Thursday, 22 December 2011

Innovation Starvation (Archived from an article by Neal Stephenson

By Neal Stephenson

My lifespan encompasses the era when the United States of America was capable of launching human beings into space. Some of my earliest memories are of sitting on a braided rug before a hulking black-and-white television, watching the early Gemini missions. This summer, at the age of 51—not even old—I watched on a flatscreen as the last Space Shuttle lifted off the pad. I have followed the dwindling of the space program with sadness, even bitterness. Where’s my donut-shaped space station? Where’s my ticket to Mars? Until recently, though, I have kept my feelings to myself. Space exploration has always had its detractors. To complain about its demise is to expose oneself to attack from those who have no sympathy that an affluent, middle-aged white American has not lived to see his boyhood fantasies fulfilled.

Still, I worry that our inability to match the achievements of the 1960s space program might be symptomatic of a general failure of our society to get big things done. My parents and grandparents witnessed the creation of the airplane, the automobile, nuclear energy, and the computer to name only a few. Scientists and engineers who came of age during the first half of the 20th century could look forward to building things that would solve age-old problems, transform the landscape, build the economy, and provide jobs for the burgeoning middle class that was the basis for our stable democracy.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 crystallized my feeling that we have lost our ability to get important things done. The OPEC oil shock was in 1973—almost 40 years ago. It was obvious then that it was crazy for the United States to let itself be held economic hostage to the kinds of countries where oil was being produced. It led to Jimmy Carter’s proposal for the development of an enormous synthetic fuels industry on American soil. Whatever one might think of the merits of the Carter presidency or of this particular proposal, it was, at least, a serious effort to come to grips with the problem.

Little has been heard in that vein since. We’ve been talking about wind farms, tidal power, and solar power for decades. Some progress has been made in those areas, but energy is still all about oil. In my city, Seattle, a 35-year-old plan to run a light rail line across Lake Washington is now being blocked by a citizen initiative. Thwarted or endlessly delayed in its efforts to build things, the city plods ahead with a project to paint bicycle lanes on the pavement of thoroughfares.

In early 2011, I participated in a conference called Future Tense, where I lamented the decline of the manned space program, then pivoted to energy, indicating that the real issue isn’t about rockets. It’s our far broader inability as a society to execute on the big stuff. I had, through some kind of blind luck, struck a nerve. The audience at Future Tense was more confident than I that science fiction [SF] had relevance—even utility—in addressing the problem. I heard two theories as to why:

1. The Inspiration Theory. SF inspires people to choose science and engineering as careers. This much is undoubtedly true, and somewhat obvious.

2. The Hieroglyph Theory. Good SF supplies a plausible, fully thought-out picture of an alternate reality in which some sort of compelling innovation has taken place. A good SF universe has a coherence and internal logic that makes sense to scientists and engineers. Examples include Isaac Asimov’s robots, Robert Heinlein’s rocket ships, and William Gibson’s cyberspace. As Jim Karkanias of Microsoft Research puts it, such icons serve as hieroglyphs—simple, recognizable symbols on whose significance everyone agrees.

Researchers and engineers have found themselves concentrating on more and more narrowly focused topics as science and technology have become more complex. A large technology company or lab might employ hundreds or thousands of persons, each of whom can address only a thin slice of the overall problem. Communication among them can become a mare’s nest of email threads and Powerpoints. The fondness that many such people have for SF reflects, in part, the usefulness of an over-arching narrative that supplies them and their colleagues with a shared vision. Coordinating their efforts through a command-and-control management system is a little like trying to run a modern economy out of a Politburo. Letting them work toward an agreed-on goal is something more like a free and largely self-coordinated market of ideas.


SF has changed over the span of time I am talking about—from the 1950s (the era of the development of nuclear power, jet airplanes, the space race, and the computer) to now. Speaking broadly, the techno-optimism of the Golden Age of SF has given way to fiction written in a generally darker, more skeptical and ambiguous tone. I myself have tended to write a lot about hackers—trickster archetypes who exploit the arcane capabilities of complex systems devised by faceless others.

Believing we have all the technology we’ll ever need, we seek to draw attention to its destructive side effects. This seems foolish now that we find ourselves saddled with technologies like Japan’s ramshackle 1960’s-vintage reactors at Fukushima when we have the possibility of clean nuclear fusion on the horizon. The imperative to develop new technologies and implement them on a heroic scale no longer seems like the childish preoccupation of a few nerds with slide rules. It’s the only way for the human race to escape from its current predicaments. Too bad we’ve forgotten how to do it.

“You’re the ones who’ve been slacking off!” proclaims Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University (and one of the other speakers at Future Tense). He refers, of course, to SF writers. The scientists and engineers, he seems to be saying, are ready and looking for things to do. Time for the SF writers to start pulling their weight and supplying big visions that make sense. Hence the Hieroglyph project, an effort to produce an anthology of new SF that will be in some ways a conscious throwback to the practical techno-optimism of the Golden Age.


China is frequently cited as a country now executing on Big Stuff, and there’s no doubt they are constructing dams, high-speed rail systems, and rockets at an extraordinary clip. But those are not fundamentally innovative. Their space program, like all other countries’ (including our own), is just parroting work that was done 50 years ago by the Soviets and the Americans. A truly innovative program would involve taking risks (and accepting failures) to pioneer some of the alternative space launch technologies that have been advanced by researchers all over the world during the decades dominated by rockets.

Imagine a factory mass-producing small vehicles, about as big and complicated as refrigerators, which roll off the end of an assembly line, are loaded with space-bound cargo, and topped off with non-polluting liquid hydrogen fuel, then exposed to intense concentrated heat from an array of ground-based lasers or microwave antennas. Heated to temperatures beyond what can be achieved through a chemical reaction, the hydrogen erupts from a nozzle on the base of the device and sends it rocketing into the air. Tracked through its flight by the lasers or microwaves, the vehicle soars into orbit, carrying a larger payload for its size than a chemical rocket could ever manage, but the complexity, expense, and jobs remain grounded. For decades, this has been the vision of such researchers as physicists Jordin Kare and Kevin Parkin. A similar idea, using a pulsed ground-based laser to blast propellant from the backside of a space vehicle, was being talked about by Arthur Kantrowitz, Freeman Dyson, and other eminent physicists in the early 1960s.

If that sounds too complicated, then consider the 2003 proposal of Geoff Landis and Vincent Denis to construct a 20-kilometer-high tower using simple steel trusses. Conventional rockets launched from its top would be able to carry twice as much payload as comparable ones launched from ground level. There is even abundant research, dating all the way back to Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, the father of astronautics beginning in the late 19th century, to show that a simple tether—a long rope, tumbling end-over-end while orbiting the earth—could be used to scoop payloads out of the upper atmosphere and haul them up into orbit without the need for engines of any kind. Energy would be pumped into the system using an electrodynamic process with no moving parts.

All are promising ideas—just the sort that used to get an earlier generation of scientists and engineers fired up about actually building something.

But to grasp just how far our current mindset is from being able to attempt innovation on such a scale, consider the fate of the space shuttle’s external tanks [ETs]. Dwarfing the vehicle itself, the ET was the largest and most prominent feature of the space shuttle as it stood on the pad. It remained attached to the shuttle—or perhaps it makes as much sense to say that the shuttle remained attached to it—long after the two strap-on boosters had fallen away. The ET and the shuttle remained connected all the way out of the atmosphere and into space. Only after the system had attained orbital velocity was the tank jettisoned and allowed to fall into the atmosphere, where it was destroyed on re-entry.

At a modest marginal cost, the ETs could have been kept in orbit indefinitely. The mass of the ET at separation, including residual propellants, was about twice that of the largest possible Shuttle payload. Not destroying them would have roughly tripled the total mass launched into orbit by the Shuttle. ETs could have been connected to build units that would have humbled today’s International Space Station. The residual oxygen and hydrogen sloshing around in them could have been combined to generate electricity and produce tons of water, a commodity that is vastly expensive and desirable in space. But in spite of hard work and passionate advocacy by space experts who wished to see the tanks put to use, NASA—for reasons both technical and political—sent each of them to fiery destruction in the atmosphere. Viewed as a parable, it has much to tell us about the difficulties of innovating in other spheres.


Innovation can’t happen without accepting the risk that it might fail. The vast and radical innovations of the mid-20th century took place in a world that, in retrospect, looks insanely dangerous and unstable. Possible outcomes that the modern mind identifies as serious risks might not have been taken seriously—supposing they were noticed at all—by people habituated to the Depression, the World Wars, and the Cold War, in times when seat belts, antibiotics, and many vaccines did not exist. Competition between the Western democracies and the communist powers obliged the former to push their scientists and engineers to the limits of what they could imagine and supplied a sort of safety net in the event that their initial efforts did not pay off. A grizzled NASA veteran once told me that the Apollo moon landings were communism’s greatest achievement.

In his recent book Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure, Tim Harford outlines Charles Darwin’s discovery of a vast array of distinct species in the Galapagos Islands—a state of affairs that contrasts with the picture seen on large continents, where evolutionary experiments tend to get pulled back toward a sort of ecological consensus by interbreeding. “Galapagan isolation” vs. the “nervous corporate hierarchy” is the contrast staked out by Harford in assessing the ability of an organization to innovate.

Most people who work in corporations or academia have witnessed something like the following: A number of engineers are sitting together in a room, bouncing ideas off each other. Out of the discussion emerges a new concept that seems promising. Then some laptop-wielding person in the corner, having performed a quick Google search, announces that this “new” idea is, in fact, an old one—or at least vaguely similar—and has already been tried. Either it failed, or it succeeded. If it failed, then no manager who wants to keep his or her job will approve spending money trying to revive it. If it succeeded, then it’s patented and entry to the market is presumed to be unattainable, since the first people who thought of it will have “first-mover advantage” and will have created “barriers to entry.” The number of seemingly promising ideas that have been crushed in this way must number in the millions.

What if that person in the corner hadn’t been able to do a Google search? It might have required weeks of library research to uncover evidence that the idea wasn’t entirely new—and after a long and toilsome slog through many books, tracking down many references, some relevant, some not. When the precedent was finally unearthed, it might not have seemed like such a direct precedent after all. There might be reasons why it would be worth taking a second crack at the idea, perhaps hybridizing it with innovations from other fields. Hence the virtues of Galapagan isolation.

The counterpart to Galapagan isolation is the struggle for survival on a large continent, where firmly established ecosystems tend to blur and swamp new adaptations. Jaron Lanier, a computer scientist, composer, visual artist, and author of the recent book You are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto, has some insights about the unintended consequences of the Internet—the informational equivalent of a large continent—on our ability to take risks. In the pre-net era, managers were forced to make decisions based on what they knew to be limited information. Today, by contrast, data flows to managers in real time from countless sources that could not even be imagined a couple of generations ago, and powerful computers process, organize, and display the data in ways that are as far beyond the hand-drawn graph-paper plots of my youth as modern video games are to tic-tac-toe. In a world where decision-makers are so close to being omniscient, it’s easy to see risk as a quaint artifact of a primitive and dangerous past.

The illusion of eliminating uncertainty from corporate decision-making is not merely a question of management style or personal preference. In the legal environment that has developed around publicly traded corporations, managers are strongly discouraged from shouldering any risks that they know about—or, in the opinion of some future jury, should have known about—even if they have a hunch that the gamble might pay off in the long run. There is no such thing as “long run” in industries driven by the next quarterly report. The possibility of some innovation making money is just that—a mere possibility that will not have time to materialize before the subpoenas from minority shareholder lawsuits begin to roll in.

Today’s belief in ineluctable certainty is the true innovation-killer of our age. In this environment, the best an audacious manager can do is to develop small improvements to existing systems—climbing the hill, as it were, toward a local maximum, trimming fat, eking out the occasional tiny innovation—like city planners painting bicycle lanes on the streets as a gesture toward solving our energy problems. Any strategy that involves crossing a valley—accepting short-term losses to reach a higher hill in the distance—will soon be brought to a halt by the demands of a system that celebrates short-term gains and tolerates stagnation, but condemns anything else as failure. In short, a world where big stuff can never get done.

Friday, 16 December 2011

New AdTotum Administration UI

With a little help from Pankaj I've completed the new AdTotum Administration UI. This pulls server cluster management, model building and ensemble management, rules and meta-rules controls, widget preview, system and business reporting functionality under a single very neat and professional event driven UI. It seems quite a broad range of functionality under one set of control panels by careful attention to the information architecture we seem to have something that works logically and intuitively. In practical terms this aesthetic integrity should reduce operator training time by 70%-80% and greatly improve scalability of operations.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

API for the AdTotum T745

Paraphrasing Paul Graham - there are two ways we could approach the AdTotum APi (i) consider the target user to be a genius who will need to do things they never anticipated or (ii) consider them bumbler who needs to be protected from himself. As Paul says the bumbler will shoot himself in the foot anyway - so I'm strongly in favor of (i), especially as I'm anticipating using it myself but the API still needs to protect the core system in a production environment. Part of that can be done with built in performance monitoring and the ability to activate and inactive specific API user's functions.

I still take the view however that a great creation - a great machine, be it car, airplane, hardware device, language or tool facilitates an instant transformation from thought to action to result - failsafe is good - exceptional inputs can be trapped but for me that core transformation is essential and that's what I'm attempting to write with this API

Monday, 12 December 2011

A Special Place For Startups

This is really in response to great posting by Jason Evanish on Dharmesh Shah's blog.

Jason postulates that the Bay Area - more than anywhere else is a "A Special Place For Startups" and I've got to say that I agree 100%. The proximity to so many prospects and clients means that for an Internet technology company it is easy to pack a huge amount of achievement into a tiny period of time compared with *anywhere* else in the world - without exception really. Attitudes are different too - and it's not considered definitive truth in the Valley that just because something is not being done at scale right now that does not prove that it is a bad idea!

It's sometimes said that if the Bay Area is the best start-up area in the best country, then London is the best start-up area in the second best country - but when you actually get down to trying to do the same types of things you can discover that there are compound advantages in being in - say Mountain View compared with Old Street. And if you don't believe that - take a look at the start-ups that have emerged in the Bay Area compared with London in the last 10 years . . .

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Robust Systems and a bulletproof API for the AdTotum T745

Still writing the #AdTotum #API. I'm going for 100% PEAR style formatting and using SourceFormatX in the first instance. Not really part of the bulletpropf API - but I'm very much in favor of WPRF (pronounced 'w-pref') "write properly - run forever" rather than eternal cycles of breaks and bug fixes. Ok so I'm pulling your leg a bit but I'm a firm believer in software error avoidance through design and through rigorous attention to a comprehensive series of use cases. There is some great work on robust systems and transient error avoidance under EE392U at Stanford which is worth looking at in this context.

As I noted earlier the #AdTotum #API is using Standard HTTP Response Codes throughout and I've written in some great debugging and error logging tools which should make it very easy to track problems in modules that use the API. If you are interested in Standard HTTP Response Codes this is the complete list - for the API a subset are used at present -

Using friendly IDs in the #AdTotum #API - not system IDs

Building an #API for #AdTotum. I'm writing the internal API to use Friendly Ids, not System Ids. Basicslly the aim is to convert and extremely complex and rich modelling systems - probably an order of magnitude more complex than others in this ecosystem into something that seems intuative and simple to technical users who are not familiar with the system but want to add additional data sources or models (such as probalistic inference models or nth order Markov chains.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Determining rate limits in the AdTotum API

Writing the #AdTotum #API. Because the API is for internal use and use by academic modellers who work with us the Rate Limits will be issued on a case by case basis. Looking at the architecture though it looks as though internally caching the data makes a lot of sense (and in fact lots of the high demand data can be accesses straight out of RAM in the old time honored ways that I've been using over many, many applications. Typically in the AdTotum T745 model results are updated on a 60 second cycle which means that recommendations in the cache are effectively updated in real time. The cloud servers seem to be able to take 1M+ users on a single node (or micro-node) at about 5% load under NGINX and the API looks at though it will scale in a similar way.

Supporting and sandboxing multiple developers with the #AdTotum #API

Late last night I decided that the AdTotum API had to support multiple developers simultaneously in separate sandboxes, which could be turned live or deactivated separately. It needed a certain amount of rethinking and a lot of re-coding today, but now I'm satisfied that on any development server we can trial (or use) have multiple data sources, modeling environments and development teams without any risk of unexpected interaction.

Had to modularized the error message pipeline so that different developers can see the errors (and performance impact) that their own API calls were raising separately. This should allow 'black box' logging too - something that I think is essential.

Making the AdTotum API use Standard HTTP Response Codes

Writing the #AdTotum #API.

Although the API is for internal use and use by academic modellers who work with us but I plan to make it Use Standard HTTP Response Codes 100%

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Writing an #API for #AdTotum from scratch

I've been thinking over the last couple of months about the value of protecting high performance, high-scale production-environmental systems from bugs that can be introduced when new features, products and models are added to the system.

I've been advising on adding additional inference models using the RAP - RDF API to the AdTotum T745 system as well as some Markov chain models and extra geo-weather and search trend data sources. The question was - we get so many new data sources at AdTotum and need to test and validate in real time - how can we do that stably and retain scalability? The answer seems to me to be to build a robust internal API - a challenge that needs real disciple and deep understanding of the code and the likely product roadmap to be able to do without impacting performance, security or scalability. It's something that other companies I've been involved with have shied away from and not wanted to take on the commitment, but on careful reflection of the top-down needs I've been inspired to sit down and write a complete #API for #AdTotum from scratch. Over the past 24 hours I've been designing the architecture and running some code scalability tests to make sure that it really makes sense.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Wake up guys its 2011!! New century now!! - Hello??

I don't understand why we still have Formula One racing. Come ON guys - wake up - its 2011 - we need something like Rutan's Rocket Racing League - Motor Cars are so 1911

(This from someone who is very suspicious of the technical understanding of anyone with fewer than four valves on each cylinder of their car or of the 'grit' of anyone with a FWD).

Friday, 25 November 2011

Amazing insight into risk assessment. Notice how low some of the main things people fear are!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Map of this Galaxy

irst approximations of the galactic map see for criticisms.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Time lapse video from the ISS

This time lapse video from the ISS is truly amazing.

Probabilistic reasoning in intelligent systems

Just delving deeper into Pearl & Spiegelhalter's work. I can see why the computation in a space that is the size of the maximal clique? But isn't finding the cliques (maximally fully connected sets) exponential anyway - if you are using heuristics to do that then how are you better off?

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Virgin Atlantic

Having a really arduous experience with Virgin Atlantic. After an exceptionally arduous 100 hour week and a two and a half hour drive and checkin I was really looking forward to their highly promoted clubhouse service before my 11 hour flight and subsequent drive and long day.  No luck though - after a complex undermanned checkin I found that they had messed up the 'clubhouse' reservations so it looks like I've paid about $200 to sit in the normal terminal lounge and get nothing to eat and nowhere to rest. Really regretting flying with Virgin Atlantic so far.

Sunday, 24 July 2011


"There is no such thing as luck. There is only adequate or inadequate preparation to cope with a statistical universe." Robert Heinlein 

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Automated stalking

Creepy - I've just confirmed that Facebook is stalking me by scraping my LinkedIn account to make friends suggestions.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Just though that I should re-generate my QR codes so here they are

My QR code for LinkedIn

My QR code for Twitter

I hope that these work better than the QR codes that I saw demonstrated at IMRG at Microsoft in London last week.!

Contract Killer

Not so much talking of  Edward Fox in Paris as thinking here of an analysis of what is likely to kill other people's projects.

I wouldn't say I am a manager anymore than Bill Gates is a typist.  After all, My Gates had to press keys occasionally to cut code and I've have to make people do complex, challenging things for money to get creative things done. Never the less I noted after a recent discussion on contractor selection that I have actually recruited, assessed and employed contractors and external companies for over five hundred professional companies over the years. I've employed people while wearing the hats of Fortune 500 executive, Government Scientist, Research Scientist, Start-up entrepreneur and Ober-technologist. Strangely enough I can only count the bad experiences on the fingers of one hand - and almost every time it has been when I've not had complete control of the process or when I've overestimated someone who is key to the process.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Organizational charts in major tech

Manu Cornet caricaturizes org charts of major tech companies, such as Amazon with its top-down structure and Google with its slightly less structured structure. Thanks to the every wise Tobe Freeman for tipping me off to this!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

How the Girl Guides Won The War

Another present for my daughter Amber's birthday is How the Girl Guides Won The War, By Janie Hampton includes true stories about how Brownies were taught how to put out incendiary bombs and guides in the war ran underground schools behind enemy lines, medical units and soup kitchens, as well as distributing illegal newspapers, smuggling food into the Warsaw ghetto and committing acts of sabotage against the German war effort. I'm looking forward to reading that myself!

Monday, 6 June 2011

Middlesex by Betjeman

Travelling in London in the spring reminded me of this.


Gaily into Ruislip Gardens
Runs the red electric train,
With a thousand Ta's and Pardon's
Daintily alights Elaine;
Hurries down the concrete station
With a frown of concentration,
Out into the outskirt's edges
Where a few surviving hedges
Keep alive our lost Elysium - rural Middlesex again.

Well cut Windsmoor flapping lightly,
Jacqmar scarf of mauve and green
Hiding hair which, Friday nightly,
Delicately drowns in Drene;
Fair Elaine the bobby-soxer,
Fresh-complexioned with Innoxa,
Gains the garden - father's hobby -
Hangs her Windsmoor in the lobby,
Settles down to sandwich supper and the television screen.

Gentle Brent, I used to know you
Wandering Wembley-wards at will,
Now what change your waters show you
In the meadowlands you fill!
Recollect the elm-trees misty
And the footpaths climbing twisty
Under cedar-shaded palings,
Low laburnum-leaned-on railings
Out of Northolt on and upward to the heights of Harrow hill.

Parish of enormous hayfields
Perivale stood all alone,
And from Greenford scent of mayfields
Most enticingly was blown
Over market gardens tidy,
Taverns for the bona fide,
Cockney singers, cockney shooters,
Murray Poshes, Lupin Pooters,
Long in Kensal Green and Highgate silent under soot and stone.

From "A Few Late Chrysanthemums" (1954) & "Collected Poems"

Quoting a poem in ones blog seems rather like just reading it to a friend rather than trying to publish it. Its a dying art form, essentially replaced by the lyrics of popular music in the late 20th and 21st C - and my intent here is just to spread and revitalize it by reminding people of its existence . I hope is is taken as fair use as it is intended rather than just hammering another nail in the coffin of poetry.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Bach's Concerto for 2 violins & strings in D minor ('Double'): Takako Nishizaki

Just listening to Takako Nishizaki's performance of  J.S. Bach Concerto for 2 violins & strings in D minor ('Double'), BWV 1043: Vivace. Is it just me or does her version lack the the vigour and passion that really makes this piece such a pleasure at times? I must try to dig out the what I remember as being Andras Schiff's exquisite, superlative performance.

Friday, 3 June 2011

How the world connects.

This map of Facebook friendships seems to reflect in some way not just population density and degree of industrialization but openness of societies and willingness to interconnect freely with the outside world. Its worth noting though when you talk about a world without boundaries that actually where your material goods come from is quite different.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

“The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn't understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.” Eric Schmidt

Eric Schmidt says that “The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn't understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.”  

To be honest, I don't think we understand the things that we have built anything like as deeply as we think. And - you know - it might not seem so when you are sitting in front of a screen, but I think reality is bigger than the Internet, and it is, in essence an uncontrolled real-time, full scale, experiment in anarchy.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Xenophon, Plato & Socrates

Excellent discussion last week with Paul Cartledge, Edith Hall and Simon Goldhill on Xenophon. Highly recommended. Stimulating discussion on Xenophon's influence on Machiavelli although outside the scope of discussion to examine Machiavelli's Critique of Xenophon and the Moral Foundation of Politics. Hopefully I'll get time to talk with Beth about this one too. Link to Xenophon Talk 

Monday, 30 May 2011

Page's Law and the secret of super-fast computers.

Larry Page, of Google has pointed out the Emperor's true attire and coined a new  law - Page's Law - is the inverse of the Moore's Law: Software gets twice as slow every 18 months. 

Actually because of this there is a cool secret to having lightning fast computers that run faster than just about anyone elses that I've been using for about 15 years - always get the latest hardware but run an OS and software that is two generations or more old. The result - because of Page's Law your software (and so your computer) runs about 300% faster than anyone elses. If you can fix that to be 3 generations then that margin goes up to 700%. Windows XP anyone?

Sunday, 29 May 2011

A cure for cancer

I was talking to a very intelligent educated chap the other day about cancer research (a field that I used to work in) and it came up that he felt that we were not really approaching a cure as the number of new cases continues to increase. I expressed the view that this was demographic, related to the age profile in the population and that the cures are more effective than they used to be. Here is Cancer Research UK's summary figure that I should have had on a flash card in my pocket (thought - could be in my androids phones picture gallery couldn't it?)

Are Bezos and Omidyar too old to succeed in B2C internet markets?

Michael Arrington from TechCrunch reports that Internet Entrepreneurs Are Like Professional Athletes, They Peak Around 25 

“It’s not a guess, this is a data driven observation,” the anonymous VC is reported to have said. While keeping busy on the networking round it looks as though this expert has missed out hearing about the unusual stories of Jeffrey Preston "Jeff" Bezos or Pierre Morad Omidyar. Its well established that rather than looking at the specifics of particular start-ups some VCs effectively carrying out a process of pattern recognition - looking for companies that *look* like other successful start-ups - in name, demographic make-up or plan, rather than having a deep understanding of what is really going on.

In this case the VC is actually basing his investment model on his own selection criteria (e.g. "[we selected companies for] Y Combinator [and] the average age of their founders [we selected] is 26.") not on the actual success of the start-up.  If they looked beyond their own net-loss internal game to the big successes they'd notice that two of the largest revenue earning B2C Internet start-ups, Pierre Omidyar's EBay  and  Jeff Bezos's Amazon were founded by people in their thirties and forties. By following their own internal pet models and creating formulae to turn away founders like these they may be sealing the fate of  their own funds.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Hooray! Back to the Supersonic era and long range super cruise!

Wired tells us that Concorde may be back
Except wasn't the real problem the cracks in the rear spar web structure of Concorde's wing. The Olympus engines are still in production so there should not be a problem overhauling them. We also seem to be back to 1950s 707/Comet journey times and speeds - and there is more time since the 707 came out than between the first 707 and the Wright flier. I see that there are supposed to be a new generation of low boom, high efficiency small supersonic passenger planes like the Aerion SBJ but its difficult to tell if they are just pipe-dreams. Some people claim that we don't need SSTs because we have the internet - but the same applied over 100 years ago - we don't need aeroplanes at all because we had telegrams to transmit information.

Matt at the Hay Festival

Half the pleasure here is how much he looks like one of the characters in his cartoons!

Friday, 27 May 2011

Grrr Jaguar

Mark Eales tells me that we are still having injector problems with my Jaguar XJ - these really only showed up after the experiments with low molecular weight alternative fuel - could be the smaller van der waals forces or maybe just the lower temperatures allowing leakage past the o-rings? Where have we heard of that before?

Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc

Anyone know about the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc? You seem to be able to get either a Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 with an out of date OS (Android 1.6) and no keyboard (despite user complaints about the on screen data entry) or a slightly more up to date OS (Not 2.3 for some reason but Android 2.1) but less memory, no dual core processor and no keyboard. Still thicker than the Samsung Galaxy S too. The 8.1-megapixel camera looks promising.

“We don't know where you are. We don't know where you’ve been. We don't entirely know what we’re thinking about.”

Yes I know that Eric Schmidt tells us “We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.”. I can believe that for the big guys in Google but I just clicked on an ad in blogger for blogging gadgets which then came up with a window saying "sorry this video is private". Looks like some of Google's paying advertisers at least “Don't we know where you are. Don't know where you’ve been. Not sure what they are thinking about.” 1984 might not have been like 1984 (or so Steve Jobs told us) but 2011 isn't so very far off.

New Larry Niven book "Betrayer of Worlds" is out

Interesting - I didn't know that Niven was even writing still. I wonder if there is an eBook version that would work on the Android? Actually I see that it's a Known Space book so it's more than just interesting! These were some of the best 'hard science' speculative books in their early days - not escapist, thrill seeking or fantasy but more throwing open the questions - how should we be shaping things and what directions should we be going.

Stalker Adverts - Will no one rid me of this turbulent Beast?

Once again I've been looking at consumer products (crys of "shame, shame") and after I've taken the action that I intend taking (in this case form of Criteo and Struq). Worst still its not the laptops that I was looking at that I actually wanted that follow me - its the inadequate rejects - not the pretty and smart i7 Sony Vaio c-series (would you need a different one to match different clothes?) nor yet the elegant sylph-like S series - but for some reason lumpen-oafish generics with i3s and telephone directory profiles.

Where (or Which?) is the WENTWORTH PUB

A strange direct debit for WENTWORTH PUB is appearing on my bank statements. Probably something dull and mundane but Googling them I only see public houses (unlikely to have a subscription there!). I have a suspicion it might be the consumer association, but it seems strange that they should hide their light under a bushel so!

"PREMIUM CREDIT LIMITED" seem to be another strange one although I know that they are purveyors of white label services neither of the stets of Direct Debit option that they are drawing down seem to correspond to any expected services.

A Pooterish Passtime

Following the great tradition of George and Weedon Grossmith I'm creating this here mainly, in fact, to actually experience the mindset and micro-experiences of this medium first hand. One day day I'll be able to tell my grandchildren "I was there" (and they will answer "Why?").

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Wonder's of the Universe

I've bought Brian Cox's Wonder's of the Universe for my daughter Amber's birthday. Brilliant show - highly recommended. Particularly good bit is where he takes an T5 English Electric Lightning up to 18 km - to the top of earth's atmosphere to see the darkness of space above and the thin blue line of the atmosphere below.