Thursday, December 8, 2011

The future: megacity margin-dwelling artistry

Malthus saw two equations: the exponential increase in population resulting from the individual action to have more than 2 children per couple, and the sub-exponential rise in resources with which to house, clothe and feed these people. He could see that the first will continue until something limits it, either continuously (for much of human history you needed n children to have 2 survive) or in mass events (war, disease, famine).

Over the last 60 years, the West has suffered no war on its soil, no famine it couldn't buy its way out of, no disease it couldn't contain. It has assisted similar evasion of Malthus in the rest of the world, and the world population has responded by exploding.

We are faced, today, by a series of Malthusian equations, regarding the future of civilisation:

  1. Outside a few countries in the West (notably Germany, France) the population is continuing to rise. In developing countries it is continuing to rise exponentially as the traditional expectation of large families is not met by the same threat of disease and famine it had been for so long. Until people get used to choosing to have smaller families and a better quality of life, this will continue at a breathtaking pace.
  2. There has been a migration from the country to the city for a century or more. As the city offers more modern lifestyles and has lower incidence of famine and disease, the population growth of existing city dwellers is also increasing. This means that the future will be increasingly lived in cities, to the exclusion of all else. Over time, life has been less about the land and more about people; technology, education, consumption.
  3. People are living longer. Not only does this contribute to the rising population, but it also makes more demands on their ability to save for their old age. 
  4. Technology is systematically removing the human component of necessary production. Food, clothes, transport are all global goods, produced wherever is cheapest. But the competitor with no bottom line, no minimum wage, is the machine. Even Chinese and Indian labour will be more expensive than the machine eventually. This means that increasingly people's jobs depend on the unnecessary; on books and holidays and music. We have a fear of recession precisely because in a recession people stop spending and the economy depends on their spending, their consumption.
As population increases beyond our means to produce more, there will inevitably be a food crisis. It may be slow in coming, with people learning to live on less as they see the prices rise, or it may be fast, initiated by a widespread bad harvest in a particular year. If it is the former, and we are ready, we may survive the beginning of it. If it is the latter, there will be famine. There are many ways we can ease the crisis in the near-term; vegetarianism, GM crops, desert irrigation, food supplements. If the crisis is slow, we will use all of these and others, albeit only when finances dictate we must.

With technology reducing the dependence of farming and production on people, and the population rising, an ever-diminishing number of people are needed for production. Since the capacity to farm is limited by the amount of available land, rather than our ability to farm it, the exponentially-rising population cannot result in an exponentially-rising number of farmers.

This means that with a diminishing amount of food available, and an ever-decreasing proportion of the population in necessary work, the rest of us will need something to do. A population needs entertainment, society, events, and so on. This is the expanding industry of the future; art. The creation and sharing of meaningful artefacts of culture, things that bind a group together - film, music, news. All the material things that have possessed the world of the present and the past; farming, manufacture, the management of scarce resources, will be history. The scarcity may be so severe that we cease trying to manage it.

If people are doing unnecessary work which largely benefits only themselves and their group, where will they get the money to buy food? I think the only answer is that the government or some other overarching corporation will give it out. State benefits will be the norm, not the exception, and they will be meagre by today's standards. Imagine that instead of handing out money for food, the city government provided it free. It will have already become the government's job to find enough food for everyone; we already see countries like China buying up land in Africa for food - eventually this is their primary remit. Money and capitalism will still exist, but they will be largely irrelevant to the mass; after all, you don't need money for food.

So we see enormous populations in cities living on low margins; minimising their consumption, minimising their need for scarce resources. Over a few generations of any lifestyle, a group absorbs the techniques and goals of living it into their very psyche; we see it in the philosophy of martial arts, in the way people feel that there is a natural order, their order. We see free speech and democracy as right, as good. But they are constructs we created to handle threats to our existence in the past - tyrants, dictators, corruption. I think we will see a commitment to living on narrow margins enter the collective psyche. People will not be fat even though food is free in this future, because of the social stigma associated with such excessive consumption. You may think that the rational actor will win, that people will overeat anyway. But the rational actor would steal, corrupt and connive in today's world with its low policing and yet people don't because we consider it beneath ourselves to do so. Plus, the food won't be so fattening.

The final piece in the jigsaw is perhaps the most unbelievable, if you have managed to stifle your disbelief so far. In a world where art is the way of life, and money merely a choice between living in one area with its balance of comfort and food and another area, people will not pay each other for things, they will give. Once the meaningless necessities are dealt with - purchasing food, clothing and so on - what is left is the meaningful. Gifts are the ultimate currency of meaning, and one people are only too ready to employ (why else do gift vouchers exist?). In a world of scarcity, to save up your resource, your time, and produce an artefact which you give to another is a supreme sacrifice, and thus a meaningful gift.

Your great-grandchild won't buy a ring for his spouse, he will craft one, and after a special dinner at the local eatery where he called in his favours with the owner to get the tastiest morsels, they will go home to their 2 room apartment and think about when in their life they will have their one child, proud to be living the right way. What will they think of you?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Scrobble my mood

I'm back on after a long stint on Spotify. I have paid for the premium services of both in the past, but both are disappointing in one area: knowing what to play next. Spotify makes you choose your own tracks (the Radio functionality is useless), which is simple but very limited. I barely discover new music on Spotify, it's usually just from searching for things I've heard elsewhere. Occasionally I will discover something new by listening to compilation albums which contain tracks I've searched for, but that's about the limit of it., by contrast, makes it almost impossible not to discover new stuff unless you only listen to your Library or Loved Tracks all the time. But the piece of functionality that should do exactly what I want (click-free music that I want to listen to for hours) is the Recommended Radio, and it's not great. Which is surprising, because it knows everything I have listened to for the last few years, as I've scrobbled even my Spotify listening.

So what's the problem? Inappropriate tracks. I don't mean offensive, I mean not matching my mood. Some artist radio stations are good matches for my mood and don't end up playing me rubbish; Rob Dougan is one, but mostly because it plays me lots of Rob Dougan, who is just excellent, particularly at work.

My mood is very variable, and the music has to fit it or I'll just switch it off. At the same time, I usually want the music to just play without me needing to babysit it. On Spotify, I tend to play specific playlists built up over weeks or months of selections and deletions. On Last, playlists are nearly pointless (you can't just play a playlist until it has a very large number of tracks in it, so you never actually build them up), so I end up playing tag or artist radio.

I've never worked out, however, whether playing the Uptempo tag radio will be the same for me as for someone else - does it take my tastes into account?

Idea: Do mood-matching to link my scrobbles
If I listen to a load of tracks in one go, and I skip some of them before they scrobble, then I'm probably in a particular mood, especially if some of those I skip are loved tracks; it's not that I don't like the track, I just don't want to listen to it now. Thus, we have more meta about this collection of tracks; they are probably mood-related. So instead of making me work out playlists for myself, or cast myself to the winds of tag or artist radio, Last could do mood-specific recommendation.

The power of the Web 2+ world is to do algorithmic cleverness in order to deliver some very human requirement automatically. Google goes beyond mere links now, and personalises searches, fixing spelling mistakes and suggesting maps. Social networks have to handle my social segregation between close friends, acquaintances, family and work, without telling work I'm pregnant, or the matriarchy about my relationship status before I'm ready. Thus Last has done well to facilitate self-measurement (scrobbling), but they have some way to go to give me a set-and-forget radio station that works for me.

So for now, I stick to pop artist radio... the mainstream is at least inoffensive to the ear for the most part, and fairly peppy.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Re: The Great Apple Apartheid

My response to Alan, who wrote about Apple ignoring the needs of the poor or ill-connected when needing a fast internet connection for a software update to get iTunes functioning on his new machine.


The demographic that can afford to buy Apple products is the demographic that has a fast internet connection. Apple does not target the poor, at all. Have you ever seen an Apple product priced to compete with cheap products? The only one I can think of is the shuffle, which is a lead-in for getting people to spend money on iTunes.

Alan, you speak of poverty, but people in actual poverty do not buy Apple products. They do not fit; you need to buy the product, and then pay for all the expensive stuff that goes with it – the fast internet connection, the expensive upgrades, the pay-for iTunes downloads. If you live on $100 a month, when are you going to buy into that kind of expenditure? Even the western poor on state benefits are likely to struggle. No, you buy a cheap PC, second or third hand, ideally with some linux flavour on it which will cost nothing to update bar the net connection, and which permits you to share music for free. Illegally if necessary. If I have a choice between a 5-year old run-of-the-mill car or a 12 year old Merc, I would be foolish to buy the Merc because it will cost far more to fix, far more to fuel etc. Particularly if no-one else around me owns a Merc.

Apple do not target the poor, because they are poor. They do not have the money that Apple wants, nor do they have the cachet that Apple makes use of. Its products are aspirational, status items. I suspect that any community whose internet connection is slow and/or expensive will share music via mp3s on usb sticks, not by paying a track at a time on iTunes. Just like we used to, when we had slow and expensive connections.

Apple is an immediate choice in your world, so your problem is the fragility of it. In the world of the poor, Apple is Prada, Gucci, Alienware, Steinway. Hey, Prada have a fashion event on, and the dress code is strings of pearls.

Monday, November 7, 2011


I had flow again, just for a few seconds, improvising on the violin.

Felt like a kind of bliss/fire up my spine.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Re: A tale told by an idiot

In response to A tale told by an idiot on Ken's blog, in which he bemoans the reality-denying conspiracy theory of the film Anonymous about Shakespeare's works being written by someone else.


To reuse the bard’s form: “A tale told by an idiot is still a tale”

Films are about meaning and narrative, and are in fact usually a way for people to ascribe meaning and overarching narrative to a world full of random chance and no objective meaning. So film is actually about the meta, the meaning, not reality. Just like sci-fi is about humanity, not about science.

So, just as scientists have to do when watching most disaster movies, you must realise that we must leave disbelief at the doors of the theatre. Leave reality behind, and enter fairyland, enter the magical world where everything has a reason.

It probably will do well at the box office, because it has a strong enough premise for you to rail against. Most people won’t really care whether that premise is objectively true or not, because they already have too much objective reality to deal with. All they want is a story. That’s why films do well about dinosaurs roaming the earth, or aliens, or supernatural things.

There is usually a loose connection to reality in order to set the scene, to begin from a common narrative understanding; that there is a bard, that he is famous for writing some of the greatest works in literature. From there, the tale can construct its own world. Ignore the assertions of the nutters, and immerse yourself in the story.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Launderati - smarter, cheaper, more usable laundromat

John emerged from the cardio room at the gym before work. Under the neon Launderati sign in the lobby, with the cold light of morning glancing through the window at an ATM in front of him, he waved his card and entered a PIN, pressing 'Cubicle'. "Cubicle D" appeared on the screen, and to his left a glass door slid open, waiting. Inside, finding the right door, he pushed it open to reveal a spartan changing room and shower, clad in a pale cream, awash with fluorescent lighting. His mid-grey suit, quiet determination on a hangar, hung in an alcove, freshly pressed. Once showered, suited and booted, he stuffed his clammy gym clothes in a chute in the wall and heard them thud somewhere by his knees. On the screen beside the chute, he pressed the 'Gym kit' preset, and exhaled the last of the energetic workout. He walked back down the corridor, chest out, chin up, ready to work.

Later that day amongst the bustle of the early evening, he returned to pick up some laundry from the day before, and noticed the french neon 'r' of Launderati flickering intermittently, oblivious to the crossing paths of the pedestrians beneath it. His thoughts of the turmoil of the day, the confrontation in the side-office, were jarred by the whir of the opening panel revealing his shirts and a bag of socks all shrinkwrapped in a thin layer of shiny green plastic, with Launderati scrawled across the front. After the day he'd had, he headed home to change to meet the guys at the bar. A good day, but definitely one to talk about, drink in hand.


What if laundry was done by machine, from start to finish? If opting for a cooler wash, washing in bulk, unattended, could lower the cost of a laundromat to below that of owning a washing machine? Using electronic tags on laundry bags with washing info would permit garments to be washed appropriately, and enable people to use a laundromat for all their washing. As in the narrative, the laundromat could be integrated into a gym or an apartment building. I did toy with the old idea of the washing appearing in his apartment automatically, through subsurface tubes. Ah, sci-fi is always within a moment's dream.

The realistic part is having a shop-sized machine receiving, sorting and washing garments automatically. Heat-exchangers and reprocessing units could make the energy and water use far more efficient than a home machine, a growing priority in the future. Pricing would no longer be per garment, but paid for monthly on a plan much like a mobile phone. Part of the purpose of the narrative was to emphasize that this would cease to be anything surprising or even special, just a necessary part of low-margin city-living.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

[Idea] Lightbox Photo Mall Concession

As you walk through the mall one day with your family, having finally got them all out the house, you see a room-sized white cube in one of the concession positions. On it, written in huge letters:

"Your family photo now! Before they start arguing..."

Or some better marketing message. Essentially this is a mobile photo studio, with a rapid turnaround service; you take 10 shots, have the customer pick any two they like and give them a small print set (a 6x4 and two wallet sized), a copy of the files on memory stick (in multiple resolutions) and send them any prints they order by post.

Charge a fixed fee for the process, or (more daring) a fixed fee per image they want to keep - we're talking £5 per image, and keep the premium on the prints low. That way if they don't like the images, all everyone has wasted is time, and the photographer's only incentive is to take good photos.

The key to this is rapid turnaround and volume of customers. Normal portrait photographers will charge £100+ for 'creative fees' or just provide a package of prints. That cuts out the majority of families, who can't or won't pay that much for a luxury item. It is also increasingly old-fashioned in a world of digital photos and electronic sharing. By bringing the mobile studio to wherever people are already dressed to go out and families are all in one place - the mall, the cinema foyer, the school concert - you enable on-the-spot service. 90% of getting a good family photo is getting everyone there at the same time, having a decent backdrop, and getting them to smile. Most people have endless photos of part of the family as someone has to hold the camera, against distracting backdrops, where one or other member is blinking.

The team to do this would be a photographer (or two, and have them compete!), a salesperson and an assistant when busy. The customer flow is salesperson to bring them in, assistant to fix their hair or provide entertainment, photographer handles the photographing with the assistant getting people's attention (think babies). Salesperson can then do the finish up with the image selection, prints and so on. All images get uploaded to a central site for safety, reprints, etc.

3 people for an hour could cost £120, suggesting a rate of 6 groups per hour with an average spend of £20. Anything above that in spend or speed is profit.
 This has to be a highly positive business, so give some portion of profit to a children's charity.

Wouldn't it be worth a few quid for a decent family photo? And no hassle getting them there?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Optional paying is giving, so let me give right.

Digital artwork is easily pirated, paying is optional.

Optional payment is a gift, a reciprocation, a thanks, honouring its creator.

We give to reciprocate, so why give most of the price to intermediaries? 

I have come to realise that the above are all unavoidable statements, in order of descending certainty.

In a traditional thing-based society, we can use physical force to make sure people pay for what they take. This is necessary both because taking means the original owner no longer has it (copying is manufacture), and because resource is limited. But in a digital world, I can give you a song and keep it as well. It is also near-impossible to enforce (literatally, force) laws controlling sharing and copying of digital media.

The response of traditional media and the status-quo has been to attempt to enforce thing-world control of digital artefacts; creating rights management software to prevent you distributing your music by making it more like a physical thing; traceable, hard to copy, sending the police to find you if you disobey. Understandable, but a losing battle. Computers change often making any such systems obsolete quickly (Why can't I play my albums any more? I paid for them!) and widely evaded, because imperfections are quickly exploited and the exploits easily distributed. The internet is made to distribute data quickly and freely, so all control systems are fighting the basic nature of the system.

The result has been a two-layer system: On one it is easy and free to get digital artefacts without paying for them; until iTunes and Spotify, it was actually easier to pirate music than to go and buy it. Cheaper, faster and better = revolution. On the other it is easy and reasonably cheap in moderate quantities to buy or license music. Most people, particularly the teenagers who will drive the future culture, therefore have a choice whether or not to pay.

It is not quite as simple as clicking Pay or Free download; for the older generations (twenties and up) there is a significant social distinction between pirating and buying, and the legal difference means Spotify is limited to legally licensed music. So the two layers are quite separate, meaning each group tends to employ only one or other system in the main; some groups download everything, some buy everything. The difference is predictably related to disposable income as well as socially-enforced stigma.

It is, however, already a reasonably free choice for most people whether to accept a minor amount of guilt and download something to try it out, or to stump up for it. The barrier is far lower on renting sites like Spotify, but it still exists. I can opt to look for an illegal electronic version of a new book or buy the hardback; buying the artefact is seen as a way of supporting the author, in the same way that ticket and merchandise sales are seen as a way of supporting a team.

So people are already used to making a morally-guided choice based on personal expression about where their money goes; we have been taught by consumerism "You are what you buy". If you doubt that for a moment, consider whether any advert for a premium brand focuses on the product or the viewer's self-perception. You pay a bit more because you're worth it.

If I buy a hardback book, I know that most of the money is going to the printer, the publisher, the retailer. But some of it will go to the author (once past their advance). We accept this bargain; this is the author-sanctioned mechanism for both thanking the author and obtaining a physical artefact of self-identity; "Thank you Jo Rowling, my copy of The Half-Blood Prince will take pride of place on my bookshelf. I am a Potter fan."

But if I pay for a copy of an ebook, there is no printer, no retailer. If I already like the author, they have no need for a publicist in this transaction. It's me thanking the author and their editors. Why should iTunes or Amazon take a cut?

The (small) cut should go only to whoever creates the system permitting me to thank the artist at my discretion, which somehow lets me build my identity by the same token.

This kind of giving is expressive, social and efficient by minimising middle-men. Just what the internet is for.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Yearning Weight Of Achieving

Compressed, but not crushed, I bear it.

Looking up from my trudging steps, I warily peer about
seeking a path.

I am in the dried ridges of a tractor's track,
compounded by many traversals.
Ahead, the paths diverge in the caked mud;
to the left, to the right, straight ahead.
All lead to more fields, more grass, more brush,
and I cannot see beyond the hill they lead over.

But I am not weary, I am hunted. Life chases me,
and decisions elude me.
I make foolish mistakes, and am humbled daily
by my own failures to live up to anything at all.

Sometimes, I am reduced to a crawl, to dragging forward
my tiredness.

What lies over the hill, past the ridge?
Is the landscape there as empty as this one,
the earth as bare?

Why am I so hunted by opportunity,
so lost amongst the available options?
And why so terrified of the choices I can make,
the decisions that make themselves
in indecision.

A generalist, I could do anything,
when ability was my only guide.
Now, chance has dealt me some distance
in a few directions.
I am walking several paths, pulled one way by day
and another in the shades of dusk and dawn.

Still the creative push inside me demands more
but is that merely the remnant of a constructed identity
based on what seemed to make me different?
Am I not merely the upside of my disability?

Most people are happy, it seems, not to change the world.
Somehow they can live with affecting only themselves,
their family.
But that sounds like arrogance on my part,
that merely being locally worthy is beneath me.

But it is not driven by elitism but by hope,
that against the futility I can improve the world.
Still that goal is worthless if nothing comes of it. Less than
that in fact, it is harmful if the demand paralyses me
and slows my progress in any direction.

So, a hierarchy, then. First I will provide for my family,
but in this time, in this society, that is straightforward.
Second, then, to use whatever I have, whatever I am
to assist those who do not benefit from my opportunities.

This feels like fear and like guilt. Who am I,
that I should be educated and supported and loved
having done nothing?
And why should others be downtrodden and thwarted
having done everything?

I benefit from the actions of the good - but is it the actions
of the many, or of few? Is the bulk of our progress
down an aggregation of many small goods, or of standing
on the shoulders of giants?
I am no giant,
and nor do I really believe a giant is of his own making.
I am one,
but I am possessed of some theories.

If I am right, I am poised to do much good.
If I am wrong, I can only make myself a fool,
another little man with little ideas
that nevertheless grip his little mind
with their dull charm.

Beneath the roaring skies of all these philosophies
tugged by many winds
pressed by the weight of expectation
(or so I feel it)
sometimes giving up life itself attracts.

Yet it is always followed by the simple thought of humility:
I am able, so I must be able to do some small good.


I am shortsighted, and I imagine simple things.
At time, I can screen out distracting detail
and see a truth beyond it.
Othertimes, I can screen out important detail
and see a folly of my own construction.
Convinced by a weasel in the clouds.

Hunted, stressed and fearful,
not useful things to be.
I also feel somehow stupid for feeling them,
get real, princess with a pea.

Confession, then, before absolution.
I start things but do not finish them;
journeying from fever to distraction,
from single-mindedness to
a kind of depressed defeat
at the smallest tangle.

This in particular perplexes me,
why I am so easily defeated by the difficult
by the confusing. Am I so wed to simplicity?
I read that it is fear, but that seems far off -
what could I be afeared of?
Of failure?
Of the unknown?

It feels more like boredom, but it has the ring of helplessness.
A futility with a kind of sadness; clearly I expect to be competent
and find myself wanting. I am no magician,
no sage.
Am I afraid to discover I am not even that clever?

Others are so methodical; they see through the maze,
through the morass. They seem fearless, confident
that the answer can be found,
that the answer can be found soon,
that they will not be swallowed by the task,
left struggling in the belly of the beast.

I suspect this is why I enjoy creativity;
it rewards whatever you do, and often the urge
is enough to produce.
In that sense it is easy, or at least easy for me.
It does not have a pass or fail,
judgement is not passed in the act even if it is later.

To create anew is to conquer the blank,
to defeat the nothingness.
True, that is sometimes a worthy opponent,
but it is nowhere near as hard as
the unyeilding mass of thorns,
the forest of tentacles.
At least to me.

Perhaps this is a skill I can learn,
a role I can become,
an identity I may grow to fulfill,
something not an accident of birth,
but an achievement, a triumph.

I may not get there,
but I will try,
and I will begin,

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Share taxis in the smartphone age

Millions of people drive from A to B every morning and then back again. Between these, their car sits empty and unused. Most people drive alone, an entire car to transport one person. This is the kind of waste that the internet and smartphones are destined to deal with - dynamic, information driven problems with real monetary effect.

So I gleefully imagined a system somewhere between a bus and a taxi; a driver picking up passengers and dropping them off, but not at predefined times and places, rather as driven by demand. No more empty buses trundling to their next vacant rendez-vous.

But most things I think up either exist or have been imagined before. So I looked for it. And in developing countries, where the costs of transport are proportionately higher and time is proportionately cheaper, there are Sharing Taxis. Or Collective Taxis. Often these will wait to fill up and then set off; the trade-off is a significantly longer expected wait for the reduction in price. I had heard of this mode of transport before, where the bus drivers will wait for a morning until they are full.

Some services act more like unscheduled buses - they are official services which travel between specific places. London apparently has some of this, although the page on the Transport for London website doesn't specify any actual information. There are also a number of community bus schemes and dial-a-ride services, largely targeted at those not covered by normal public transport; the elderly, the rurally dispersed, the disabled.

I think the time has come for a more dynamic system. One where a professional can request a service from their smartphone, indicating whether they have additional baggage or passengers, and the taxi companies can bid to take the custom. They give a price and an arrival time, and are penalised for every minute later they are. The users of the service rate their trip; largely this is a feedback mechanism for when the taxi is late, unhelpful etc.

It could begin with manual bidding and selection of services - opting for sooner and more expensive if preferred. I suspect the ultimate aim would be for taxi companies to automatically bid for each journey using live pricing systems taking in traffic data, etc. The user could subscribe to a monthly contract much like a mobile phone, which gave them a certain amount of usage. Thus the price matching would happen between the demand and supply sides.

Ultimately a market in such things, particularly one including forwards or future contracts, would allow a taxi company to buy a minibus and finance the purchase by selling a number of journeys in the near future; demand-led investment. It would also create a market for forward-looking traffic data.

The basic mechanism, however, is just that a user can request a taxi and permit sharing part or all of the journey, with a central system to connect the supply and demand sides of this; the drivers and passengers. With that in place, many daily journeys would be much cheaper, which itself enables a huge swing towards on-demand transport services (taxis).

To bring it back to the current demand-responsive transport, they could hook into such a system as providers if they already run services, or as customers if they are consumers - residents associations, charities etc. It should make both sides of that equation more economically viable as there would be both more available supply and more available demand. How? By reducing inefficiency.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Stab vest ideas


A layer of conductive fibres beneath a few layers of insulating material, acting as a switch - if the fibres in one direction (say, horizontal) are broken, the circuit switches on, and the unbroken fibres in the opposite direction (vertical) conduct the charge from the capacitor through the knife and the attacker, down to the ground.

Active Material

A series of pockets interwound with tensile strands, such that when a fibre is severed, it contracts at high speed and somehow deflects the path of the blade to the side. With enough layers like this it could create a shear force that deflects the attack and pushes the victim sideward in the same action. The key is the energy stored in the material, which is not there in a standard multilayer plus metal plate vest.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Variable speed buffer playback idea for delay-free high quality audio conferencing

Reading an article on VoIP audio quality, it seems that one can increase the quality of VoIP audio by increasing buffering, essentially giving the connection more time to deliver the packets correctly. The tradeoff is that it adds a delay, somewhat like talking to someone in a far-flung country, or via satellite. In the article, the author contends that delays are tolerable but low audio quality is not.

People converse in a fairly simple fashion: A talks, then B talks, then A talks. We do not all talk at once, so synchronisation of speed between A and B is not important.

The idea, then, is that we work out when B starts talking, and send a burst of packets with low latency. The receiver then starts playing these immediately (no delay) but plays the buffer at a lower speed (pitch-adjusted) until it has built up a reasonable buffer. Thus there is a delay between the B talking and A hearing it (ignoring the transmission time), but not an audible silent delay between B starting to talk and A hearing it.

It is the usual game of introducing complexity to handle to competing goals. Is the complexity worth it?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Make your happiness work for you

Endorphins, serotonin and their friends are the happy chemicals in your brain. When you have tasty food, they are released. When you get attention that you desire, they are released. They are mechanism by which a naughty child learns to be naughty to get attention - she gets a happy rush when she gets attention, and if her parents give her that attention when she's naughty and ignore her when she's good, she has been trained to be naughty. Why?

Because we are all addicted to happy chemicals

It's the only good addiction, and it's the root of all those psychological addictions (not the chemical ones). You have somehow learnt that there is only one thing that will give you that happy rush right now, so that's what you indulge in, even if you know at the back of your mind that it's not right.


So are we all hedonists, just doing whatever makes us happy? To a degree, yes. Many hedonists are just doing whatever makes them happy. There is a kind of logic that if you are doing something that makes you happy but which is damaging your future (like spending all your money), then you will be storing up unhappiness, so you try to fit your hedonism into a longer-term picture.

But you can train yourself (or be trained) to seek some future goal which will make you happy, or to change your values so that your happiness depends on something else. So I can pin my happiness on academic achievement, so I work to do what it takes to get that goal, in order to get that happiness waiting for me. This is what hedonism lacks - the willingness to change what makes you happy. For hedonists, happiness is the goal itself.

For me, that's a problem. Chasing happiness itself means that if I find a way to get a steady drip of happy chemicals then I should take it. So if I was offered a lifetime on a cocaine and morphine drip, then I should take it. Happy ever after, right? No, I want more from life than just some happy chemicals. I want to make a difference, I want my genes and memes to survive, to live on, to improve the human race and its future. Maybe that's some successful memes showing through, enslaving me to their goals, maybe it's just common sense not to want to end up as a body in a hospital bed with an ecstatic smile.

Choosing a new goal

So an ecstatic smile is not a good enough goal. What is? I'm a husband and father, so I want the best for my family. I want to support them, house them and feed them. I also want to inspire my children to live joyful lives. I want to make a difference to the world, not just live a quiet life in the corner.

So if those are my goals, I need to pin my happiness on them, so that I learn to derive happiness from the steps I make in that direction, in pursuit of those goals.

I could do with losing a bit of weight, being a bit more focused at work and at home, having more of a plan. So I'm defining some medium term goals, setting aside reasonable amounts of time for them, planning to succeed. I lose focus when I can't see my efforts leading to some worthwhile goal, so I'm weaving these goals into a longer term achievement.


Often people fail with long term goals because circumstances change. Aiming for that job or that dream may make sense now, but not work out when you get there. So the goals have to be largely about how you are improving yourself and your circumstances, not about achieving specific targets that may move. Fortune favours the prepared, so aim to be prepared.

Jobs, companies, houses, all pass in the night. Getting attached to any single one is easy, because of all the improvements to your life you imagine will result. But the key is to notice what they mean to you, what you yearn for. Sometimes it's recognition, self-worth, belonging; if you realise it's one of these then they are better (and more cheaply) worked on by addressing the real issue rather than seeking the answer in purchases or jobs, which won't actually resolve an underlying emotional problem.


So this is me working out what I actually want to achieve, what will make me a happy man in the long run, and trying to avoid the pitfalls of vainly seeking fulfilment in jobs and purchases, taking an active approach to getting to where I want to be.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Looper live jam

The basic problem with live jamming on the net is latency. You play along, hearing yourself in perfect timing, while the people receiving your music hear a delay, because of the time taken for the data to get from your computer to theirs. Unfortunately the delay is twice as big as that lag, because their notes have to get from their PC to yours, and then your notes have to get all the way back again. Not conducive to good jamming.

How about using loops, then? Someone plays a 4-bar section, which everyone receives, along with the timing data. They begin jamming with a delay, and their sections are sent back again to the other player(s). Instead of attempting to play person B's notes with no lag, person A's software plays them at the beginning of the second loop. So the players can now play with no lag, and have their notes heard with no lag.

The price is that the leader has to change to the next pattern on their own.

Since people are receiving each other's notes with this fixed delay, I would expect a layering to happen - B harmonises to A, C to B, and so on. Each gets a different actual rendering of the music, since they are all synchronous with their own notes but offset with respect to everyone else's.

Would be a great experiment...

Friday, April 15, 2011

Lunch hour code jam

Thinking about how I would like to improve my programming in my lunch hour, I had an idea: lunch hour coding as a jam, or a competition.

The format could be: A challenge/puzzle is posted at a given time, competitors sign in, and start coding live in their browsers. Other competitors and spectators can log in and watch the code being written live. Since competitors can see each others' code, they could easily fork someone else's implementation and make their own modifications.

I suppose having a few awards would work: first competitor to produce a correct solution, fastest execution time, most forked, etc. Use unit tests to determine whether a solution succeeds or fails.

Would work quite nicely for recruitment, CV-building, etc.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


I'm sitting at my dersk feeling a bit like a graphic designer - I've got the clean designed specs, the cool thermal mug, a wireless keyboard and I've spent a while scrolling through pages of design blogs. They are heavy on the photos of cool stuff, and my mind is infected with the feel of it, the clean lines, the colours, the indulgence in texture and form and thought. Luxuriating in brass inset in walnut, castigating the endless over-designed-but-clearly-uncomfortable chairs.

If I designed a chair, it would be comfortable. Because a good chair you sit on. A good chair you sit on so much that you can't even see it. A good chair you feel more than you see, except for the bits in the periphery of your vision from your seat.

And a good chair, once you've got past the novelty of its entrance in your life, ceases to be about sitting. No, sitting on a good chair, you can stop worrying about sitting and focus on reading, watching, curling up with your baby, enjoying the warmth of a friendly coffee with someone dear to you.

So once you've got the chair that's so good it leaves your mind, and you've got a table so good that you aren't distracted by it, a PC or a notepad and pen that just works, what do you do?

All things are derivative, all things are a following of what was before, a continuation. Nothing is new that doesn't begin somewhere - all things are a journey, and journeys have a beginning. Having a beginning is nothing to be ashamed of - a trek across the Andes is no less a thing because you didn't invent the mountain range, nor the gear you used or build the town you started from.

Meaning is in the personal, the relational. Wood is better than plastic for making a desktop because the wood has a story and it has tactile meaning to me.