Wednesday, 16 December 2009

When The Universe catches up

rt is a very personal thing. It can evoke emotions from disinterest and apathy to exhilaration or fury. Surrealist art, in particular, provokes these traits. When I was investigating sources of art for my blog I discovered Surrealist art by richard dotson as he has a piece called soliloquy. One of his other pieces, titled "When The Universe catches up" puts me in mind of the primordial soup coagulating into proto-stars at the dawn of our universe. Hence it seems like a perfect image to run alongside this next blog. In my earlier research I started reading

There was an essay on the Law of Accelerating Returns, it is a pretty weighty read, so don't start it unless you have a glass of wine and a good 30-60 minutes. It postulates that technological advancement is just an extension of evolution. To that end, Moore's Law is one tiny fragment of the supporting evidence for this theory. The paper presents mathematical evidence that evolution and now technological advancement is exponential in nature. In fact technology is purely an extension of (or natural successor to) evolution. Previously we have only perceived the linear advance since the briefness of human life, when looked at on an exponential graph, only provided us this perspective but now as evolution is accelerating, during a single human existence we can now perceive this exponential effect. "When I were a lad", will become "When I were ... er... 1 year younger" to "Yesterday everything was so much simpler".

The argument to support this is that, as an advancement becomes "active" it interacts positively with contemporaneous developments and produces a symbiotic effect that accelerates further advancements. The natural conclusion of this acceleration is that on an exponential graph we shift from "horizontal", through "curvy" to "vertical". That is, we were horizontal, we are now curvy and soon we will become vertical. "are you still with me? wait until you read the paper!".

We're now at the exciting bit, technology and biotechnology will meld together and accelerate the evolution of mankind and within a short period of time we will evolve into another species - that's the vertical bit - we hit what they refer to as a "Singularity".

Its fascinating stuff, it doesn't appear to be a cult, it does appear on the face of it to be Science and Philosophy on the cutting edge. There are some incredible predictions, for example the first person to live for 1000 years is probably already alive. For me though, I've missed the boat, as it suggests they are probably under 30 today.  Before you completely write this off as Jim's nonsense, consider what an Anglo Saxon would have said if you had described the space shuttle to them.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Christmas Cheer

Too many Christmas lunches, too many seasonal extra events.  Why do we pack 95% of our social calendar in to 31 days in December?  I have now had 4 Christmas lunches and for those that follow me on Twitter you would have seen the delights of the photo of me adorned by a festive bonnet of some sort!  I am wrestling with my desire to relax and enjoy the seasons festivities and my overwhelming grief at humanity's tragic collapse into blatant commercialism and excess.   

So if I can avoid the gluttony, I am really looking forward to some quiet time with family and friends and hopefully spending a little bit of time with my blog!  Must dash, I have a carol concert to go to, I hope there are mince pies and mulled wine.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Work life balance

Ironically I've been struggling to write this work-life-balance blog all week, as I have been too busy.

This week work has taken me away from my wife, the kids, my home, my games, flash-forward, and blogging.  I'm sure there is more it's just my mind is so overloaded I cannot remember.

When did we stop being a profession and start having a profession?  Where our life was in balance, as we were what we did - that is you were a farmer, doctor, soldier.  You didn't leave your life and go and do these things, then when finished return to your life.  This was probably the time we started actually having leisure time - so I shouldn't complain, the fact that I had leisure time to loose is a bonus.  Somehow this doesn't quite feel right, perhaps we need a three-day weekend!

I once went to a meeting in London where, Sahar Hashemi, the founder of Coffee Republic was a guest speaker.  Her talk (and the book that she was selling in the lobby afterwards) were discussing the nature of entrepreneurs.  One comment that registered strongly with my perspective at that time was that entrepreneurs didn't "clock-off" at 5:30. If an idea came to you at 6am on Sunday, you worked on it.  Your passion for what you did meant that it pervaded your entire existence there was no boundary.  But don't we need a boundary?  The photo in this blog is me in 2003 on holiday in Ireland, the document in my hand I believe was the monthly management accounts and I was on the phone to Linda in accounts.  I was stood on the fence (not metaphorically this time) as the cottage was in a hollow with no phone reception.  Eventually I had to give up and have 2 weeks off.  It was great and I felt refreshed when I returned.  Lesson learned I think.

Recently with my foray into the virtual, social and professional networking arena with facebook/twitter/LinkedIn I am having the same issue of work/life balance.  Should I have a Chinese Wall between them, should I allow work to drift in to personal?  Should I leverage my contacts? or should I remain in this schizophrenic state of having two separate personalities?  Clearly, I haven't decided yet.  I think I'll just see what unfolds.

Also, I don't think it is wise to "collect" friends and contacts like some sort of trophy.  There seems to be a practice of adding everybody you've ever met, or in some cases just worked at the same place, to your collection of links/friends/followers.  I'm sure this practice will be self defeating as it undermines the  strength of your relationship with your real links/friends/followers.  I don't advocate a set of selection criteria for adding to your list, just use common sense - ask yourself, do I know this person?

Oh no, I've run out of time, must get back to work........

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Too much to say

Unsurprisingly I find myself with too much to say. Perversely this has resulted in me actually blogging nothing for over a week. My thought process about what to blog had been: BT Vision Review, Cult of "New" or Pain of the Early Adopter, Moore's Law of Exponential Micro-Processor Evolution, The Law of Accelerating Returns by Kurzweil, The First Person that will live for 1000 years has already been born.  It's like "Surfing the Brain".

So let's start at the beginning.
Recently we moved home and this provided an opportunity to rationalise three essential modern services. Fixed line telecoms, broadband internet and pay2view TV. These 3 services between them were responsible for more than I cared to admit of our monthly outgoings.

We had Sky HD with loads of add-ons, BT 8MB business broadband and most of our phone calls were on the O2 mobile account from our iPhone's prepaid monthly calls. The "full service" options were Sky, O2, Virgin and BT. For various reasons and despite my misgivings about BT customer service, we opted for the BT package. Customer service has been the worst I have ever experienced - well maybe the Biroska shop in Soviet Moscow in 1984 - no BT still occupy that nadir, nothing can go lower. The cost saving has been good if they actually credit back all the errors in billing that have occurred!

So finally the review of BT Vision:
The device that is provided is an uninspiring receiver/recorder box for freeview TV but additionally you can access TV programmes over the broadband selecting from a whole array of past series. Unfortunately this selection is quite limited and programmes don't seem to be available in perpetuity. Also HD is only on very limited "download" availability and is not able to be live streamed. As a concept then BT Vision is a prelude to the future. Being able to pay for what you view - or use credits - and to chose a specific programme from a backlog of all those produced is clearly a fairer way to bill and a more empowering way to engage with visual media. In actuality though it is a mere shadow of what it could be, I'd wait until more early adopters (like me) have beta tested it and the bandwidth has improved in the UK.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Temporal causality loop

Should every blog be a monologue?
or occasionally, will a note of brevity
be a sufficient log to do the job?

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Bread and Games

The picture is the card “Bread and Games” from La Citta. These two words encapsulate my two key decisions, bread – a symbol of nourishment and essential resource – do I need this? and games – a symbol of having fun – is it going to make my life fun? You can check many things against this simple binomial test. Beer can often start out in the “Bread” category and soon becomes the “Games” category.

I like to play games. Actually I like to enjoy life and this is achieved in part by playing games. A friend has a motto on his blog, which is itself a paraphrase of the Bernard Shaw quote, "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." I like this sentiment; that the very act of engaging in an apparently frivolous activity can indeed hold back the ravages of old age.

Recently I have had pause to consider what my motivations are for playing games. I listened to an excellent gaming podcast called Gameon -  Episode 28 – Motivations. I sympathized with much of the discussion about the challenging games with people who want to win at all costs, as we have all experienced this from time to time – I’d suggest possibly from both sides of the fence. At the end of one such discussion the guest host, single-L, said, “who even won that game?”.

I must confess, this resonated quite strongly with me. There have been occasions where the game became such a trial I could not recall who won. There have also been games that have been so much fun that I forgot who won. This leads me to believe that winning isn’t the objective. But clearly it is, you wouldn’t be a gamer if you didn’t want to win. In fact, I think Darwin had something to say about this too, so in a sense we are all the decedents of generations of winners.

Until researching for this blog – yes I did!, I had believed my old school motto was “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game”. Actually it now appears to be “Faith in our Future”,  something you’d expect the marketing department of Orange Mobile phones to come up with. Perhaps it was another school, it doesn’t matter, the sentiment I remember is that wining isn’t the objective, but acting in an exemplary manor regardless, is. Not confusing this with the liberal nonsense of, we can all be winners, actually I think this is the point. Victurus te saluto - He who is about to win salutes you, whatever happened to gracious victors?

If not the single-minded objective to win, then what else could the objective be?

Learning, I suspect is one. Experiencing real life concepts played out in a controlled and restricted rule set. From buying property, to the stock market, to balancing resources on a newly settled island, gaming can introduce these concepts in a friendly “risk free” environment. It goes further than this, as an adult, I have enjoyed diplomacy and negotiation or trading games that in someway approximate those interactions from real life – giving me an opportunity to hone my technique. Note-to-self – must try harder. Also, purely social interaction could be the aim – however I believe I’d just go to the pub if this were true. So is it something to do with intellectual stimulation? Probably, but really I think the only objectives are to try to win and to be gracious along the way, regardless of the outcome.

One final thought from Plato

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”

Monday, 16 November 2009

Why am I blogging?

So episode 3 and already I'm becoming overly introspective.  What is blogging? typing whyblog? in to google was quite enlightening.  I think, looking at the top link, it gave me some ideas. 

It's like sitting around a virtual fire with some good friends, may be drinking a glass of winter warmer, and "chewing the fat".  You get to hear some of your thoughts and try them out on people - judge their response - before they've become set in stone. Unless of course you're a journalist and then its entirely different.  It strikes me that many people haven't really explored what they express verbally to any degree before they utter it in public.  Of course this all relies on having an audience.  So to the nub of it, I am now torn between polar opposites, the theme "soliloquy" implying that I am speaking in to the ether without care of an audience and the clear opposite - characterised by me regular reviewing my reader stats on blogpatrol - is my desire to solicit feedback from readers, to communicate.

This desire has got me in to trouble previously, I distinctly remember my Dad pleading with me on a long car journey to sit back and try to sleep - code I was clear on even then in the back of his blue Ford Cortina, for "Stop talking".

I suspect then you have an opportunity, with the patient tone of a father driving to Cornwall, to gently say "stop talking".  The opportunity may not be around for long so don't delay!

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

I vote for the Romans

So having touched initially on Quantum Mechanics and an application to the theory of relativity, I have decided to touch on a lighter subject - European politics.  I think in general I would see myself as a Europhile.  I'm not sure that this is driven by any great political intent, in fact I think I am politically ambiguous - possibly agnostic.  I suspect it comes from being born in England but being identifiably descended from elsewhere.  My surname and complexion indicate that I am probably of Celtic descent. (McDermott)

The precursor to the established Celtic nations; the Scots, the Irish, the Welsh, the Cornish the Bretons etc, were migratory tribes and were a largely pan European, trading society - sharing language, art, culture, genes, oh and blood & body parts, there were a few wars!  I would suggest that most inhabitants of the section of the map above marked blue could trace their ancestry back to these early migratory Europeans without a defined land to call home other than the continent.  I think that I will not be alone in saying, I often feel closer to our continental cousins than I do to some of our island based locals.  So come the local elections, (I never said this was going to be current affairs or topical), when presented with a list of umpteen candidates, I could find no party that defined itself by being pro-European.  Many defined themselves by being anti-European, some ignored the subject but not one made it their clarion call.  In the end, following despair at the lack of pro European options, I resolved to vote for "Roman Party" (bbc news euro elections) on the basis that they were pro European - well they did conquer most of the warm bits. There was a single candidate, named Jean-Louis Pascual, standing for "The Roman Party. Ave!". apparently (Praetor Jean) is a French bus driver who has lived for many years in Reading and stood on the ticket: "When in Rome, do as the Romans do."  Great sentiment.  Actually, I failed to post my ballot, and so I continued my many years of political indecision.  Veni Vidi Vici Decrevi .

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Existential Angst

Recently I have been reading Steerpike’s blog ( and we have entered into some offline discussions that have prompted me to want to “blog”. So please any complaints, leave on his page.

The human condition is a confounding one, just when I have managed to (re-)bury my head in the sand with regard to the perpetually perplexing question of “where do we come from?” something shakes me back to awe of existence. I watched a TV programme the other night on BT Vision (whole other blog about this) that presented the current belief about black holes. It was partly about general relativity’s failure to accommodate them as real, which I’m fairly sure wasn’t new to me. Also, the fact that super-brains have been exploring quantum mechanics as a method to explain the bewildering fact that they shouldn’t exist, even though there is significant physical evidence, was vaguely in my consciousness. Quantum mechanics is the physics of the very small and the belief was that the core of a black hole is indeed very small, albeit on a stellar scale initially. This field called quantum gravity has failed completely – if I understand the programme correctly. So I’m left feeling frustrated that humanity still doesn’t know the answer – although surely we’ll establish that it was 42 after all – but excited by the fact that the quest is still on.

There was a moment where anyone in close proximity to me would have heard the penny clunk on the floor of my scull. It’s safe to say, if you were interested in this subject previously, you have already seen images of a 2-dimensional representation of space-time warping under immense mass.
This image has never really helped me understand this concept. Yes, I can imagine the ball-bearing rolling across the sheet and circling around a heavier ball-bearing, but still what does this say. The moment of understanding was when this programme declared that this “warping” was gravity. Gravity is the warping of spacetime. To labour the analogy to breaking point – if a heavier ball was laid on a cloth, it would create a steeper fall, indicating a stronger force of gravity. I thought I’d share this epiphany as it has now opened a whole new bag of worms (worm-holes surely) for me. So gravity is us sliding down a 3-D slope! Taking this concept and trying to perceive it in 3 dimensions is fascinating. Let’s say you are sitting in a train carriage at the far end and the opposite end is heading into the black hole. The very fabric of space will be warping, from the outside we would perceive the carriage stretching to a thin point as it sucked into the black hole. But what would you see if you were on the carriage? Would you see space and time stretch out in front of you? Eek this is too much to hold in my brain, I’m off to watch Dr. Who....