The age that could be amazing

Douglas Carswell blogs the internet age is amazing. Indeed, not just the 3-D printers Douglas mentions, but materials science, large and small scale engineering, power technologies, and, perhaps most important genome science all boggle and beckon to the inquiring mind. Synthetic biology promises us atomic-scale engineering and immortality.

But the kids who do that aren’t going to come from schools that fail to teach them hard science, art, language and history, then hide differences in undiscriminating exams.

Nor from Universities that ban the best students as having an unfair disadvantage, and scurry after government grants in a public research environment that stifles controversy and thereby, the food of creativity.

Nor will they come from businesses starved of California-style capital funding, or a country chained by regulation, craving safety, and uninterested in reality… Without a big change back to the days of discovery: 1666, Victoria, or the USA of Carnegie and Rockefeller, tomorrow will feel more and more like Da Vinci: Dreaming of machines that can’t be assembled, and wondering, as he said, whether, we bring our pictures and plans to others that they ‘do not bring them to their mouths, and ask if they are something to eat’.


Media Survival strategy: OpenID Advertising

It will be interesting to see if Mr Murdoch’s innovation of charging for access to his newspaper’s online content works.  We don’t know what he plans: My guess is just like the WSJ, he will simply ask people to pay to read the stories. I think that is doomed. As soon as The Times goes this way, people will swithc to reading the Telegraph or Guardian, their advertising revenue will double, and they have a business model again, having effectively lost one competitor. A which reporter will want to write for a tiny audience?

I can see several mechanisms for making papers and magazines highly successful today.

One very powerful tool would be to make a newspaper like The Times free to anyone with a “Times Buyer’s” card:

Advertisers would scan this card (for high-street and big-box purchases) or use it to authenticate via OpenID for online purchases). At a stroke, this creates a mass market for the paper (who wouldn’t take a free copy of media like The Times, Telegraph or Spectator?), and a verifiable but anonymous revenue stream from advertisers, as well as a motivation for consumers to let choose advertisers in their preferred media (while preserving complete anonymity for the card-holder, the card’s validity for free copies of The Times would be maintained by public-key encrypted notification of purchases.)

The media owners would receive an income stream from their advertisers/sponsors, based not on page views or clicks, but on actual purchases made anywhere, by anonymous, but authenticated buyers of their media.

Just 0.01% of each ‘subscriber’s’ annual purchases would make Media one of the biggest, most profitable, and potentially civilization-enhancing businesses on the planet once more.

More speculatively (say 5 years), once e-paper gets down to a price where a sheet of wirelessly self-updating paper can be given to each person as a loss leader (say £200 manufacturing cost, like an iPhone), I think Newspapers are in for their biggest business boom ever!

Great engineers (according to the BBC)

I smiled when TED gave a slot to a boy who they hailed as an engineering hope for Africa when he had managed to follow plans for a small farm windmill and assembled it from standard parts… That’s not actually innovation, I am afraid.


But today on Radio 4’s women’s hour we heard of young british woman who had made an evaporative cooler (yip – putting a wet blanket over a box, with a lid). This was hailed as a design breakthrough. I couldn’t see it, and I couldn’t see, either, how useful this would be given that her first (yes, she’s a multi award winner) prize wining design was for a wheel-barrow to carry — you guessed it — water!

An initial wonder concerns whether African’s can really have failed to develop the wheel barrow, or if, perhaps more likely, the tracks they are carrying water over make the alternative of carrying one bucket n your head better than pushing 5 on a barrow).

But aside from that, what use is a terribly inefficient, and ineffective passive evaporative cooler going to be in an environment where water has to be carried several miles, 5-gallons at a time?

Given that neither the ‘wheel barrow’ nor the ‘water power refrigerator’ are even engineering or design breakthoughs, let alone inventions, this seems to set a low bar for aspiring female engineers. But maybe that’s the point.

Ideology: what is it and what’s bad about ideologues

An ideology is a compact and universal. It simplifies and organizes: in this sense it is like a theory. But it can be like old wives tales, or rules of thumb. It is not, therefore a theory. It is a set of answers deployable in many situations: a short cut to action.

An Ideologue is someone who takes their ideology seriously: for whom there are no doubts about the ideology, no need to test it, to confirm it, and, importantly, a person who sees the world through their ideology.

The ideologue is a politician in search of an electorate, an orator in search of an audience, a person who seeks not to understand and share this understanding or to convince with honest argument, but who seeks to convert: to convert others to their ideology. It has become a viral meme in their minds, and perverts their intellect, whatever it might be, to the cause of propagating the ideology.

What’s bad about that? Well, first of all, if you do not know the weaknesses or failing of their ideology, they will not tell you. If they can trick you into liking the ideology for reasons that are inconsistent even with their ideology they will. They care not for you, or your welfare, or even for their own, but for the welfare of their ideology. The world is in a terrible state when ideologues rule.

Buying Art: Spreading the market

I have been looking at paintings recently, and two things strike me: one is that even with lots of good examples of art to copy, most artists can’t even do a good copy or derivative work. Odd.

Second is that anything reasonable is around £500-£1000 – I imagine that is what is required to give the gallery 100% markup and the artist pay for the materials and earn £30,000 a year or so.

Now, to buy some paintings at one thousand to 4 thousand each is not a lot of money, but quite a risk: one imagines they cannot be sold back into the market for this kind of money.

And yet, if that is the case: where do they all go? Perhaps they are sold into the gallery and antique market again at half price or less, and so one never sees retail paintings in the “second hand” market.

Of course, some sell for much more: Picasso, Renoir… Ventriano.

So, what happens if you buy some examples of every artist when they are £1000 each? Buying the market, as it were?

Many will be worthless, but what is the distribution of values? How rare is Picasso? As rare as Einstein, one imagines. But then there are Vetriano’s, perhaps only as rare as good professors or large business CEOs.

It would be nice to know the distribution, and then to know the mean value of a painting: heavily influenced by these small tails of 100 million dollar Picasso’s, and $500,000 Ventrianos.

If you buy paintings at random, what will their mean value be? More or less than the average £1,000 charged for a competent artist’s work?

Of course you could buy wholesale, and selectively.

Another question: Were Picasso’s works ever cheap? Perhaps not. But perhaps so: Schopenhauer was not recognized until late in his life, Einstein was poor, and a patent clerk. So we do undervalue talent.

Perhaps the thing to do is to sponsor music, art and science competitions at school?

Perhaps i’ll do that.

A suggestion for Google

Google, the only company whose motto is “do no evil” has a chance, I feel to do a lot of good.

They, alone amongst the big search engines, have resisted the Justice Department demand for information not intended for the Justice Department. If you search with Yahoo, MSN, or AOL, you should switch: punish them directly for breaking trust with their users.

But this prompted a bigger thought: Google, in order to do business, needs to be able to maintain your identity: having an identity for you allows them to tailor search and advertisements. that identity can benefit you (us) massively in ways more important than showing us products we want: it can allow us to build online reputation and establish trust. Implemented correctly, a google-sponsored identity would be a massive boon, facilitating all kinds of currently hard to do things. One trillion dollar example is micro transactions, even peer-to-peer micro transactions, based on trust.

But this will never happen if your identity is not merely a coherent online entity, but also identifies “you” – the physical entity: the one that can be jailed, tortured, blackmailed, exploited, stalked, and all the other travails of flesh.

My suggestion for google, then, is that they create and sponsor a system of de-identifying crypto for their search engine. Allow this system to guarantee the integrity of a coherent online identity, while obscuring the physical entity which lies offline. This would be done by using all the users of google to relay elements of searches. Each of us will route parts of each others searches. The information entropy created by this inefficiency can provide the energy needed to do the work of obscuring identity. A working model is the EFF’s Tor.

This will be a massive benefit for Google: With online fame being possible while preserving physical obscurity, we will soon turn on their complete tracking service. Once google can tract everything we do, their advert hit rate will go through the roof. Plus they will be at the centre of a massive micro-transaction business. They’d do well to hire Peter Thiel, too.

It will be a massive benefit for us: this open identity will make the online world safer and more like the real world: we will profit from being responsible, cooperation will increase.

It will prevent the government and other bodies from decoding the online choices we make, into real world entities.

True Names will be made real, but with a happier ending than Vernor Vinge dreamt.


True Names

“True Names

Searching note: Switch to Firefox, and use google as your search engine. If you are in Safari, you already do: For your own fun and benefit, install Acidsearch. This give you one-key search and a choice of engine.

Patent it!

I’ve had quite a few inventive ideas: One in July 2003 was a recycling shower: a shower which filters and reheats the drain water from a shower, so once you’ve soaped and are clean, you can stay under a flood of fresh hot water as long as you like for very little heat cost, and no water cost. A second the same year was a pocket Wi-fi detector: a device which would tell you if there was a wi-fi connection near by.

Of course, both of these have become commercial items now. So… the lesson: if you want to make some money out of ideas: do something about it NOW. Sell it to someone who can protect and develop the idea, or, if you love it, build it yourself.