Mad stories, Turing complete, Hiut, Fracking and the speed of light

If this sort of thing doesn’t demonstrate what is so great about the internet, then nothing will. Karol Martinka was a prominent business man and banker in pre-millennial Slovakia. His wife was a somewhat ‘unofficial’ adviser to the prime minister (Vladimir Meciar) whose relationship with the PM prompted a strange exchange in the Slovak parliament which finished with the incumbent PM making donkey ears at his opponent and storming out. That, however, is the least sensational thing about this story. Karol and his family, including his young son, were chased from the country by the government, and the mob, under accusations of significant financial skulduggery (understatement). They received asylum in Austria where in 2000 his wife stabbed her 9 year old son extensively before attempting suicide, unsuccessfully, by stabbing herself and jumping out of the 1st floor window. The young boy survived, even though the knife was pushed through his chest and out of his back, when his father heard his screams and rescued him. The mad wife was put into a psychiatric institution (who would have guessed) and eventually hanged herself when word of her estranged husband’s affair with his son’s long standing nanny reached her via her sister.
The son, Filip, did not deal with his subsequent adolescence well, with much needed, long standing , yet unsuccessful, psychiatric care. His nanny married his father, got a law degree and had a child (Filip’s stepsister). He now lives in Austria, works as a writer and translator, and all things considered is a relatively balanced individual (all things considered).
Here is his recent reddit AMA (as before with AMA’s the most efficient way to read is to scan for the name that is in bold. This is the answer, questions usually directly above). Just fantastic that we can have this kind of access to this kind of person, wow.
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This is a long piece but does a great job of articulating the philosophical problem I have with Apple. If you only read one link today it should be this one. It’s not an essay about Apple, but about the design philosophy that is a strong influence on Apple and other companies. It all runs around the user interface and the school of thought,led by Don Norman (a pre-eminent user experience design guru), that the computer itself should be invisible. The most effective interface he contends is no interface at all. It’s a seductive thought and resonates strongly with the whole ‘it just works’ ethos of Apple, and those that simply don’t fancy getting up to speed with the basics of computing. A number of technology breakthroughs are bringing the invisible computer closer and closer (touch screen, mobile, augmented reality). The problem is that an invisible computer leads to an invisible user, and that’s a whole different kettle of fish. Like it or lump it but the computer underlies modern western society now, and I can’t see that trend reversing. If we allow the invisible computer trend to dominate we will be giving the keys to our lives away, but we won’t even know who we gave them to or what they will do with them. This is no idle non threatening situation.
It’s slightly tangential, but to make my point I shall say that Open source computing is a fundamental requirement of a just and fair society. The problem is MOST people don’t know what open sourced computing is, much less how it contributes to a just and fair society. We can’t even have the debate.
http://contemporary-home-computing.org/turing-complete-user/
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I’m really loving this one. Let me introduce you to the Hiut Denim company from Cardigan in West Wales. They used to make jeans in Cardigan, almost 35,000 pairs a year and then… they didn’t. The company left and all that skill had nothing to do. Now we have Hiut making what I presume are pretty trendy jeans. As well as this heart warming tale (the website proclaims … “Our town is making jeans again” … on its homepage) is the delicious marriage of the digital and the analogue. When you buy a pair of Hiut jeans they come with a History Tag, a unique number not available to you until purchase, sewn inside the jean themselves. You go to the history tag website, put in your number and can then upload images and information relating to your jeans. Over the years the history of your jeans will be archived, and if you sell them, lose them or have them stolen th.is history can be maintained by those who come after you. Neat.
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The American 5th fleet is stationed in the Gulf and its role is to ensure that the flow of oil and gas from the region is unimpeded by, well, anything. However, now that the technology for fracking has become somewhat functional (both advances in the technology, and the higher oil prices of recent years are contributors) we have 2 new dynamics in the global oil markets and subsequently in the realities of geo-politics itself, which, of course, has long been highly influenced by oil. Firstly, America is facing oil independence again (!) and secondly, the world is, potentially, entering an era of energy abundance instead of scarcity. Big news indeed, but expect change to be fairly slow. The data is suggesting that the US will become the world’s largest producer by 2020, overtaking Saudi Arabia. This will potentially put a strain on the relationships between the US and the Gulf monarchies, change the dynamics of American support of Israel and introduces the thought that even if the Americans fancy leaving the 5th fleet where it is, just for kicks, as it were, they may have to share space with the newly emerging Chinese and Indian Blue-water Navys. The big losers might just be Russia and Putin,if he hasn’t been killed by a bear or a shark by then.
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This is the best way I’ve ever come across (the only way actually) to visualise the speed of light. It’s a TED talk and the link starts at the specific moment that a single photon of light is filmed passing through a bottle of water. It’s pretty cool, if a little underwhelming. What is awesome, however, is the comparison to a speeding bullet. If you were to watch a bullet, fired from a gun, making the same 14 inch journey….. it would take a YEAR to watch!
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r/pics December


Finance, medicine, search, digital and killers

I’ve been exploring the idea that we have misaligned our incentives, with regards to pushing our finest brains into valuable pursuits, for a little while now. Its something that I wrote about, here,  earlier this year. Recently I came across this piece, entitled ‘telling people to leave finance‘. Its reassuring to know that I’m not the only only one to feel such misappropriation is foolish. When pondering the fate of ‘punished’ bankers (if such a thing were ever to come to pass) we should be reassured that such clever people, for they are most certainly, in the main, clever people, will almost certainly be re-employed in societal positive sum pursuits. I also found a very interesting piece that comes across as an interview, but is actually more deliberately constructed, by David Potter, the man behind Psion and who also served at the Bank of England. He points out, amongst other things, that part of what went wrong in 2008 was a derivative of the previous 20 years and the belief, held by those in power (from the right and the left), that we had ‘solved’ economics. Its easier in hindsight to be derisive, but I still feel this was a mistake that could have been avoided.
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Someone at the British Medical Journal has a sense of humour (its actually funny, for real). There is no need to subscribe to see what they are getting at, all the fun in is in the abstract before the firewall. There are 2 serious points here. The first is that there is still some quite considerable opposition to the idea of evidence based medicine, which is natural I suppose, although I wish we could move more quickly to the operational optimal mixture of the old and new schools. The second point is that there most certainly is a limit to the whole philosophy. Taking the discussion out of the field of medicine, the 2nd link, from my current favourite blog Ribbonfarm, decrys an over reliance on statistical analysis to the detriment of good old fashioned HARD thinking. He is exaggerating some to make his point, good statistics used well are clearly useful, nonetheless I do find myself agreeing that some simple mental sweats combined with a proper set of balls to trust our thinking is not easy enough to find in today’s business world.     

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One of the big issues that is still a long way from being settled in this new digital world is how we pay the content creators, both the independents and the networks (publishers). A side show in that substantial debate is the role of search engines, and most importantly Google. Its a relationship that seems most fraught with regard to journalism, and particularly the bigger more established newsgroups. Murdoch has famously waged a PR war against Google for years, although it is instructive that he doesn’t de-list his titles, which is incredibly easy to do via the addition of a simple piece of code. Google are pretty sanguine about this, as they have seen titles de-list regularly, only to reconnect when their traffic falls. Here we have 2 sides of the issue playing out in South America and France. In South America titles are refusing to be available in the google reader (which means eyeballs are not arriving at their own real estate), which at least has some cogency although probably not the ideal solution. In France, in response to a ridiculous move to enforce Google to pay for content, Google are simply threatening to de-list the titles from the main search results.
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This is an interesting piece about the Tumblr blog, The New Aesthetic. I had picked it up earlier this year and was disappointed when it stopped shortly after I had found it. Its now up and running again, and worth a regular look. This article explains what happened, and adds some extra explanation about what the original blog was looking to achieve. On face value it simply provided a home for people to submit images of the digital as they interposed with the analogue. However, that last sentence feels woefully inadequate. As well as highlighting these modern juxtapositions it was also showing the new relationship between the watchtower, and those being watched, the oldest of all power relationships, and as such is inherently political.
There is another interesting observation. As a result of publicity, generated by one famous blogger writing an essay about it, James Bridle, the blog author, closed the Tumblr as, “it rendered my social networks almost unusable. I couldn’t continue to talk about it because anything I said about it was lost in that mass.”
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This is a fantastical story about Sweden’s most notorious serial killer. Who, it turns out, didn’t actually kill anyone at all. Thomas Quick, now known as Sture Bergwall, is clearly a disturbed individual. He realised he was gay at the age of 14, but felt obliged to hide that fact from his Pentecostal parents, started using drugs at 19 and was accused of molesting boys shortly after. He was eventually incarcerated for robbing a bank dressed as Santa Claus. Whilst in hospital he realised that the more extreme his confessions, the more attention was paid to him and a strange history began which ultimately led to the confession of 30 murders, all of which it is now assumed were committed by other people. None of whom have been brought to justice.
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Still catching up with a backlog from my email newsletter, sorry if some of this is a little old…

I read somewhere a little while ago, that coding is the new Latin. The article was suggesting that only the brightest children would receive schooling in this very modern and essential life skill (I use the word essential here in the same way that the maths we were taught was essential – ie. not very, but a great way to stretch young minds, anyone use calculus past ‘O’ level?). Unsurprisingly it is not the current world leading nations that seem to be taking a more wide ranging approach to training the new generations. Step forward Estonia, announcing that 100% of publicly educated children will be taught to code.
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Here is my favourite application of the internet of things so far. Apparently Switzerland has been wolf free for some time, a pleasure for the resident sheep farmers there. Sadly, it appears this is no longer the case with the wolves returning and sheep being eaten. So, what do you do ? Implant the sheep with a heart monitor and a device that communicates via SMS when they appear distressed. Awesome !
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I’m pretty much of the opinion that the current state of play with regards to intellectual property law is untenable and in much need of reform. I don’t advocate for a complete repeal of copyright, but sometimes something gets reported that challenges that perspective. Something so stupid that I consider an extreme change in the law for purely punitive reasons. May I introduce to you the Ontario College of Art, who are selling a text book for their course ‘Global, Visual and Material Culture: Prehistory to 1800’ for the grand but not uncommon price of $180. There’s only one problem, all of the pictures of art are missing replaced by the kind of empty squares you get on a webpage when the pictures don’t load. Except its a book. Why, is the only question to ask really. Its a doozy. If they had bought the rights to publish the pictures the cost of the book would have been $800 !!

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This is a really thought provoking article from a website that looks awful, feels sensationalist, insists on presenting most of its content as lists (5 ways you…. 6 things that…) that I have dismissed on many occasions as a page view generator of little value. This list, ‘5 ways you don’t realise movies are controlling your brain‘ is worth the small amount of time it will take to read. I can even forgive it the grubbing for ad impressions. Decisively not making the, movies are a bad influence argument, it paints a compelling picture that shows the truth behind McLuhan’s the medium is the message meme.
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Amazon has finally bitten the bullet and incorporated state taxes into its Californian business. In a deal struck with the state, Amazon has finally stopped fighting the inevitable and enabled the new law which will generate approximately $317m of revenue in year 1, $100m of which is expected to come from Amazon alone. Its not the first state to insist on levying sales tax on digital purchases but it is significant that the home of silicon valley has finally recognised that the digital sales channel is no longer a special case. A nice landmark I think.
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Finally something close to my heart…bacon. 3 quick links.
1. Norse mythology has eternal bacon. Saehriminir, a boar is killed every evening to provide food, and is magically resurrected by morning. Eternal bacon, love the Scandies.
2. Scientific proof that a bacon sarnie is good for hangovers, courtesy of the Telegraph
3. There’s an imminent world shortage on its way courtesy of grain harvest problems. Trust the Guardian to deliver the bad news.

Two stories about treacle and some other fascinating links

This is a long, but well worth it, point of view, dissecting the Obama stimulus in ways that I simply have not heard of from any other quarter. The highlights are simple, the stimulus; was successful and prevented the US economy from slipping further into employment hell even though unemployment is still problematic; at $800 billion (yes, billion) the money was far greater than anyone could have predicted and that credit is due to Obama for a terrier like pursuit of volume, and finally that huge strides have been made in terms of sustainable technology. Amongst other things $90billion into renewable and green energy paid for the world’s largest wind farm, 6 of the world’s largest solar arrays, America’s first bio-fuels refineries and practically single handedly kickstarted a battery manufacturing industry for electric vehicles. No wonder there is little reporting about that lot ! All under the radar maybe, but providing fuel to the theories of Carlota Perez nonetheless.

 

 

This is the transcript of a talk given by Eben Moglun last March titled ‘innovation under austerity‘. Eben is a leading advocate of the open source movement and has been engaging the US government for over 20 years with regard to the legal issues raised by all our new communication technology. Privacy and the implications of losing it have been key themes. This talk is designed to take the discussion into the economic realm in an attempt to raise even a modicum of interest from those holding the relevant reins of power in government. It is a very insightful talk and I strongly advise you to make the time to read or watch it. One point made, which I think is fantastic, is that innovation is mostly led by people in cities, which he attributes to the power of a city to give anonymity to young people, a device which enables personal reinvention and hence technical invention.
 

 

The Boston Molasses disaster of 1919 killed 21 and injured 150 when a storage tank burst unleashing 2.3 million gallons of molasses through the neighborhood. I would be lying if I said that my initial interest wasn’t driven by a somewhat bleak turn of humour. However, on further reading it turns out to have been a somewhat horrifying event. Horses and humans become stuck as the sticky mixture moved ( a wall of treacle essentially) through the streets at 35mph and with a height of between 2 and 4 meters. The pressure was such that buildings suffered structural damage and once stuck there was nothing that could be done to help anyone. Nasty.

 

 

Here’s a fantastic piece of good news. ABC in Australia has finally acknowledged something that many who follow the fight between the copyright pirates and the copyright industries have understood for some time. Whereas a certain percentage of copyright infringement is perpetrated by those who will simply never pay for content, a more significant proportion is driven by limitations in the distribution models that are still in place from the old pre-internet days. Artificial release deadlines, geo-shifted availabilities, refusal to provide streaming and an unreasonable approach to cost are all factors that lead some people to pirate when they might otherwise be happy to pay, people don’t like to wait when they don’t have to. ABC have announced that they will release the new series of Dr Who, just hours after it first screens in the UK, specifically to fight piracy! At last we have some sense.

 

 
This clip of Capuchin monkeys demonstrates that a sense of fair play is an instinctive part of a mammals social makeup. it explains much of modern economics, or rather the tension that is thriving in society, and also much of human history. The video is utterly clear, there can be no mistaking what the unhappy monkey thinks of the situation she finds herself in.

 

 
I recently discovered that Sweden, much like some corporations, turn over their national Twitter account to a different citizen every week. They are vetted by a panel, but once up and running their tweets are not subject to approval. They have had the occasional troll insulting all and sundry, but also some thoughtful applications such as this example, a Swedish / Iraqi national who has taken his chance to discuss the experience of nationalising into an alien culture. All tweets, by the way are expected to be in English. Imagine having such a comfortable approach to nationality that a whole nation is willing to tweet, via the national account, in a foreign language. Couldn’t happen here, I know that much.

 

 

For some reason (quite accidental I assure you) this is another story about treacle, although a little less macabre that the Boston Molasses disaster above. Canada has a Maple syrup lake, and someone has stolen $30million worth of it. Canada has been seeking to expand its international sales of maple syrup over the last few years (its big in Japan apparently), and in pursuit of that goal and because there are certain frailties in syrup production, they’ve been stockpiling it. The article doesn’t answer my biggest question, however, which is where the hell do you stash $30m of stolen treacle?