boarded my train. As we pulled out, I went to check my phone to see what was happening at the cricket.

Oops. No phone.

So I retraced my steps in my mind while waiting to get off at the next station, Vauxhall. When did I last know I had the phone with me? In the taxi: I called my wife from there. I left the taxi, picked up the tea, boarded the train. So if it wasn’t on the train with me, I must have left it in the coffee shop (Pure something) at Waterloo, or in the taxi.

Jumped off at Vauxhall, ran down the stairs, checked where the next Waterloo-bound train was scheduled to arrive, ran up the stairs, boarded the train, got back to Waterloo. (Incidentally that’s a loose use of the word “run”, it was closer to amble along gently only ever-slightly faster than if I had walked).

Back at Waterloo. Went to Pure. The staff said no, we haven’t seen your phone, and no one has handed one in either. Hmmm. Then…

First, the gentleman behind me tapped me on the shoulder. Do you want to use my phone to call yours? So I did.

Then, after a number of rings, someone picked up. Yes, mate, I’ve got your phone, where are you now? Back at Waterloo. Right, I’m just off the King’s Road, I’ll come by there in 15-20 minutes, just wait for me where I dropped you.

Then, the woman serving at Pure said, you look like you could use a cup of tea, you take it black don’t you, here it is.

Twenty minutes later, I’d been reunited with my phone, refreshed and reinvigorated by a perfectly-timed cuppa, and set off again on my journey home.

Three people. Three people I’d never seen before, much less met or known. Three people who offered their help unasked. Three people who did their simple acts of kindness without any expectation of any reward or return whatsoever.

Three people who chose to help a stranger. Because they thought it was the right thing to do.

The kindness and trust of strangers. A thing of beauty. A joy forever.

Nowadays there’s a lot of talk about trustless systems and processes, designed and built to disintermediate the institutions that brokered trust. Many of these rely on software and hardware to do so.

Occasionally the software won’t work. Occasionally the hardware will fail. Occasionally the network will be down.

And there’ll be a person there. Who could just say I’m sorry, the system’s down. My computer’s crashed. It won’t connect.

The computer says no. By default.

As Picasso is meant to have said, computers are useless. They can only give you answers.

Time for a little detour. Have you heard of Erwin Chargaff? He was instrumental in figuring out nucleic acid, a key prerequisite to everything we’ve learnt about genetics in modern times. A good friend and mentor, Yossi, told me a story about Chargaff. I’ve found a version of that story in a 1993 issue of the New Scientist:

The most surprising denial of uniqueness was provided by the biochemist Erwin Chargaff, whose discovery of the pairing of bases played an important part in Watson’s story. Chargaff put forward the idea that there could not have been anything unique about Watson and Crick’s contribution, because ‘ . . . it is not the men who make science, it is science that makes the men. What A does today, B and C and D could surely do tomorrow.’

According to Chargaff, this is not the case for those who make art: ‘Timon of Athens could not have been written, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon could not have been painted, had Shakespeare and Picasso not existed.’ 

New Scientist, 23 April 1993: DNA’s stroke of genius: Gunther Stent

As we meander towards a “trustless” age, let us keep an eye on the kindness of strangers. What people do when the systems are down, when the software crashes, when there is no connection. When the computer that can only give you answers isn’t able to give you an answer.

When a stranger has to decide whether to walk that extra mile for another stranger.

Trust implies uncertainty, vulnerability. Humans are able to make decisions to trust strangers because they can. Every day, humans do make decisions to trust strangers because they feel it’s the right thing to do. Sometimes they’re wrong to do so. Sometimes they’re not.

Uncertain, vulnerable. Willing to treat other humans with respect and with dignity. The computer might not be able to say anything, but I can.

When I was at school, one of my favourite poems was William Butler Yeats’ An Irish Airman Foresees His Death.

One particular stanza haunted me, intrigued me, delighted me:

Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,

Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,

A lonely impulse of delight

Drove to this tumult in the clouds;

William Butler Yeats, An Irish Airman Foresees His Death

A lonely impulse of delight. The kindness — and trust — of strangers.

Hello world (again)


The number of days since I last posted here.

For those of you who still bothered to check in here, and to read what I’d written, here or elsewhere in the blogosphere since the turn of the century, thank you. And apologies for my absence.

I wanted to take some time off. I needed to take some time off. I wasn’t enjoying the experience of what the blogosphere had become, at a time when the use of the very word “blogosphere” was an anachronism, and showed my age.

It wasn’t a goodbye, more an au revoir.

The world had changed a lot since I began writing here, and I felt I should go silent for a while and concentrate on observing, listening, thinking and reflecting. It was all part of a considered plan to retire from full-time work, to leave my less-travelled path through the conferences and unconferences and suchlike, to reduce my presence on social media in general. That plan remains on course as I enjoy my time as a grandfather.

Some of those changes had perturbed me for some time, and I’d written about them. But first some background.

I was encouraged to get into blogging by people like Doc Searls and Christopher Locke and later Kevin Marks, by the multitude of Cluetrain friends and fan people I found myself spending time with and learning from.

I used to read Entropy Gradient Reversals whenever I could, and that in turn led me to reading Cluetrain. I got in touch with Chris, met him face to face a few times, even went to Bangalore with him. He was kind enough to share his learnings with me and my team a number of times, and I remain grateful.

I met Doc in similar ways; I think our first “formal” interaction was when he was writing a piece for Esther Dyson’s Release 1.0, (or maybe it was Linux Journal), and Chris suggested him that we chat. Sometime after that, Doc gave my name to Halley Suitt, who was organising a fascinating session in New York, I believe it was at the Harvard Club. She also organised a “blogger’s dinner” at Katz’s Deli that night, and it was there I was encouraged to go more public with my blogging. [Till then I was keeping a low profile, publishing to closed groups of people, principally at work].

All that was a long time ago. Much has changed since, but some things remained important to me.

One, blogging was “provisional”. It was a way of sharing what I was thinking about, not always fully formed, as a technique for eliciting comments, advice, criticism. The learner in me, the curious core of me, found this fascinating.

Two, blogging wasn’t “directed”. There was no onus on anyone to do anything. Nobody could be expected to read what you wrote, to comment on it, to provide any sort of feedback. Anything a reader did was a gift. Sure, you could pose questions, share observations, ask for feedback — but you couldn’t force anyone to do anything. There was no contract, no right to expect anything. It wasn’t a subscription service that someone else committed to reading, either by signing up or sometimes even paying. The blog was just there, and if you were lucky and someone deemed it worthy of reading, they would turn up. You learnt to be grateful for the time that people spent reading, reviewing, commenting, sharing.

Three, it was a space for civil discourse. Since everyone who turned up was a volunteer, it came with an innocence, a social mien that shouted softly. Not that there weren’t rants: what there was was a set of conventions that made ranting polite, civil, never ad hominem.

Four, it was open and non-proprietary. I think it was Doc who gave me this insight, when describing a conversation he had with someone, it might have been George Lakoff. He described a post as a snowball, which sometimes gathered mass and rolled away of its own volition, no longer under the ownership or direction of the original poster. And that this was to be expected, and it was okay.

Five, the learning often happened via links. You were encouraged to provide links in what you wrote, links to what you wrote, links to what others wrote. When people commented, they often provided links as well. Links were seen as a way of enriching and annotating what was said.

Six, it was non-hierarchical. Connected not channelled. I remember reading what Hossein Derakhshan wrote, about the “book internet and the cable internet”, and identifying very much with what was being said there.

Reading what became The Cluetrain Manifesto was the trigger to my experimenting with blogging in the first place: readers were human, in a community with significant reach; markets were indeed conversations; and the principle of links being able to subvert hierarchies was fascinating.

I’d grown up believing that the Industrial Revolution was a “supply side” revolution, and that the Information Revolution would redress this imbalance by empowering all of us, the “demand side”. Cluetrain helped me continue down this path.

You may think that I’m trying to describe that age in a rose-tinted Kumbaya way, and maybe you’d be right.

Things had changed. Debate had became more and more polarised: the ability to sustain civil discourse began to disappear. We began to operate in bubbles without overlap, unwilling or unable to recognise the other side’s right to exist; the question of giving their point of view a healthy airing didn’t even arise any more.

Politeness and civility had also begun to disappear, things were becoming markedly pointed and personal, even vicious.

Frictions and impurities in access and content were becoming more common, as the “book internet” began to get muzzled, ostensibly a sad byproduct of the mobile age. The open architectures of earlier times remained firmly in the past. Facts became unimportant.

Some of the cleverest people in the world had decided that rather than make it easier for people to find what they were looking for, they would make it easier for products and services to find people. Product privacy began to exceed personal privacy. The dream of an empowered “demand side” began to recede.

Yup, things had changed. The “facts” of the environment I was in had changed.

And when the facts changed, I had to change my mind. Step away for a while. Observe. Listen. Think.

I’m back, but with a difference. I’m only going to share things here which I believe will be useful, positive, uplifting, enriching. When I ask questions, they will be questions that look forward. I’m going to keep that glass forever at last 51% full.

I’ve never been one to concern myself with having an “audience” or a “readership”. In the past, while I’ve had days when over 7000 people were dropping by here, my core community of readers was probably no more than a double Dunbar. A single Dunbar will do me. A single reader will do me, as long as she helps me learn.

Hello world. Again.

To be continued. Occasionally.

The music never stopped


There’s mosquitoes on the river
Fish are rising up like birds
It’s been hot for seven weeks now
Too hot to even speak now
Did you hear what I just heard?

Say it might have been a fiddle
Or it could have been the wind
But there seems to be a beat now
I can feel it in my feet now
Listen here it comes again

There’s a band out on the highway
They’re high steppin’ into town
It’s a rainbow full of sound
It’s fireworks, calliopes and clowns
Everybody’s dancin’

The Music Never Stopped: Grateful Dead, 1975: Barlow/Weir. [Aficionados of this particular song should check this post out, updated since the news of John Perry Barlow’s passing].


One of my favourite Grateful Dead songs, from one of my favourite Grateful Dead albums. I first heard Blues For Allah sometime in 1976, and, to use the language of those times, the album “blew my mind”.

1975. There was no internet in those days, no Web. If, like me, you’d lived in Calcutta all your life, information used to be pretty hard to come by. It was all “analogue”, often physical, often simultaneous: “word-of-mouth”. Radio was the medium by which you found out things, and newspapers and magazines were the ways in which those things were persisted, often after applying filters.

Some of the filters were censoring filters: after all, 1975 was the beginning of the Emergency in India, 21 months of authoritarian rule most of us would prefer to forget. But for the most part, the filters were marketing filters, attempts to prioritise and contextualise the flow of information.

Suffice it to say that tidbits of information about the Grateful Dead did not make that prioritisation cut, and so the way we heard about the band, band members, their music, their lives, it was pretty much all based on community interaction: sharing tapes, articles torn out of tattered foreign magazines, the liner notes on well-worn albums passed on from hand to hand, stories, some of them nothing more than rumours, permeating through the collective consciousness of the Deadheads in Calcutta and in the rest of India.  Which sort of makes sense, given that the Dead were the band who gave us “taping rows”.

That’s how I first heard of John Perry Barlow. As a Grateful Dead band member and lyricist, writer of songs I’ll never forget.

When I left India in 1980, it became a little easier to hear about the Dead, to hear them, even to watch them play live. Which was incredible. But when I asked about John, all I heard was “he’s retired, he’s become a rancher somewhere like Montana or Wyoming”. Which really intrigued me. But it was hard to find out more.

Then, in the early 1990s, his name began to crop up here and there. That’s how I heard about the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and was intrigued enough to find ways of supporting their work. I’ve been privileged to meet many of the EFF pioneers over the years, and I’m grateful to all of them for helping me understand things I didn’t understand earlier.

By the late 1990s I’d read A Declaration Of the Independence of Cyberspace, and John became that rare beast to me, a hero in more than one domain, made even more mysterious by his decision to walk away and return to ranching roots.

A strange convergence was taking place. It was through reading about the EFF that I found out about Esther Dyson, someone who’s been an incredible mentor to me, not just in person but often from afar (and possibly without even knowing about it). It was through Esther that I learnt about Christopher Locke, and began to discover what would later become The Cluetrain Manifesto. I managed to convince Chris to come and speak to my teams in London and in Bangalore, one thing led to another, and soon multiple pathways led to my speaking to and then meeting Doc Searls; meeting David Weinberger and Rick Levine would soon follow.

Some years later, Doc would introduce me to John. And so I finally met someone who was a childhood hero of mine, an adolescent hero of mine and an adult hero of mine. [Yup, I was tongue-tied. Entranced].

Soon after that, as I began to delve more into this mystical man, I learnt about his Principles of Adult Behaviour. They’re reproduced in AC Smith’s blog What I Know So Far, in his eulogy to Barlow. Please do go there and read the article and the Principles, you won’t regret it.

John Perry Barlow’s path began to cross mine every now and then after that, and he remained as welcoming, as affable, as laughing-glinting-eyes as ever. We became friends on Facebook, and it gave me the chance to have some vicarious connection to him and what he was going through over the past decade or so.

With his passing we mourn the loss of a gentle man, one who spent time thinking about things that are important, and then writing about those things and sharing them. The age of cyberspace is upon us, warts and all. If you haven’t done so already, do make the effort to read his Principles, his Declaration of Independence, his Economy of Ideas, his Next Economy of Ideas.

I didn’t know him well. At most I met him a dozen times; at most I had three conversations of any note with him. Yet, in all those interactions, he sought to embody the principles he’d written about and referred often to. He was open and welcoming, encouraging and “building up”, willing to question himself in everything while at the same time striving for a future with hope and purpose, seeing the value of humanity as a collective rather than a set of isolated human beings.

I remain grateful to him (no pun intended). I remain grateful to the ideas he helped birth in me.

Cindy Cohn, over at EFF, has written a brief but very moving piece about John and his life and what he leaves behind; by continuing to visit that site you will learn more about his work and his legacy; by supporting EFF you can play your role in extending that legacy.

RIP John Perry Barlow.

Thinking about cricket and open data and platforms

Some of you have been conversing with me, not only via this blog, but also intermittently via other channels, principally facebook and twitter. Blogs are conversations about the provisional, and I learn from your comments and pointers.

By now you’re used to my whims and vagaries. You know I try and write about information using perspectives that aren’t necessarily “business”. For the most part, I tend to meander into the worlds of food, music and literature, and to use those settings to investigate aspects of information.

Sometimes I wander into a narrower space, that of cricket. I realise by doing so I “lose” a goodly number of you, and ask for your forbearance. I just had to write this cricket post. It also happens to touch upon one of my other foibles, constructing UnGoogleAble questions.

Early this morning, I found out something that really intrigued me. When James Anderson joined Alastair Cook at the fall of Stuart Broad’s wicket, it was only the second time in history that England’s leading run-getter and  England’s leading wicket-taker were at the crease together. The first time around was in 1877, also in a Test between England and Australia, the second proper cricket “Test match”. [Technically this was not an Ashes match: the fateful home loss that heralded the term took place in 1882]. To put this in context, the current match, Test number 2289, is England’s 994th; the previous instance, Test number 2, was, unsurprisingly, also England’s 2nd. So for 140 years, across 992 matches, England’s top run-getter didn’t bat with England’s top wicket-taker. Until yesterday.

[My thanks to Benedict Bermange for the tip-off. Great find].

[Update: To give you an idea of just how delicious this is, Ian Botham retired from Test cricket as England’s leading wicket-taker, barely two weeks before David Gower overtook Geoff Boycott to become England’s leading run-getter. Nearly….]

It got me thinking. How would I go about checking on this? How would I go about checking on whether, and if so how often, this has happened for cricketers of other countries?

I started with people whose careers I was readily aware of. My Testbed, so to say, was Tendulkar and Kumble, India’s leading run- and wicket-accumulators. The first thing I had to do was to check whether they’d ever batted together. Tendulkar played Tests from 1989 to 2013, and Kumble from 1990 to 2008, so there was no doubt they’d played together. But had they batted together?

Turned out they had. 16 times to be precise.

The next thing to check was when each became the country’s leader in their field. Turns out that Kumble led the wicket list from 10th December 2004, and, coincidentally, Tendulkar led the run list from 10th December 2005, exactly a year later. Which then meant that of the 16 times they’d batted together, there were only two occasions when they were at the crease as the crowned kings of their art.

The joy was in being able to query all this simply and quickly using free-to-air unpaywalled resources.

Thank you ESPNCricinfo. I can now while away some more of my vacation messing about with the data to get to every instance where a country’s leading run-getter was at the crease with the country’s leading wicket-taker. If I feel particularly adventurous, I could test for instances where the world’s run-leader batted with the world’s wicket-leader, then soften the conditions (as I suspect I will need to) to test for those where they faced each other or, at the very least, were on the field of play at the same time.

Another of my favourite examples is discogs. If you’re interested in vinyl you have to play around with the site, it’s amazing.

More recently, I came across something truly astounding, to do with yet another of my vagaries. I collect fountain pens. Not “to collect and admire” but to use. I love using pens that have been looked after diligently by others and handed down through generations. As with most of my collections, I’ve tended to specialise: the only pens I bother collecting are Pelikans. Anyway, the point of this story is that the pens often need some restoring, and a proper understanding of the filler mechanism is important. Which is how I came across Richard Binder’s site and books.

Each of these sites is different in terms of the data provided, the “openness” of the data, how easy it is to get to, use and enhance. The pen-filler site is an example of something narrow and deep, available to read and  with illustrations, with the ability to buy more detailed stuff as needed. The cricket site comes with very rich data and with a powerful interface that lets you do quite a lot without having to program anything; the discogs site is full-blown, with APIs and a proper API Forum, with all the data provided on a CC0 No Rights Reserved licence.

We’re all going to learn more about the importance of open data, of building data infrastructures that make it possible for people to learn about stuff, gain insights, build insights, enhance human understanding. People like Tim Berners-Lee, Nigel Shadbolt and Wendy Hall have been banging this drum for a long time; the people at the ODI in the UK, initially led by Gavin Starks and more recently by Jeni Tenison, continue to show the way. In my interactions with DJ Patil it has become clear to me that what he and his network of colleagues have been doing is similar and of critical importance. We’re all having to deal with the fallout from fake news, fake information, fake data, fake credentials, even fake actions. This fakeness adds to and worsens the problems we have in debating almost anything of value — there is extreme polarisation of views, with its consequent blind acceptance of opinion and even lie as fact. Yet the problems we face as humanity (be they in climate or nutrition or health or water or energy) require us to collaborate across cultures and timezones if we are to get to solutions. Ubiquitous and affordable access to bandwidth and compute is part of what we need to get there; research in web science is key; so too is digital literacy.  And open data.

We should celebrate and honour the people and institutions that make all this possible.