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 Scot 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 need 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 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.