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.

A relationship-completer plug-in for Addressbook

If you use OS X , addressbook, and AppleScript, then I think you’ll like relationship completer.This plug-in to Addressbook will fill in the obverse relationship for selected contacts: so if  (a) is (b’s) assistant, b is marked as a’s manager. Quite handy! Unfortunately it doesn’t complete real relationships: So don’t add x as your girlfriend and expect you to become her boyfriend (or vice versa 🙂 ).

Are silly left wing ideas due to low quantitative IQ?

Often people on the left get agitated about particular causes which are scientifically very complex and ill-understood, but about which they develop strong opinions, and they then advocate strongly for (often mandatory) changes to our behavior. If these are implemented, they often lose interest, as if the changes have solved the problem. I am wondering if this flows from low quantitative or analytic reasoning skill. Continue reading

collaborative advertising, in a great cause

One of the nicest text editors on OS X, and easily the most innovative, is SubEthaEdit from CodingMonkeys. Named after the late Douglas Adams’ prescient vision of the internet (he called it the sub-etha net), this editor supports collaborative editing (several users editing at the same time!).

The nice thing is that right now, BLOGZOT 2.0 on
are lowing the price in exchange for people like me (and you!) blogging about it. The result is that MacZOT and TheCodingMonkeys will award $105,000 in Mac software.

This is a great piece of software, currently for $6 (as of posting time), and falling. So, go and grab a copy (the code monkey’s are nice guys too!).

Smart and gets things done

Another article by Joel that makes a nice honours topic: smart and gets things done. We have people in academia with IQs of 130+ who basically achieve nothing. The world is, of course, overflowing with people who get nothing done. There are those too who get things done: the wrong things!

So finding people who are smart and get thing done will be of value. Detecting companies run by and staffed by these people will be a good investment guide. How can we do it?

How can we select smart? – easy: there are many IQ tests, and they all measure the same construct: general ability.

But how do we measure getting things done? Is that organization? Maybe. Conscientiousness? (no – too high and you can’t tolerate the noise that abounds during getting things done).

How about “energy”? This is my best bet: just plain energy. The ability to work hard, physically and mentally. To not give in, to not sit idle, not to be busy with busy work.