Sunday, December 31, 2006

Shout, shout ... let it all out.

Wandering as I was through the local sprawl of shops, I chanced upon a small book "What is your dangerous idea". It piqued my interest, so I bought it. The book is a collection of ideas about the future, it's cute, speculative and generally interesting. As with all good books, it led me on a journey.

The journey in this case, was because of its claim to provide "today's leading thinkers on the unthinkable". How do you define "today's leading thinkers?" One of the lessons that Cambridge taught me was that true genius is very scarce. I was there, and I'm a fully paid up member of the dazzlingly daft society. Along with 90% of the population, I believe I'm above average intelligence which either means I can't count or I'm deluded - I prefer to think I'm deluded. The one thing this does tell me is that I'm not one of the great thinkers, but fortunately I've got a lot of people to keep me company.

The truly great thinkers are often hidden away in the most obscure places and in my experience they never think of themselves in such terms. Now if you are a truly exceptional individual, let's say in the top 0.01%, then in the world today there are over half a million people just as bright as you; enough to make a small city. No matter how smart you think you or your clique are, there is a city of smarter people out there. Now this is the rub - the city couldn't exist anyway. The problem is that unless you exist in a true meritocracy most of these brilliant people are unlikely to be discovered. I believe I've met many outstandingly intelligent and thoughtful people who, because of the cards that life has dealt them, have never come close to realising their potential. A true meritocracy needs to hunt out these individuals.

So what do we live in; isn't the internet a true meritocracy? Well, it seems closer to a "shoutocracy" or, not to mix languages, a Stentorocracy (from the greek hero with the big lungs) than to a true meritocracy. There are those who argue the "wisdom of the crowd" creates a meritocracy. However the crowd is equally wise as daft (see Marquis de Condorcet for a more formal examination of this). You also still have to shout at the crowd and then you have the problem of memes.

So anyway back to the book. It led me to a group called the Edge. It's an interesting mix of self-selecting cultural imperialism, combined with some ardent beliefs and pleasurable intellectual discourse. Now there is nothing wrong with this - it's a talking shop - but the claims it makes are somewhat disturbing. It's not so much the edge, as sailing close or over it.

  • "The third culture consists of those scientists and other thinkers in the empirical world who, through their work and expository writing, are taking the place of the traditional intellectual in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are."

All hail to the priesthood. Hmmm, Hume would be turning in his grave - where has the humility gone?

  • "America now is the intellectual seedbed for Europe and Asia."
  • "The emergence of the third culture introduces new modes of intellectual discourse and reaffirms the preeminence of America in the realm of important ideas"

All hail to the imperium! I think 6 billion people might disagree with this. This doesn't mean the ideas or people aren't interesting, the claims are just a tad strong though.

  • "Who are the 'digerati' and why are they 'the cyber elite'? They are the doers, thinkers, and writers who have tremendous influence on the emerging communication revolution. They are not on the frontier, they are the frontier."

All hail to the Kings and Queens. They may well be self-anointed, but let the meme spread long enough and soon the crowd in its wisdom will be chanting. Still, it could be worse :-

King Arthur: I am your king.
Serf: Well I didn't vote for you.
King Arthur: You don't vote for kings.
Serf: Well how'd you become king then?
King Arthur: The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water, signifying by divine providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. THAT is why I am your king.
Serf: Listen, strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.
Serf: You can't expect to wield supreme executive power just because some watery tart threw a sword at you.
Serf: If I went 'round sayin' I was Emperor, just because some moistened bint lobbed a scimitar at me, they'd put me away.
(Monty Python, Holy Grail ... if you haven't seen this, you should)

and finally ...

  • "The role of the intellectual includes communicating. Intellectuals are not just people who know things but people who shape the thoughts of their generation. An intellectual is a synthesizer, a publicist, a communicator."

Ah, the Stentorocracy in action, the pantomisation of science (oh no it isn't, oh yes it is - I can't hear you!) - this is as dangerous a meme or idea as any in the book. Still, it's an interesting book - worth reading and it won't make you go blind.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Those silly little things ...

Most cars today have some form of radio frequency based remote keyless system for locking / unlocking a car.

Many of these use small internal batteries within the fob, which need to be replaced when they run down.

Why?

The key is connected to the ignition when driving, the car has a walloping electricity generator and a battery to boot. Can't these key batteries be recharged whilst driving?

grumble, grumble...

King Canute ...

Nicholas Carr's Blog has a link to a fine rant on web 2.0, democratisation of news, the net and how this is a disaster for print journalism.

Why does anyone assume things ever remain constant?

The internet is, and continues to be, a major force for commoditisation of any many processes in communication. News (e.g. a process of information transfer) is no exception, the same as music, video, imaging etc.

It allows for further commodisation of IT - hence our focus on Zimki - an industry that has developed from the silicon chip which allowed for commoditisation of data processing.

Each wave of change, causes much nashing of teeth to the vested interests. This was the basis of my talk at Euro Oscon this year and I suspect the basis of the rant.

However, as large as this seems, it is small potatoes to the change threatened by 3D printing and the commoditisation of the manufacturing process (and it's subsequent distribution).

We already have printed structure, printed electronics (Sirringhaus, 2000) and even hybrid systems printing both structure and electronics within a single machine.

The news debate is about the 'democratisation' of news, where everyone can be a consumer and publisher. Just imagine the fuss when everyone can be a consumer and manufacturer.

It will be here sooner than most people realise and no amount of ranting is going to stop that wave.

On commoditisation

Well, the new billing system has been released and working in Zimki for over a week now. There are a couple of reporting bugs to be ironed out, but overall it's sweet.

So we now have a javascript application development platform and execution environment, using a utility method of charging (Javascript Ops, Storage and Bandwidth) down to the function with scaleability of service and the initial components of a national computing grid developed.

I discussed the concepts of commoditisation of IT (along with 3D printing - which resulted in the Fotango lego brick chocolate printer) back at Euro Foo 2004, but it has been a hobby horse of mine for almost a decade now.

Finally we are getting there, at least with the commoditised web operating environment (CWOE), one step up from commoditised hardware.

Next steps are to open source, get the grid going and encourage SaaS development on CWOE.

Looks like Nicholas Carr will be shown to be right (well, there are a lot of people trying to make this happen)

Don't trust them, trust us ... we're the news.

Or at least they were.

Apparently according Tom Glocer's Blog post, blogging is changing the media landscape by creating a two way pipe of communication. [on a personal note, a one way pipe isn't communication but dictation].

Benefits include such things as more accountability (or at least getting caught out seems to be more likely as per the Hajj photo example), no-one has a choke hold on information flow (i.e consumers get to chose) and immediacy (everyone is a potential producer!)

The downside? How can you trust the internet and amateurs (hmmm, wasn't there something about accountability in the benefit list?).

The argument goes that professionals bring something extremely important to a story, a professional code, standards and a brand. What is needed is that news providers become the trusted source in this plural media universe!

Hang on, I thought news providers were once the trusted source? Is this a case that now a different source is available (i.e. the internet) the news providers have lost the trust of the public. Now the news providers want us to go back to trusting them?

Horse, Door, Stable, Bolted ....

There would seem to be an obvious need for canonical sources of information and reputation based curators - who those curators are, well the public will decide. That's democracy for you.

Does this mean the crowd will make a wise choice? Well, they'll either make an almost perfectly right or wrong one (Marquis de Condorcet, 1745-1794) depending upon whether they have enough information and the accuracy of the information.

So I suppose the real question is whether the news providers will spend enough marketing dollars to get themselves elected?

I'm guessing they will.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Which average you after then?

The housing market is a difficult beast to pin down. Try finding out the average house price in London?

According to Hometrack, as of Sept '06 - the average house price in London was £285K.

According to the Land Registry report for 3Q06 - the average house price in London was £330K.

According to Right Move for Dec'06 - the average house price in London was £355K (though this is asking price).

Hmmm, which one is right though?

Interestingly the Sept '06 report for the Land registry has a Sales Volume against Price for London in July'06 (page 12).

If you look at the figures three things stand out :-

  • 30% of properties in London sold for less than £200K in Jul'06.
  • 55% of properties in London sold for less than £250K in Jul'06.
  • 67% of properties in London sold for less than £300K in Jul'06.

This the old problem of mean, median and mode. The mean is distorted by the high value properties.

For example the results for Jul'06 (taken from housepricecrash.co.uk) are :-

  • Home track London House price - £280K
  • Land Registry Q2 London House price - £317K
  • RightMove house price index - £324K

Whilst the land registry figures show the median is below £250K. You can be more generous and take the 2nd & 3rd quartile average, this bumps up the figure to £251K.

So the average figure for a house price in London?

Well somewhere between £250K - £350K, depending upon who you ask and which average you are after.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Render unto Caesar ... Part II

I watched a rather disturbing program this evening which attempted to show through metaphor why science was a religious subject by focusing on atheist beliefs and then associating those with science.

Hmmm.

This was tabloid TV at its worst, with a lack of any form of neutrality and a blatant agenda.

God is not a provable concept - it is outside the realm of physical reality. It is a matter of faith whether you believe in God or not, and if you do believe which version of religion you accept.

The one common fact is that all these faith systems are absolute in the belief of that faith. Atheism is also a faith based system, it is the absolute belief that God does not exist.

So what has this got to do with science? Nothing at all.

Science is a reason based system using principles of falsification, testability, the realm of reality (that which is physically observable), empirical observations, non-absolutes, usefulness and predictions.

There is no conflict between Science and Religion - they do not touch on the same things. There is of course conflict between Pro God and Non God (atheist) beliefs.

Now to Darwinism. Evolutionary theory is currently the best scientific model for explaining the origin of species.

ID (intelligent design) however is a faith based system which is not testable, falsifiable or limited to the realm of reality (it invokes an intelligent creator). It is simply put not science.

This doesn't mean that ID is wrong, or that God does not exist - it simply means that those are questions for religion not science.

So,

Does god exist? Well that's outside the scope of science.

Is science a religion? No.

Is atheism a religion? Yes.

Is science atheist? No, it's agnostic to the matter.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Cheaper waste ...

I read this article on outsourcing and the huge number of comments on Digg.

There are many good and bad reasons for outsourcing and it varies with industrial segment - so I'm going to talk primarily about IT.

The exists little correlation between IT spending and value generation however the main reasons for this would seem to be that not all IT work is the same.

You can categorise most of this work into three distinct sections.

CODB (Cost of Doing Business): Those systems which are needed to compete in the marketplace. Such systems are common across all competitors and hence bring no inherent value to a company as there exists no differentiation (the exception to this is in cost and the success of implementation). The lack of such systems puts the company at a distinct disadvantage. They are strategic systems, as per the "IT arms race" argument, in that they are a necessity.

How do you recognise a CODB? Well if there is a term for the system, standard product offerings and you are aware that all your competitors either have one or are building one - it's a good bet that it's CODB. For example - ERP, Accounts Ledger, HR system etc.

The approach to CODB should be "cheap as chips" and certainly "cheaper than my competitors", and the cheapest way to do this is in general to use a standard product (ideally a utility service) and not to customise it.

CA (Competitive Advantage) : These systems are novel, new and with a real potential return in a short period of time. As they are novel and new, they are inherently risky.

How do you recognise a CA? Much more tricky, but if it is something that no-one else has done, has a core team of experts who believe and are passionate in it (think more Marquis de Condorcet rather than wisdom of crowds), has some concept of where value can be generated - then it is more likely to be CA.

Such systems are more ideally suited to "worth based development" - i.e. a VC like approach to funding (either internally or externally). Such projects create real value but they are the minority (a few percentage points).

The final category is transitional, which is the movement from CA to CODB as any advantage gained is quickly adopted by the market.

Now if you don't divide systems into such categories, then you have a mixed bag of CA, CODB and transitional projects. Any real value is being made by a small minority and the costs are being made by all. To compound this if you treat all as the same, then you are more than likely to be overspending on CODB (unecessary cost) and underspending on CA (increasing likelihood of failure).

The cost / value link is broken internally.

Now let's make things worse by treating CODB (which can be described as static or known problems) and CA (which being new can be considered dynamic problems - more akin to R&D) as the same class and applying the same methodologies to solve them, combined with a focus on customisation.

You'll then have little or no link between cost and value combined with the wrong methodologies and a correspondingly higher failure rate.

High failure rate? High cost? Uncertain value? Sounds familiar?

Well if you are going to do something badly, then at least do it cheaply! So the natural response is to outsource to the cheapest possible provider.

This doesn't mean you won't get an equivalent result from that provider - high failure rate & uncertain value , you've just reduced the cost of it. There are however much better ways of solving this problem - IT doesn't have to be done badly.

Few people would argue that universities should just be teaching colleges, whilst all the research is done with the cheapest possible labour in the cheapest possible county. This scenario could happen if we acted as though research and teaching are the same thing, failed to distinguish between the activities and believed you could gantt chart yourself to a new discovery in the same way you can schedule a series of lectures - one is static, one is dynamic.

A more pragmatic view is to recognise the differences and treat them appropriately. The same is true with IT.

Use a "cheap as chips" approach in CODB / Transition (which means standard products, utility services - very little customisation) and use alternative funding mechanisms for that which is CA based upon highly skilled experts.

There is an enormous amount of unnecessary waste in IT but the solution is not to make it someone else's problem, you'll just end up with a cheaper way of producing unnecessary waste rather than an effective use of resources.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

ID cards and state funding of parties

Two petitions which I believe are worth signing

Against ID Cards which is a concept that is an affront to civil liberties.

Against State Funding of Political Parties which is a concept that is a affront to the ideals of democracy.

This and that ...

I met up with an old friend recently, we chewed the fat for a bit. By the end of the evening we had covered a reasonable range of subjects.

There are a bunch of concepts which I've talked about and debated on for the last decade, they came up in the conversation - so I thought I'd put a note here.
  • Problems exist on a fuzzy scale between static and dynamic. There is no single methodology to managing such, but rather opposing methodologies.

  • Knowledge evolves through the same fuzzy scale.

  • Commoditisation of IT is not only inevitable but desirable.

  • Leadership is a highly malleable concept that changes with precedent, environment and culture.

  • Politics in the western world is increasingly exhausted, trivialised and without vision.

  • There is an image of conspiracies controlled by men in smoked filled rooms. However some of these would appear to be controlled by emergent behaviours of the crowd.

    Q. Is someone plotting against us?
    A. Yes
    Q. Who?
    A. You are.
    Q. Are we?
    A. Yes, you're just not aware of it.

  • Open source is more than a licensing model.

  • The environment should not be treated as a tradeable and exclusive good.

  • 3D printing (in terms of printed structure and printed electronics) is a disruptive technology which will commoditise the manufacturing process allowing for distributed manufacturing. AKA, the next industrial revolution.

  • Content will increasingly be valued through self organising processes rather than managed ones.

  • As information flow accelerates within society then patents will increasingly become a disabler rather than an enabler of innovation.

  • Market economics is a tool not a purpose.

  • Different funding mechanisms are required for IT, taking into consideration the different stages of technology in terms of CODB, Transitional and CA. This is principally what I call the "cheap as cheaps" vs "worth based development" methods.

  • There exists no known absolutes.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Hack days

Recently we've been running hack days at Fotango. Every two weeks on a Friday, the entire company "hacks" on new idea or concepts that people are interested in.

The rules are basically :-

  • everyone can be involved who wants to be involved
  • you must have something to show at the end of the day
  • organise yourself how you wish to

The results have been fabulous from new applications (20 questions, mind mapper and others) built in Zimki to gravity games and a guitar hero version of nagios. I'll blog about those on the Fotango and Zimki blog.

Why do this? Well Brendan Dawes gave an excellent talk at Flash on the Beach (FOTB) which incidentally covered the same sort of themes that led us to our conclusion and also one of the reasons behind Zimki.

In order to create you need to take risks with ideas and and you need to experiment. You can only effectively do this within a environment which encourages such experimentation and risk.

We've always encouraged experimentation at Fotango as well as being major supporters of the teams efforts in the open source community.

  • For over four years our systems have used web services at the heart of everything (this started from experimentation)
  • For four years we've been using XP like project methodologies changing them according to our need (this started from experimentation)
  • For around three years our entire intranet has been a wiki (this started from experimentation)

Looking back our use of worth based development, utility charging, virtualised everything, our borg cluster, our build systems and our new product, an entire javascript web application development platform, just to name a few all come from experimentation.

Despite this, until now we have never formalised it as a "core" part of the company - we've understood how essential it is but have always treated this as a peripheral concept.

Not any more.

Innovation comes from experimentation - without it, real innovation doesn't happen.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Oh yes it is, oh not it's not ...

There is wonderful article on the Patently-O blog, regarding the definition of obviousness in US patent law.

It links through to an article by Mark Smith which provides the following comments on a 1976 case:-

the opinion states that “a patent for a combination which only unites old elements with no change in their respective functions” is obvious. Furthermore, the Court requires the combination to be “synergistic” (resulting in an effect greater than the sum of the several effects taken separately). However, the very next sentence in the opinion says “[T]his patent simply arranges old elements with each performing the same function it had been known to perform, although perhaps producing a more striking result than in previous combinations.”

A ruling which states that combining old (or known) elements together despite producing a more striking result than in previous combinations is not unobvious - that sounds like sense.

I'm a great believer in patents for promoting technological innovation rather than protecting inventors rights.

The key is promoting technological innovation.

This is why :-

1. I'm all in favour of harsh tests for non-obviousness, in fact I'm much more inclined to agree with a demonstratable "flash of genius".

2. With increasing velocity of information and an associated acceleration in discovery (well just look at all those patents!) - I'm also more inclined to agree with a situation where the term of a patent is on a case by case basis with an upper limit. That term to be decided by the length of time in which society could be reasonably expected to independantly discover such a "flash of genius".

3. I don't agree with non-technological innovations being patentable and I do believe in a robust definition of what is technology, on the basis that everything else is excluded.

4. I would agree that patents are redudnant (and therefore should be excluded) where alternative, beneficial and major means of promoting innovation exist (for example open source in software).

5. I would agree that a patent which is not reasonably and meaningfully used in a commercial sense, giving due consideration to the inventor, is not enforceable as it has more to do with protection than promotion i.e trolling.

But then I'm not a patent lawyer. I'm just a great believer in patents as a tool for promoting technological innovation and nothing else.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A little more dabbling ...

Had a few moments spare, so I've been playing around with a few ideas.

I decided to add Technorati entries and tags into my "mood" page. This was simplicity itself.

There is no error handling at the moment - so if it bombs, it bombs. It's a bit slow because I'm pulling data from other services, combining on the server and then serving.

All that was needed was a few bits of JavaScript like :-

function processTechnoTags( tagList ) {
var subset = {};
subset.blogs = new Array();
subset.count = tagList.document.result.postsmatched;

for ( let aBlogId in tagList.document.item )
subset.blogs.push({
title:tagList.document.item[aBlogId].title,
link:tagList.document.item[aBlogId].permalink});
return subset;
}


and suddenly, hey presto I've got entries from Technorati as well as Flickr combined together. Again this is from someone who doesn't know JavaScript in detail!

Ok, it's all server side at the moment, no AJAX stuff yet but I like this language ... lots, it couldn't be simpler.

This isn't even going into the persistance side of things, which for an old DBA like myself is child's play.

Easy does it ...

Well I don't know JavaScript or HTML and I haven't coded in a long time (the last time was languages like C++ / VB and C - however even then most of my work was in heavy databases)

So I wanted to see how quickly I could build and release a web application. I decided to build a "mood" finder - the idea would be that the service would extract data from multiple different sites and determine the "mood" of the internet.

To begin with I'd make things simple and just extract "mood" from one site - in this case I chose Flickr and to make it even simpler I'd just extract images and tags related to four predefined words - happiness, sadness, fear and hope.

So steps to be done.

1. Get a web server somewhere
2. Install programming language and other necessary items
3. Write a web site which extracts information from a public API and displays it.

Hmmm.

Well I skipped steps 1 + 2 by just using Zimki.

I created a new realm, with the following URL and added some javascript and template code (see below)

All done - approx 1 hr (with about 5 minutes help from James), and it only took an hour because I didn't know JavaScript and HTML!

Now to combine with some other sites and provide something more useful or maybe just add something AJAX like - just to show how quick it can be done.

Gosh, this is easy ...

P.S If my code sucks ... well, I'm just learning the language so give us a break!


JavaScript Code
================
zimki.library.require('library', 'trimpath.js');

var fapikey = 'add your own Flickr key here';
var url = 'http://api.flickr.com/services/rest/';
var photo_url = 'http://static.flickr.com/${photo.server}
/${photo.id}_${photo.secret}_s.jpg';

function processPhotos( photoList ) {
var subset = {};
subset.count = photoList.total;
subset.urls = new Array();
for ( let aPhotoId in photoList.photo )
subset.urls.push( photo_url.process(
{ photo: photoList.photo[aPhotoId] } ) );
return subset;
}

function processTags( tagList ) {
return tagList.tag.map(
function(o) { return o._content; } );
}

function jsonFlickrApi( d ) {
if (d.photos) return processPhotos( d.photos );
if (d.tags) return processTags( d.tags );
}

function getPhotos( aTag ) {
return eval(zimki.remote.get(url,
{method: 'flickr.photos.search',
api_key: fapikey,
tags: aTag,
per_page: 8,
format: 'json' }
));
}

function getTags( aTag ) {
return eval(zimki.remote.get(url,
{method: 'flickr.tags.getRelated',
api_key: fapikey,
tag: aTag,
format: 'json'}
));
}


function runapp() {

var tags = ['happiness','sadness','fear','hope'];
var moodData = {};

tags.forEach(
function( aTag ) {
moodData[aTag] = {};
moodData[aTag].mood = aTag;
moodData[aTag].photos = getPhotos( aTag );
moodData[aTag].tags = getTags( aTag );
}
);

return zimki.render.trimpath('index.html',
{moodData:moodData});
}

zimki.publishPath('/', runapp );


Template Code
============
<HTML>
<HEAD>
</HEAD>
<BODY>

<TABLE border="1">
<CAPTION><EM>A table of moods</EM></CAPTION>
<COLGROUP align="center" width="20%">
<COLGROUP align="center" width="50%">
<COLGROUP align="center" width="20%">
<COLGROUP align="center" width="10%">
<TR><TH>Mood<TH>Photo<TH>Words<TH>Count

{for moods in moodData}
<TR><TH>${moods.mood}<TD>
{for photo_url in moods.photos.urls}
<A HREF='${photo_url}'><IMG border="0" height="150"
width="150" src='${photo_url}'</IMG></A>
{/for}
<TD>
{for tag in moods.tags}
${tag}
{/for}
<TD>
${moods.photos.count}
{/for}

</TABLE>

</BODY>
</HTML>

Monday, November 27, 2006

Render unto Caesar the things ...

According to the Register, Intelligent Design (ID) is on the way to the UK.

The scientific method of study is a body of techniques for acquiring and correcting knowledge. It is based on gathering observable, empirical, measurable evidence, subject to the principles of reasoning and is falsifiable, provisional and testable at the very least.

ID has no method of testing and is not falsifiable, it's therefore a principle of faith - it "holds that life on earth is too complex to have evolved on its own, without an intelligent entity guiding its path".

In short, a theory in science can be useful and the best we have until a test proves it to be wrong or a better theorem is developed - this is scientific progress. Beliefs of faith are by their very nature untestable - if they weren't they wouldn't require faith.

Now there is nothing wrong with belief in ID, though I studied Natural Sciences I certainly wouldn't argue that there are any absolute truths in science - in fact the study of science predicates against this.

It's just that ID is a matter of faith and it belongs in a RE lesson - it's not a matter of science, never was.

Tim as Tito ...

Well I'm a great believer for having a vision of where you want to go. I'm also a great believer in the bazaar being a tool for certain areas and the cathedral for infra-structural issues.

However, when something is new or fledgling - imposing or desiring to impose a method of operation rather than allowing a standard to emerge is almost always folly.

So have a vision, don't impose operating restrictions, allow the melting pot of human creativity compete with different ideas and then support the emergent standard if a standard is necessary or beneficial.

This is what is happening with web 2.0. A melting pot of ideas, from which standards are being rapidly created or adopted, for example REST over SOAP, Mapstraction etc

Of course this is a nightmare for any purist or committee that wishes to control or impose their own idea of how things should operate. Such evolved behaviour or evolved standards bypasses the need for committees or imposed computing standards.

You can almost hear the nashing of teeth as the purveyors of what is "right" discover they are irrelevant.

So we come to Bill Thomson's tirade against web 2.0 and his description of Tim "Marshal Tito" O'Reilly.

Tim's vision or collection of concepts into his vision does nothing to state how things will operate. It is more a description of important concepts (from open data to commodisation of operating environments to social participation to rich interfaces to new business models to a data centric view) and describes a progression to a different type of web. It subscribes to the view that this is not dictated to but is emergent.

Bill however takes issue with this, describes it as window dressing and a dictatorship and says you can't build "real" applications with javascript and XML. - these are important computer science issues which any "good" computer scientist would agree with him (therefore assuming that disagreement makes you a "bad" computer scientist).

A "real" application is one that is used and is useful and has no bearing on language or transport protocol. As for supporting messages between distributed objects - well those are standards which will emerge rather than be dictated to.

Bill's thesis is we should stop all this, as there is the real chance of it turning into a nightmare. That's a mantra against creativity, against the melting pot.

So is this a case of the kettle calling the pot black?

It's not Tim who is Tito ...

Things improve ...

Well the new machine from DELL works perfectly, which I am very happy about.

Furthermore I received a phone call from customer services to check that everything was satisfactory. I explained my experience to them, they will investigate and find out what went wrong.

That one phone call has started to turn around my "DELL experience".

Amazing what a little after sales support does.

Do we have to change?

I've read an excellent blog entry by Nicholas Carr on SaaS adoption. It is timely as utility computing including commoditised web operating environments (CWOE) and SaaS were a major focus of the web 2.0 summit this year.

[@swardley 19/11/2010 N.B. the term CWOE was renamed later to FaaS (Framework as a Service) in early 2007 and then became PaaS (Platform as a Service).]

Now I'm a vested interest running a company that provides a javascript application platform as a CWOE that we are open sourcing next year in order to create competitive hosting environments for our own platform.

Why? Because we need competitors for our customers to shift to and without such a move we cannot release our grid components, which enables a company to shift from one CWOE to another and back again. It also allows those with large hosting infrastructure to sell "space" back into the grid.

The big issue with many of the services today such as EC2 is portability. Yes, you can access your data but there is no where else to take it unless you build your own - Amazon's issue in my view is that there isn't a Google EC2 or a Microsoft EC2. Taking it back in house, is often an expensive process (in terms of machinery and man power) and most company hosting centres are massively under-utilised (approx 80% under-utilisation is the norm according to Jeff Bezos talk at web 2.0)

Economies of scale and portability are critical issues in SaaS and the CWOE scene, and central to creating an elastic grid of computing services.

There were a number of comments on Carr's blog, which raise some interesting points.

1. Software as a customised service is more likely to become the trend?
It all depends upon whether we are talking CODB, CA or transitional. There is a pre-occupation with customisation and a industry that does rather well out of it. A more likely scenario in my view is that as SaaS is adopted and the industry becomes more portable combined with a greater awareness that much of IT is CODB - then companies will be able to more clearly see the cost vs benefit of customisation. This I suspect will lead to less customisation in CODB areas (CRM, ERP etc) and not more.

2. Control, Flexibility and ROI are key?
The control and flexibility arguments can be covered in general by portability and commoditisation - no point in rehashing the arguments. However ROI? Well it seems (and experience backs this up) that companies on average use less than 20% of the computing power of their hosting environments. And almost two decades of personal experience tells me we are in a industry which just loves to rebuild the wheel. These are both areas which cause a large amount of waste and duplication and therefore are ideal for economies of scale especially in the CODB area.

Now let's make a clear distinction between CA and CODB.

CA (competitive advantage) depends upon differentiation, however if all your competitors are all using CRM or ERP then there is little or no CA (aka the warren buffet loom argument) in such systems (except of course unless the CA is in the implementation phase, as per Andrew McAfee's point on execution, which shows that a company may gain competitive advantage through implementation if the rest of us are so poor at doing it).

The majority of IT is CODB (a reason I'd suggest for the lack of correlation between IT spending and value and the need to focus on as "cheap as chips" approach - see Strassmann's site for more illumination on this matter). In general any savings are passed onto the customer if this is CODB - so the ROI arguments are often spurious at best, it is more a necessity to compete rather than any advantage.

As with all processes which become commoditised, there are always the vested interests who encourage customisation under the old argument of "customised for your needs", "to gain a performance advantage" etc - this is not for the benefit of the company implementing but the vested interest.

So I don't buy the flexibility, the customisation or the ROI counter-arguments. In my world these are the arguments of keeping the status quo - when what our industry needs is this change.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Better late ...

Finally the DELL machine has arrived at 1:00 pm (a mere two+ hours late). I'll be interested in what time they will claim they delivered on the online tracking system.

Well, since purchasing the machine I have had two broken promises (delivery times) and one outright lie (attempted delivery time which was not true).

The box is in front of me - I just hope it works.

Here goes ....

Hmmm, maybe I've wandered into DELL HELL ...

A couple of months ago I wrote about my wonderful experiences with Nissan - a company that takes customer service to its heart.

Well, this is my experience of DELL.

I recently bought a computer from DELL (last weekend) through a really easy online system.

I received a phone call from DELL saying it would be deliver on Friday morning. Cool, my partner organised a morning off work and we could use the online tracking service to see where things were.

Well Friday came and they didn't deliver in the morning. I was on the phone to DELL (well their transport agency, but as far as I, the customer, am concerned this is part of the DELL experience) at 11.58 am.

They said they would deliver the next morning - by 10.30am. A nuisance but acceptable. So at around 12.10 pm my partner leaves for work.

We get home that evening and find a card from the delivery agent saying they tried to deliver but we were not at home - i.e. they tried to deliver late. We check online and they say they tried to deliver at 11:00 am - Lie. Damned Lie.

Now I'm annoyed, but not with the delivery company but with DELL - I bought this from them, they are responsible for everything down the line.

Next day - yep they don't deliver. Phone up DELL - no customer support on Saturday. Phone up transport agent - wait half an hour listening to elevator music - give up. Phone up local delivery agent - number is out of use.

Phone up DELL sales, someone answers within 15 seconds.

So my opinion? Well DELL is a company who cares about sales and not customers - which mean' s I've probably made a mistake buying DELL.

The machine hasn't even arrived yet!

Damn.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

When no-one knows where things are heading ...

the best thing you can do is protect or create your freedoms.

Here is one petition which makes sense - private backups of copyrighted material

Politics? Hmmm, make mine a cup of coffee.

Today the UK government announced plans to hire "super nannies" (child psychologists) to help deal with the growing issues around troublesome youth by looking at providing parenting training in troubled areas.

The BBC stated that a Mori poll for the Home Office showed that 85% of respondents blamed poor parenting on problems with youths. It was presented to imply that both items were linked - I hope not.

Parenting may or may not be the cause of the problem, but is general opinion that relevant? I'd prefer drug trials over a Mori poll asking "Do you think this new drug is safe?"

In much the same way we should be first studying the cause - parenting, breakdown in community, rise of the illusion of individualism, advertising pressure, disengagement with society, exposure to violence or fear or no change at all just a greater awareness - rather than acting on popular opinion.

This work may have been done, but no mention is given - just merely lots of polls.

But then this leads onto another problem at the moment. The growing illusion of political activism. In the UK, for the last two decades political activism has been in severe decline - to the point that electoral turn-out makes record lows a norm.

There has been active disengagement of the population from politics, from the anti-politic trend being fashionable to the "one person can't make a difference" myths - which singlehandedly ignores most of our history.

In some circles it is argued that political activism has in fact grown but in other non-traditional forms i.e. involvement in environmental groups, local planning campaigns (NIMBYs), signing petitions, attending a march, not buying certain products etc.

Yes, you've guessed it - when I'm buying my fair-trade coffee I'm making a political statement!

The widening of what is political activism, combined with polls etc - creates an illusion of a politically active culture despite the fact that little political debate (as opposed to personality debate) exists within government, there is lack of any clear distinction between the parties and no big ideologies or visions of the future (the joke of course is the big idea behind labour's third way is not having a big idea).

In such an environment with a decline in voter turnout and party membership - you have political exhaustion not activism. With no vision of the future you have efficient tinkering rather than effective action.

But what can politics do today? Governments are subservient to the global economy and globalisation! Of course they are not in reality, they instead choose to be - we're a 60 million person country with its own legal and social structure - market economics is merely a tool not an overpowering force.

I am not advocating reckless change, but with a vision for the future of our society then we should not be fearful of necessary change or feel limited or controlled by that which society could change if it had the will to do so.

But that's the crux of the matter, the will doesn't exist and nor does the vision and so we seem to choose not to change but to instead run a steady ship with no idea of where we are going. We have surrended our grand social experiment called democracy and allowed our fear of change to paralyse us so that these days the great debates are whether detention should be 28 days or 90 days or whether we provide educational vouchers or not?

The time is right for a vision for the future, bold and brave politicians not afraid of change and a re-evaluation of our assumptions of the limits to our political and social systems.

In the meantime I'm going to buy some coffee.

Notch another one up for political activism.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Web 2.0

As with all O'Reilly conferences I was lucky to meet a wide variety of interesting people. The topics were good, ranging from new web 2.0 startups, how companies in this field were developing, new services, new models etc.

Of great interest to me was one strong theme which was repeated in six different sessions (it's rare that this occurs). That theme was the movement towards commoditisation of software and operating environments.

I call it theme, however a more apt description would be oncoming brick wall. Almost everyone recognised this as a the major future trend, there was little or no debate over whether it would happen just when and how.

This was a refreshing change. In the past when I've talked about such subjects, the response has been somewhat defensive but here it is was more fait accompli.

I'll make no bones about this, I'm a vested interest. Not only has this been a discussion point of mine for almost a decade but today I have my company has a product Zimki which is a commoditised web operating environment.

I was delighted by Jeff Bezos' talk which discussed all the "Muck" which gets in between the process of idea to development (thanks to Troy for the good summary). This "Muck" is what we call Yak-Shaving, it's all the things like setting up a server, configuring, backups, databases, hosting etc which you need to do before you can start developing.

That's why we built Zimki, to free developers from this and enable them to get on and develop.

We are going to put Zimki on Amazon's EC2, alongside our own hosted environment and then next year we will open source everything and help competitors get established. This is to enable people to easily port their data and systems from one environment to another, an essential part of creating a national grid.

The issue of portability is a growing question in the world commoditised operating environments. Amazon's EC2 service, though great, has a portability issue - there is no where else to port it to, you have to establish your own operating environment. As of today, I am not aware of a Google EC2 or a Microsoft EC2 etc.

That's why open sourcing Zimki is a key part of its future. The grid needs it.

Friday, November 10, 2006

California Dreaming ...

I met some wonderful friends in San Francisco, thoroughly enjoyed myself and spent eight hours walking through the city. Of course I saw the sea lions, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge - that was too be expected.

What I didn't expect to see was how San Francisco has taken the Golden Gate as a metaphor and created vast gated communities. The gates were not physical but invisible, almost built into the psyche of the place.

On one side of the road would be great wealth, designer everything and opulence whilst on the other would be poverty, homelessness and outcasts. Single roads would separate these "communities" and transit from one to another seemed rare for the occupants of each.

I was staggered by this, the divide was sharp and crystal clear. A 15 second crossing separated the "American dream" from the "American nightmare" - don't ask me which side was which.

I'd always had a belief that San Francisco was some form of hi-tech bazaar, a golden city with a vibrant community - a place of wonder.

Oh well.

It's nice though - both sides of the road have wonderful people. Not sure if they talk with each other much.

Still you can't learn a great deal about a city in an eight hour walk, so it's just my observations not a critique.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Touchdown

Landed in San Francisco last night - preparing for a day of "where am I? what time is this? why has my brain shutdown?" and then it's web 2.0

On the flight over, I sat next to and got chatting with Jonny Geller who has written and published a book called Yes, but is it good for the Jews?. Very funny, and an interesting conversation on copyright to boot.

James Duncan took me out to a somewhat dodgy looking, but delightful BBQ called Minnie's. The food was excellent.

Over the next week, I've been asked to write up reports, presentations and questions on :-

  • Internet retail in the year 2015.
  • Future 3D printing industries.
  • Why carbon permits are not the solution.
  • Commoditied web operating environments.

and I've got some interviews on Zimki lined up.

I'll blog about these when I'm finished.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Just as you finish blogging ...

Something else appears to blog about.

Obviously everyone knows the news about JotSpot being acquired by Google. Anyway Brady at the O'Reilly Radar blogged about it, and Zimki got a mention.

Cool.

Strike up another!

Zimki (our JavaScript application development platform) is continuing to make headway and the team have been all guns a-blazing.

We've completed a number of milestones (including CNAME, PUT and release of the .Net client), we've had some more articles including our James has been on the radio!

You can check out the latest in the Zimki development blog, which of course was written in Zimki (as with the documentation, example apps, our online notice board, wiki etc etc).

We've also shifted the whole Fotango site and Blog onto Zimki now.

Billing system is being completed, and should be launched soon and the number of sign ups continue to grow.

Furthermore, there is growing news about the concepts of commoditised web operating systems and the growth of utility like services - cool.

Anyway, must dash and prepare for the web 2.0. conference.

It's no laughing matter!

EULA's on Food- well chalk that up to another fine prediction!

There was a parody about this subject called ColdPizza by Scott Lazar - an excellent article published in Jan 2006. However back in Nov 2005 I wrote the following comment on Slashdot. Where's Parody Rights Management when you need it? The world is going mad :-)

Slashdot Comment - Nov 2005

Having read the recent news on DRM, I wrote down these exciting new business opportunities on the train to work.

Forget music. All over the world people are copying recipes.

Ok you might [possibly] know how to make a good pizza, but does the original inventor [chef / cook / whatever] ever get credits or royalties?

No!

Society even supports this activity and allows groups such as the Women's Institute (WI) to run cake stalls, selling potentially copyright infringing material. Who owns the recipe to dundee or banana cake?

In order to stop this outrage, I raise a call for arms for the introduction of PRM (physical rights management). Using nano-technology, PRM will introduce mechanisms to ensure that any ingredients purchased (i.e. a tin of tomatoes) are used only in a lawful, non copyright infringing way.

This future will transform your kitchen from a melting pot of illegality [note to advertising group: use images of cute kids making chocolate brownies in an unlawful way interlaced with shots of muggers, burglars and murderers] into a controlled safe environment where both you (as good parents) and your children can cook non copyright infringing food. [note to advertising group: use happy faces of a family unit interspersed with images of a caring yet cool corporation]

Furthermore, PRM, will help prevent any counterfeiting of popular goods (fairy cakes, shepherds pie) by organised crime or terror groups looking for fundraising.

Under PRM, you will no longer buy unlicensed ingredients but instead the right to use an ingredient or product for a legal safe purpose protected by the PRM nano-technology (trademarked as SAFE FOOD).

At the supermarket, SAFE FOOD will determine your purpose of use at the point of sale (i.e. you want to make pizza etc). SAFE FOOD patented technology will then check all the necessary copyright law, pay the relevant royalties necessary by automatically debiting your credit card and finally provide you with a personalised EULA, printed in a clearly unreadable micro-dot on the inside of the tin.

To avoid the consumer being put to any inconvenience, SAFE FOOD does not require any input from the consumer and the placing of the tin in a shopping bag will be legally binding as acceptance of the EULA.

How do we know the purpose of say a tin of tomatoes without input from the consumer?
Simple, using our advanced technology we have been able to create mathematically proven algorithims which use all the currently available information on a consumer to accurately predict the consumer choice. This is our patented technology known as CORRECT CHOICE.

Should you wish to change your mind after purchasing and decide not to make the CORRECT CHOICE recipe (such as making spaghetti bolognese, because let's face it you've eaten too much pizza) then you will be required to purchase another tin of tomatoes licensed for that purpose.

In order to protect your rights and safety - should your ingredient be used for any unlicensed purpose (i.e. not the CORRECT CHOICE recipe), then SAFE FOOD will turn your ingredient into an obnoxious foul smelling mess in order to stop any unlawful acts occurring or being consumed.

This will also prevent theft of your product by another person, as the EULA will specify the recipients of the ingredients eg. the named members of your household and any guest you may have specified at the point of sale.

Furthermore to avoid consumers becoming concerned or confused over how SAFE FOOD or CORRECT CHOICE works, we are introducing new legislation to make it illegal for anyone other than us to understand or question it.

Any possible minor but unlikely side effects?
  • An unexpected guest arrives and you have no ingredients with appropriate licenses.
  • The licensed owner of the product dies, leaving an entire family hungry and unaware of what purpose the ingredients were purchased for. Was this tin for spaghetti or pizza?
  • Errors occur in the nanotechnology causing worldwide famine.
  • Large stockpiles of unused tins of tomatoes in each household [please note, this doesn't inconvenience manufacturers of tinned tomatoes who cannot be held responsible for poor consumer planning]
  • Data errors in the CORRECT CHOICE algorithm, forcing everyone to eat pizza as all other recipes are not predicted.
[note to PR : let's drop the above for the press release - useful for us to know, but really do you think the average consumer will know what a famine is?]

What are the untold benefits that SAFE FOODCORRECT CHOICE will bring to the consumer?
  • Prevention of illegal copying and theft which is sponsoring organised crime.
  • An explosion in consumer choice of products as the humble tin of tomatoes becomes a tin of tomatoes with a potential wide variety of licensed purposes.
  • Greater consumer choice in purchasing methods. Rather than purchasing a whole tin of tomatoes with no licensing, consumers will be able to rent a tin of tomatoes with a limited time frame for use.
  • Creation of dual licensing markets - this tin can be used for Pizza and Spaghetti Bolognese - creating much needed new jobs, services and tax revenues.
  • Ensuring that poor starving c[r]ooks are properly rewarded for their inventions.
  • Creating new wealth generating opportunities in the tomato producing industry, leading to an overall better quality of life for everyone.
  • Neighbours will stop annoying you by asking to borrow stuff - like sugar etc. They will just have to go buy their own.
  • A boost for the advertising industry. PRM can include such licensing requirements as "must read advertisers message prior to use of tin" or "tin can only be used if Friends is on the TV" etc.

As good parents, you care about your children, you care that the world is a dangerous place and you want a better quality of life for everyone.

We care about tomatoes.

That's why our motto is "care in the community - PRM it's not as insane as you think."

I'm also working on a number of other areas of research including:-
  1. Read once books, which combust after use - under our "burn baby burn" programme.
  2. Eye implants which turn black at the sight of copyright infringing material. This is part of our "See no infringement, hear no infringement, speak no infringement" programme for biological consumer enhancement.
  3. Controlling and licensing the supply of common goods - under our "whose air is it anyway?" programme.
  4. Vacuum packed consumer - the ultimate in matrix like, placid end-consumer as a consumption device for industry - under our "what right?" programme.
  5. Creative Rights Management - all new works are to some respect derivative products, hence the printing press was based upon writing which was based upon slapping coloured material on cave walls. This is a fascinating project under our "all new knowledge is theft" programme.
  6. Legislation against consumer groups under our "hey buddy, we own the consumer not you" programme.
  7. Statistical research showing a correlation between the increase in computer hacking (hence crime) and copyright infringement. We have heard reports from some researchers that both these items are linked to the existence of computer technology, however we refute this claim and will not be inviting such researchers to our lavish "the future's bright, the future's a a licensed for madeira cake Orange" conference.

Monday, October 30, 2006

This is going to be unpopular

Twenty years ago when environmental concerns were not so trendy - I was an activist. I was later on involved in environmental groups in Cambridge, undertook a masters in the subject and worked in the industry for several years right at the mucky end.

Many of my compatriots have now gone on to become the great and good in the environmental world. I stopped.

Why?

Because in my heart of hearts - I'm an economist - it's my mother's fault, long story.  My principle objection, was one concept - carbon tax, and the use of market economics to solve this problem. Carbon tax (or specifically tradeable Carbon permits) works like this - this isn't the technical definition, but the practical one.
  • The environment is a common to everyone, and owned by all.
  • Many rich people have become rich because of industries and products which pollute the environment.
  • Poor people have bought these products or worked in these industries because of aspirations, often created by said industries to drive sales.
  • The environment is now a bit messed up.
  • Poor people should suffer.
  • Rich people won't.
  • The environment will be owned by the rich.
Fundamentally market economics works on exclusivity - which means a lot of people get excluded. Now I have no issue with this for luxury proprietary goods - like TVs, cars etc - but this is not the way to deal with infra-structural or common goods - like clean air, health, education etc.  Sometimes these tricky "infrastructural" things get labelled externalities, as if somehow in the future the environment could be treated as an excluded good. Alas, the environment will always contain an economic externality because the economy is a subset of it and not the other way around.

The market economic system is highly efficient at exploitation and resource usage - which is great if that is what you intend to achieve. It should be remembered that a market is nothing more than an economic tool, as is a centrally planned system - it's a question about practicality and effectiveness not dogma or one being more 'right'.  Neither tool is an excuses for poor governance or a vision-less society or ignoring the wider environment we exist within.

So how do you fairly deal with environmental exploitation with a system which discounts the environment and pretends to supersede it?  On a purely equality basis you can give everyone equal right to the world they are born in, and equal share in this - this is known as a quota.  Unfortunately that doesn't work well in a market system which needs excluded goods which can be transferred.

So what's not the answer? Well, I predicted fifteen years ago that in the next thirty years we would develop an inappropriate excluded market based system, where the rich will win and the poor will become more excluded i.e. some form of transferable permit on carbon usage.

So what is the sensible response to such a scheme?  Refuse it.

Eventually people will share, but not if you say "ok, you've been living your fabulous life styles - champagne, flights abroad etc - I'll cut back on mine, eat dung every day and live in a hole in the ground and suffer some flooding because of damage you created in the past, so you can keep on living your fabulous lives."

You see the rich have more in the long run to loose than the poor, and what is at risk is everyone's quality of life. This isn't the end of civilization stuff but simply horrendous deprivations based upon tipping points which no-one fully understands.

Carbon permits were a bankrupt idea many years ago and they are a bankrupt idea now. Somethings are infra-structural & not externalities waiting to be included (and hence some people excluded).  If you're going to try and solve the problem with an equitable solution then you need annual, non transferable carbon quotas per person.

--- 29th Sept 2013

Seven years later, IPCC report on Climate Change and the talk is firmly heading towards carbon permits.

I want one of these ....

The invisible cloak makes an appearance!

Actually this is quite funny because this is very similar to what we were talking about when I was doing experimental psychology some 17 yrs ago - looks like someone has managed to do it though.

Cool. I obviously want the visible spectrum version.

Musings on CODB and CA

A really interesting article is Mastering the three worlds of Technology by Andrew Mcafee as pointed out by Nicholas Carr.

Andrew categories IT into three types - functional, network and enterprise and discusses how each of could be managed. It's a good article, very insightful.

Of particular interest is the last bit.

"For a resource to have an impact on a company’s competitive position, it must be valuable, rare, inimitable, and nonsubstitutable. Oil wells and diamond mines meet the test; pencils and paper don’t. What about IT? At first glance, it would seem that all three IT categories fail to meet these criteria. Vendors offer a wide range of FIT, NIT, and EIT, so these technologies are not rare and seem to be highly imitable. However, people often forget that while the software itself might not be any of those things, a successfully implemented system isn’t easy to replicate"

The majority of I.T. systems do appear to be CODB and no matter how you categorize them, they would appear to fail to meet the criteria of valuable, rare, inimitable, and non-substitutable. However, this doesn't mean there aren't examples of novel and new processes which are differentiators with real return (CA).

Whether you agree with his ideas or categories, in my view Andrew does make one exceedingly good point.

The process of execution is separate from the purpose of the activity i.e I can just as easily wreck a viable CA through poor management as I can wreck a CODB.

Poor implementation of a CA doesn't mean it wasn't a potential CA and a single fantastic implementation of something which is CODB doesn't turn it into a CA.

Upgrading the power to a factory in such a way that you leave it without electricity for two months is costly, whilst getting the upgrade done in a day means we can start producing again. This upgrade is all about the cost of a CODB like activity and the cost of implementation is part of this.

Of course if being good at implementation of CODB projects is novel and rare in your industry - then that is a potential source of CA.

If everyone else's power upgrades knocks out their factories for two months, and I have the only team in the world that can seem to do it without such problems - I have a source of genuine if maybe temporary CA - that team.

It only remains an advantage whilst everyone else is constantly making a mess of the implementation, so when I have "power installation consultants" knocking on the door with examples of simple easy installation in a day as "Best Practice" and horrors of not doing "Best Practice" - then any source of advantage has long since gone.

Getting it right, when others do with a CODB like activity, is not a source of advantage or a benefit - it should be expected. In such a world, "cheap as chips" becomes the order of the day with CODB, and this is why commodity like operating environments and services are now becoming more relevant.

Times up on this merry go round. Salesforce, Amazon's EC2 and others have pointed the way. Of course this says nothing about how you deal with genuine CA-like I.T. projects (the rare examples) for which a VC like approach is more appropriate.

That's another topic though ...

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

It's old news, but I thought I would mention it again

This is the old story ....

"The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill marks a crucial step toward a Britain free from unnecessary red tape." - yep, such as parliamentary scrutiny.

It is part of the "Government's radical new agenda for regulatory reform"- this seems to mean removing parliamentary control of legislation and putting in the hands of ministers.

"The new Bill aims to make it simpler and faster for us to cut the burden of regulation" - hmmm, I thought the burden was a result of how much new legislation has been created. Maybe they mean is makes it faster to create new legislation and cuts all those bothersome type things like parliamentary process and voting.

"The Bill is essential to deliver our wider radical regulatory reform programme ... ambitious plans to simplify or reduce unnecessary bureaucracy across Government" - hmmmm, is parliament seen as unecessary bureaucracy? If you have one person making all the decisions, it's more efficient than a committee - though probably less effective for a democracy.

"enabling regulatory reform to be delivered swiftly and efficiently" - Hold on, I like my law making processes to be slow and thoughtful.

"This power to reform the law by order is intended to be used to implement" - Wait a minute - what do you mean intended? How about will only ever, ever be used in these specific cases, full stop. Intended implies it can grow.

Now more upto date ...

Well it has been watered down by the House of Lords and through committee, and it is supposed to have its report stage to the House of Lords tomorrow.

It's not over though, nor will this be the last time.

In world of warcraft language

The horde has 1800 points and is close to victory.
[Skeletor]: well done guys, gj
[Deathmask]: let's camp their GY
[Monsterbash]: yeah
[Doomslayer]: yeah
The alliance has captured the farm
The alliance has captured the mine
The alliance has captured the stable
The alliance has captured the blacksmith
[Skeletor]: What? Hey defend you guys
[Doomslayer]: Why don't you defend!
The alliance has captured the lumber mill
The alliance has 1800 points and is close to victory
The alliance wins
[Deathmask]: pawned, you @£!%%

What's Value worth?

What's the difference between an IT consultant who charges you $10,000 per day and one that charges you about $1,000 per day?

Usually about $9,000 ...

This is old stuff which I presented back at Euro Foo 2004, but it seems at the moment a lot of my friends are talking about it again.

The problem is ... what is something worth?

In the world of IT there are some attempts made to equate CODB type services (in some cases labelled as "strategic" in much the same way that having power for your building is also a "strategic" choice) to a notion of worth. These rarely consider any market effect (see the Warren Buffet loom example and why investing in something which improves productivity may not be a good idea) and returns do not always live up to expectation (assuming they are ever measured).

In reality many of these projects don't add any value - however they are needed to compete as a CODB (the IT arms race argument) - so what are they worth? Well, the least you can get away with - "Cheap as Chips".

This doesn't mean that all such projects don't create value - some are novel, new and with real return. These differentiators, CA like projects are worth something - but as the worth is related to the value they generate, and as this is uncertain (being something novel and new) it doesn't fit in well with cost focused fixed budgetting.

These projects are more suited to a VC type method of funding, but that involves different mechansisms of finance, calculation of risk and willingness to gamble.

However in the IT arms race, where there is often little or no link between value creation and IT spending (Strassmann etc) because of the mix of the majority CODB (often labelled "strategic"), minority CA (the ones which create value but have the biggest hurdles) and the big puddle of in-between projects being treated in the same way - most people seem to act in cost focused manner.

No suprise really.

Creating a link between worth and cost is not any easy task - you need to understand value, risk and be willing if necessary to take a stake. But creating a link between percieved value and cost is subjective and easy - it's often the other side of the same coin.

Which means you can just as easily underprice yourself as overprice, as the perceived value of your advice is often linked to what you charge for it - regardless of the actual value (and hence it's worth).

Of course, this isn't a good thing.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Open sourcing Zimki

I was asked recently why we are intending to open source Zimki?

Well, there are some concerns with commoditised web operating environments around lock-in fears & availability concerns. By this action and some other releases in our roadmap, we plan to create the infrastructure for a "national" grid for Zimki environments.

This means that not only can people and companies swap suppliers easily but also suppliers can sell capacity into the grid - which is an important part of the process.

Yes it means we are going to give an easy route to competitors into this environment, but that's the point - to create a wider market.

I'd always go for the small bit of very big pie rather than the whole of a very tiny pie and commoditised web operating environments won't really take off until a company can change supplier as simply as changing electricity provider.

That's why open source and the "grid" is part of our roadmap.

Anyway, we are on that road now - things are starting to happen.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Commoditisation

An ugly word for a wonderful process and something I've been passionate about for about the last decade (yes, someone pointed this out to me, time -> whoosh).

Though it has a formal definition in plain old English it is a shift from novel, new, exciting and rare to common, used, dull, generally unloved and taken for granted.

The point of Zimki is to take care of the now mundane (setting up servers, configuring databases, backups, scaleability, yada yada yada ... stuff we call "yak shaving") and allow developers to focus on the interesting stuff of building something new by providing "pre-shaved yaks".

Back at Euro Foo '04 I ran a session on the concepts of CA (Competitive advantage & worth based development) vs CODB (cost of doing business & commoditisation -> "cheap as chips") in I.T.

Whilst most I.T is CODB we don't yet seem to treat it in this way - lots of those yaks are still shaved in-house, and we are all doing it. A lot of these views are shared by many other people, and it's good to see that so many people talking about it.

I know I'm very grateful to Strassmann and Carr who for me anyhow have clearly put this whole subject on the map.

However, there have been a lot of people who have helped refine my ideas over the last decade and helped in my current pursuit.

Thank you.

Zimki

Well Zimki (our JavaScript based commoditised web operating environment) is growing - which is great news.

This is the first real product for Fotango outside of general software development. It's an amazing feeling to be part of this change for the company and light years away from where we started six years ago.

The principle we follow is about encouraging innovation and creation. We've always said Zimki is about making it easier for developers to develop and removing the mundance or other obstacles which get in the way - i.e. all the "yak shaving" which needs to be done before you start creating something.

We now have a growing community of people working with Zimki, along with a host of new things to release for the system.

Things are getting exciting.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Patently mad.

I meet up with Suw Charman, Open Rights Group, at EuroFoo, and discussed briefly with her about patents and fabrication.

One of the gags in my presentation was about how easy it would be to produce individual antennas and IDs by printing and how that would make some labour people very happy :-(

Naturally, not being an ID card supporter and believing that "those who are willing to sacrifice liberty for security are deserving of neither", I'm not going to blog how to do it.

However, it does raise questions on who owns what in a fabrication world where hardware is more malleable.

Hence, I'm more horrified by the latest wheeze of the EPO and the attempt to create enforceable software patents across Europe.

There goes innovation, creativity and competitiveness - at the least the lawyers and vested interests will be happy.

How about "balancing the interests of patent holders and the broader public interest in innovation and competitive markets"?

It's about time that patent duration was changed to a variable amount - based upon how quickly could society be reasonably expected to independently discover such invention.

Giving the increasing pace of innovation, the current limits are too long.

Just back and planning to go again

Back to the hurly burly of the office. I've just received an invite to Web 2.0, so it's off to San Francisco in November.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Lost? No we didn't but yes we are.

Been catching up with the football - Chelsea is top, no surprise!

Also been catching up with Lost. At EuroFoo, Mark (from the BBC) ran a session on predicting the future and how it affects you today. After much discussion about matter compilers and things of that like, we eventually came up with a new format TV show.

It was Lost.

But this time Dharma was the audience and decided what the contestants got to live with on the island.

Could this be the real ending?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

EuroFoo and all that Jazz

It's been a long, long time since I last blogged at length - basically life has been hectic.

Anyway, I've just got back from EuroFoo and EuroOSCON - which were both outstanding events.

I ran one session at EuroFoo - on commoditisation of manufacturing. I gave one talk at EuroOSCON - on commoditisation of manufacturing - and then spent the rest of the time talking about commoditisation of software and our new product Zimki.

This was Zimki's second outing, and we seemed to get a positive response - not just to the product itself, a JavaScript application platform, but also to the ideas behind it and the plans to create an international grid of operating environments.

Nicholas Carr has written another excellent article on this, and the end of corporate computing environments, this is exactly what we have been talking about.

Most evenings I spent in the company of Greg Stein, Ben Laurie, Andrew Kelly, Denise Kalos and Piers Crawley which was wonderful. There were so many interesting people at the conference and it was a truly fantastic experience.

Damian Conway spent some time with helping to get my presentation in shape - something I'm extremely grateful for.

The Maker faire was as usual wild, with some very crazy stuff indeed - including stem cell harvesting! Visions of scary biological manufacturing stuff appearing around the corner.

Anyway, I'm back home now, and there is lots of work to be done and ducks to feed!

Friday, September 22, 2006

I am not a number, and if I am - I own it.

Just read James Duncan's article on hijacking the ID cards process, by producing a identity commons of our own.

I like this idea, simply because if the government is going to insist on these daft cards - I'd rather they were not in control of it.

Monday, September 11, 2006

On the road.

On Friday, Zimki was announced at dConstruct.

A team from Fotango organised and manned a booth and overall it seems to have been well received and a great success.

The journey starts here.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Fuzzy cute mobile phones - as if.

Read a fantastic article in the economist about biomanufacturing.

This is Drew Endy's niche area and promises a future where our spimes become fuzzy cute things.

As an ex-geneticist, this is such cool stuff.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Whoosh, twenty years gone.

Off on holiday today - to sunny Majorca!

The last time I was there was twenty years ago - how time goes by so quickly!

It's a shocker.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

See no Evil, Hear no Evil

Hopefully "Do No Evil"

Happy days?

I decided just for fun to look at what new words or meanings of old words have been created in the last year, and categorize them into

"Happy words" - those which make me feel good.

"Words for worry" - those words which can be associated to general concerns about something - lack of toned body, lack of celebrity status, threats of violence etc.

"Words to fear" - new words which really just give me the creeps.

Anyway, this is what I found online for 2006 Oxford English Dictionary UK .

Happy Words: None.

Words for Worry: 12
abdominoplasty
aerobicised
crunk
celebutante
hoody
mesotherapy
obesogenic
plank
radge
twonk
Yogalates
zombie

Words to Fear: 4
agroterrorism
blowback
rendition
wedge issue


In other words Worry and Fear are hip for 2006, whilst Happiness has gone on vacation.

hmmmmm :-(

If anyone knows of an authorative study on this, I'd like to know what types of new words have been added to the language over the last decade and how this compares historically.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Privatised health is soooo much better?

OK, some of those who know me believe I'm a old raving communist at heart.

Well, I'm not.

I just believe that market economics is just a tool and not a purpose and that having a vision for your society is more likely to get you somewhere than not.

This of course doesn't mean where you get to is necessarily a good thing.

The cathedral has its uses. So does the bazaar. Neither is inherently benign or malign.

I don't believe that everything should be treated as excluded good to be traded, even if you could. There are in my view some "rights" which are common to all.

The arguments don't normally centre around the obvious, but where one right collides with another e.g. "Freedom to choose where I spend my money" vs "Basic healthcare for all".

Well I'm in the "basic healthcare for all provided through taxation" camp as opposed to the "Freedom to to choose your own healthcare, and you pay for it".

Why?

Well, I fundamentally believe that access to healthcare should be based on medical need rather than financial position.

I do agree with some forms of independant "top up" services, which should not depend or drain resources upon the state system. However, paying for these does not excuse the obligation to funding the state system - this is an addition not a replacement for.

I also believe that the UK provides a remarkable healthcare system. Though there are lots of individual examples of horror stories but overall it's seems damn good. My one concern with it is the relentless drive to introduce market economics into a medical need based common good - this just seems like dogma over commonsense.

So I went looking for some comparative figures. OECD, GDP and other stats (I picked a series of years around 2002 where they all matched up) to compare our NHS against a bastion of privated health - the U.S.

This is what I found (though this was just a quick view, so take it with a pinch of salt - I wasn't going to spend my timing digging the details. You can if you wish - I'd be glad for some better data).


OECD Stats for worldwide ranking for provision and performance of healthcare.

UK: 18th
US: 37th


GDP spend on Healthcare.

UK 7.6% < $2K per head.
US 14.6% > $5K per head.


Potential years of life years lost by ICD categories through Healthcare.

UK
women lose 2,947 per 100,000
men lose 4,815 per 100,000

US
women lose 3,836 years of life per 100,000
men lose 6,648 per 100,000.


Number of people excluded from Healthcare.

UK : N/A
US : 43 million +

So basically, on average.

US spends greater than $5K per head to provide the 37th best system in the world, with a greater potential years lost through healthcare than the UK and over 43 million with no healthcare.

Whilst UK spends less $2K per head to provide the 18th best system in the world with better life expectancy through healthcare over the US and everyone covered.

I was against privatised healthcare beforehand, a quick scan of the figures means I'm dead set against in now.

Of course I'm not saying that US healthcare is not better than UK, I'm sure it can be if you can afford it.

However, not everyone in the UK is fabulously rich.

That's the things about market economics, in order to work some people have to be excluded.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Interest rate hike

I'm sitting at home today working on my presentation for EuroOscon and some stuff for EuroFoo.

Anyway, I've just heard that the BoE has put up interest rates. About time to!

I can't see why with inflation rising, interest up, debt soaring and a weak overall economy - how anybody can come up with a conclusion that we are in for a soft landing?

I've added this link to an old movie House Price Crash Movie (had to relink this YouTube version)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Nissan - Great cars, Great Company

Someone asked me today, how I was getting on with my Nissan Primera SE - well it's magic.

I bought a Nissan about a year ago. I had been renting a Nissan for several weeks whilst the car I owned (a Mercedes Benz A-Class) was in the garage on one of its numerous and reoccuring visits.

The Merc was my first car, I had owned it from practically new around five years beforehand. Within the first few weeks of ownership, I had called out a repair van because the lights had gone faulty.

By the end the car had done around 68,000 miles and at the time of it's last visit these were the sort of faults that it had racked up.

1. Engine control unit failed - replaced
2. Clutch failures - fixed.
3. Gear failure - intermittent visits to the garage.
4. Rollbar links failed - replaced
5. Rear axle arms failed - replaced.
6. Rear suspension failure - replaced.
7. Windscreen washer failed - pipe replaced.
8. Central locking failed - pump replaced.
9. Intermittent electrical faults - all replaced.
10. Car stinking of petrol - fixed on third attempt.

and on...

I was generally under the impression that this was all part of the course of owning a car (having spent a lot of time working in the computer industry with particular products, I was used to things not working all of a sudden).

Anyway, the A-Class was in the garage again with gear failure, it was a dead duck so to speak.

I decided that enough was enough, the repair and service bill over the last five years had been horrendous. So I decided to buy a cheaper Japanese car instead and to sell the now non-working A-Class on a trade auction.

The Mercedes dealer advised me against this purchasing choice and had some interesting commments on Japanese cars. I decided to ignore this though.

I did discuss my problems with Mercedes, and after a good old merry-go-round, I was eventually told they were not going to do anything and how important customer support was ... yada, yada, yada.

So I bought the Nissan. How have things been? Fabulous.

1. It has NEVER gone wrong - not even a tiny little smidgen of a problem. Not a teeny weeny itswy witsy little hint of anything.

2. The service has been brilliant. They always keep on improving things.

3. It doesn't cost a fortune to run.

4. It is totally reliable.

5. I keep on discovering all these useful features it has - and they are genuinely useful.

6. It is a wonderful driving experience.

7. It's made in Britain.

8. Their customer support is absolutely fantastic, incredibly supportive and always helpful.

and lastly, everyone I have ever spoken to at Nissan has been helpful, polite and pleasant. They even sent me a model of a 350Z because I said I liked that car so much (it's definitely my next car now - Nissan have completely sold me on it).

Nissan know a thing or two about "A" class quality - "A" class cars, "A" class people and "A" class support, which is unfortunately the one thing that I feel was missing with my A-Class.

Anyway, that is my experience.