Photo
Balloon flying over our car. Taken with my phone.

Balloon flying over our car. Taken with my phone.

Tags: balloon virgin
Photo
St Andrew’s church, Cherry Hinton Cambridge.

St Andrew’s church, Cherry Hinton Cambridge.

Photoset

Photographs from the gardens of Anglesey Abbey. Spring bloom.

Photoset

Rail crossing at Great Shelford. Train is heading in the direction of Cambridge.

Photo
Marks and Spencer’s, Cambridge 2014. Seems to remind me of department stores from some years ago. It seems barely competitive with other clothes shops on the modern hight street.

Marks and Spencer’s, Cambridge 2014. Seems to remind me of department stores from some years ago. It seems barely competitive with other clothes shops on the modern hight street.

Photo
Just done a speed test on my phone’s 4G broadband signal. I consider this speed to be amazing. The first wired broadband we had at home was only 0.6 Mbps in the download direction, and just one tenth of that in the upload direction. I am very impressed with what I can now achieve via mobile.

Just done a speed test on my phone’s 4G broadband signal. I consider this speed to be amazing. The first wired broadband we had at home was only 0.6 Mbps in the download direction, and just one tenth of that in the upload direction. I am very impressed with what I can now achieve via mobile.

Link

Google has now kicked off the real race to develop wearable IT, albeit after Samsung’s (derided) initial efforts with its Gear watch. Apparently this is the next IT battleground, and the late arrival (if it is to be) of the Apple iWatch has been noted.

When I was a boy, I used to enjoy a program called Thunderbirds, which was based around a family who created rockets, air transporters and submarines with the purpose to rescue people in distress. One of the futuristic features was the use of what we now call wearable devices, in that when the International Rescue team were out and about they could communicate with each other via video calls through their watches. I used to think this would be really cool, but actually we have been at this point now for some years with the capability of smart phones. (See this article.)

The question is whether smart watches and other wearable gadgets really are the next real thing? Or put another way, do they actually solve a problem or create an opportunity, or will they merely be a fad? After all, not every new invention turns out to be as useful as the costs of ownership.

And I am inclined towards feeling that smart watches will just be a fad. A cool thing to enjoy, but not something that becomes an essential. That is because I think the smart phone now does so much of what we want in a convenient form that it will not be replaced by a smart watch, but a smart watch won’t obviously do anything that the smart phone already does. The challenge is to find new tasks for a smart watch; merely taking photographs or telling me that my phone wants me is not enough. And it has to be said that the ergonomics of a smart phone don’t obviously work any better than the ergonomics of a phone, not least because you may always need one hand to hold the shirt sleeve from covering the display. Most people seem to use their other hand to read the time from their watch. But also, they don’t afford much privacy for a phone discussion (not so convenient to hold a watch near your ear, and you surely don’t want to be using headphones?).

I can imagine Apple are weighing these things up. Their call on netbooks was spot on.

Photo
Early morning on the Regent’s Canal alongside Queen Mary University of London.

Early morning on the Regent’s Canal alongside Queen Mary University of London.

Text

Grant Shapps thinks we all play bingo and drink beer

image

This is so funny. The chairman of the conservative party (Grant Shapps) is broadcasting via his twitter account the idea that the hardworking people of Britain will appreciate having to pay 1p less on a pint of beer and paying less tax when they play Bingo. You have to wonder whether there is any understanding of the British people within government. Sure, people who enjoy Bingo will be pleased, as will the companies that run Bingo establishments, but somehow Mr Shapps seems to think that this is sufficiently important to make a poster out of and then broadcast it. Is this the best outcome of the budget?

More seriously, I have come to hate the way that the conservatives like to use the adjective “hard working” whenever they describe the British people. I sense that there is something very dark in this. Of course people in work do work hard; the trouble is that the government a) wants to remove legislation that prevents us being forced to work harder; b) wants to prevent us being better rewarded for working hard; and c) wants to stigmatise people who, as a result of government policies, are unable to work, thereby making it seem not to be the government’s fault in any way.

Photo
Winter morning and sunrise over Wanstead Flats, taken from the National Express coach from Cambridge to London.

Winter morning and sunrise over Wanstead Flats, taken from the National Express coach from Cambridge to London.

Photoset

River Lea (or Lee) one mile from its source. It eventually flows into the River Thames in East London, flowing by the Olympic park.

When I was a boy I used to play here, but then the fields were not landscaped. Much more fun for an adventurous boy!

Video

Birthday present from my PhD students. Wow!

Video

Birthday present from our PhD students. Wow

Link

John Gruber has written a nice rebuttal of an original article that claims that 2013 was a wasted year in terms of technical innovation. Om Malik has written similar comments on the same article.

The original article, written by Christopher Mims, talks about stagnation in the mobile phone industry, the letdown on new wearable technology (the first smart watches do appear to be hopeless, but that reflects the rush to be first to market), the demise of the former technology giants Microsoft and Blackberry, mergers replacing innovation, and some other stuff.

The articles by John Gruber and Om Malik focus on the fact that Christopher Mims has failed to recognise the true innovations than emerged in 2013. I want though to make another point, namely that we have become so used to technological progress that it becomes harder to appreciate.

I once heard a discussion about the Industrial Revolution (1760–1840), where it was note that this marked the point in history at which technological progress increased to a rate in which a person could now expect to see change within their lifetime; before than someone’s world would probably look the same at the end of their life as at the beginning. Change begets change, which means that technological progress is on an accelerating curve. Two centuries on, we have reached a state whereby some people expect major revolutions (plural) in a single year.

And this is the big thing about our current era. We are now so used to technological change that it is increasingly taken for granted. We have lost our sense of wonder at progress, and evolution and iteration are now counted for nothing.

There is a new iPhone released each year. Today’s iPhone is, as John Gruber reminded us, 40 times more powerful than the first iPhone introduced as recently as June 2007. It is hard to remember just how much slower and limited the early iPhones were in comparison with today’s, yet today’s iPhones are easily dismissed as mere iterations.

The story behind the problems faced by Blackberry and Microsoft (and phone companies such as Nokia and Motorola) are not simply rationalised in terms of poor company structures and poor management (as poor as these have been in both companies), but in the fact that companies are now facing game-changing revolutions at rates that have never been seen before. The post-PC revolution came upon us so quickly that it should come as no surprise that a company as successful as Microsoft did not have the internal processes to adapt.

Society has yet to come to terms with the pace of change in technology; this will take some years. It is essential that journalists learn to understand how progress works; they need to understand the nature of technological revolution, to understand the history of scientific and technological progress, and to have sufficient vision and memory to appreciate the changes that are taking place. It is essential that businesses learn that disruptive innovations are becoming the norm; that they cannot take market leadership for granted, nor that they can used legislation to retain their edge. We have to recognise that revolution and evolution are part of the same process, and that both should be celebrated.

Link

The opening line of this web report on a football match in England tells more about the state of the premier competition than the writer realised.

The premier league has 20 teams, and right now we are exactly half way through the season. A difference of 7 points is not really very large; it is equal to 2 wins and 1 draw. Hull are now in 10th position (right in the middle of the table), and Fulham are in 18th place.

Of the 20 positions in the premier league table, clubs who finish in the bottom 3 positions will be relegated, and at the other end clubs who finish in the top 5 will qualify for next year’s European competitions.

The fact that a team that is now half way up can be described in terms that amount to being part of the relegation battle highlights the fact that the premier league now consists of two competitions, one to qualify for Europe and one to avoid relegation. The competition to qualify for Europe consists of 8 teams (realistically 2 of these are outsiders, but they are maintaing a challenge), and the battle to avoid relegation covers the remaining 12. There appears now to be no in-between zone of clubs who probably can’t reach the top but who are too good to be worried about relegation.

This sounds boring, in that you would really hope a league of 20 clubs would see a larger fraction of this number able to compete for the top rather than having most competing not to be in the bottom 3. In fact this year the top end is more open than usual because three of the habitual top 4 clubs have changed managers and thus have faltered a bit at the start.

The reason why there are two competitions – one for success and one for failure – comes down to money. Some of these top clubs have very rich owner. Moreover, the top clubs have larger crowds and larger fan bases, which bring in income. And finally, money follows success. Qualification for the European competitions brings in a significant income.

Thus the premier league has evolved to a two-state system, which at heart is fundamentally boring. In my lifetime several of the elite 8 clubs have suffered relegation, but it is difficult to see any of the elite 8 now joining the relegation competition or any of the 12 relegation competition clubs joining the elite. This is the consequence of money following success; what in science and technology is called positive feedback.

The inevitable consequence I think is that the elite clubs will need to form a different league, on a European scale, where the money will be greater and where the sense of competition will be more keenly felt. 

But at least it is not as bad as in Scotland, where traditionally the elite has always consisted of no more than 2 clubs.