Archive for the ‘People’ Category

Marc Andreessen on future tech

November 28, 2016

This Verge interview on the future of technology is a treat:

Stuff on flying cars, robots, new computer companies, auto-driving cars, health care apps and more. Plus this joke:

The joke in the valley is, “Help wanted. Programmer / designer wanted for state-of-the-art Silicon Valley telepresence software company making collaborative work easy across geography and time zone. Must be willing to relocate to San Francisco.” It’s just nuts.



Neil Young’s Pono

March 12, 2014

A couple of years ago I wrote about Neil Young’s ideas for a new kind of ipod-style music player that would accurately reproduce the very high level of music quality found in the original studio masters. Over the years he has expressed increasing discontent with the way that ipods and other devices reduce the quality of the artist’s original material and he talks at length about this in his autobiography.

It now looks as if this was far more than Neil day dreaming about what might be possible in an ideal world. He’s announced that the project to build such a device is up and running and seeking funding via the crowd-funding service KickStarter.

The device will be called a Pono – Hawaiian for righteous. As the blurb says:

“What righteous means to our founder Neil Young is honoring the artist’s intention, and the soul of music.”

Sounds pure Neil Young to me – you can read a lot more technical stuff at

Turing: nearly on the money

October 29, 2012

Turing statue at Bletchley Park (photo: Antoine Taveneaux, Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

I’ve long been a supporter of the campaign to put Alan Turing on the back of a ten pound note in recognition of his mathematical achievements. So I was pleased to get an email over the weekend confirming that the national e-petition has reached 21,996 signatures. This is good news for the campaign and as the e-mail from HM Government says:

“As this e-petition has received more than 10 000 signatures, the relevant Government department have provided the following response: The Bank of England has been including historic characters on its notes since 1970. The Bank welcomes suggestions from members of the public for individuals who might feature on future banknotes, and publishes a list of these suggestions on its website. These suggestions inform the process when a new note is under consideration.”

So all good. A glance at the published list, however, shows the competition that our Alan is up against. There must be around 150 names, ranging from philosopher Roger Bacon to singer Robbie Williams (yes, you read that correctly).

More signatures on the petition can only help. Surely the inventor of the founding theory of digital computers can beat the singer of 90s hit ‘Angels’?

Saddle Up the Pono

June 7, 2012

“I feel like more than just a number.”

Neil Young, Computer Age, (track from the album Trans)

For many years, rock musician Neil Young has been highly critical over the move to digital formats. His beef is simple enough – the digital formats in use today lose too much of the music; MP3 for example only retains about 5% of the data from the original mix. Many people claim this is irrelevant as they can’t hear the difference, but to a musical purist like Young, they are missing something important from what he has created.

Recently he told Walt Mossberg, in an interview for the Dive Into Media conference, that his solution is an ‘iPod for the 21st century’: a new player and a new format that “some rich guy” would produce. He then revealed that he had been talking to Steve Jobs, just before he died, about such a device.

It was later revealed by his publisher, perhaps inadvertently, that the device would be known as a ‘Pono’ and Rolling Stone magazine have found that various trademarks, such as SQS (Studio Quality Sound), have been registered.

In an interesting development, when I pre-ordered the latest Neil Young album (on vinyl of course) I was sent a free, digital download track. It came in the Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC) format, which is open source and can handle 24-bit audio: the same resolution at which most bands record their albums these days.

My impression from the interview with Neil Young is that he’s not convinced that FLAC is quite there as the ultimate digital format. But no doubt the quest goes on and once again, Apple are the one to watch.

Down but not quite out

February 6, 2012

First of all, I should say, I’m a big fan of Nicholas Lezard. I consider his weekly column ‘Down and Out in London’, published in the hinterlands of the New Statesman, to be part of my weekly reward structure. The title of the column gives you the gist of the content, so I was a bit bemused to read recently about Marta, his cleaner. My point, in a recent letter to the magazine, was that only in London could a penniless book reviewer who lives in a hovel have a cleaner.

Well, this week he has responded to my concerns in some detail. Apparently Marta’s services (for which she is paid £12.50 per hour) come with the hovel. And in fact, as she only comes in to ‘do’ for a couple of hours a week, Mr L has had to encourage his feminist flatmate to take up some of the slack, an approach which seems to have proved to be entirely unsuccessful.

Bearing in mind my expertise I thought I might offer Mr L some advice: robots. Indeed for small fee (£12.50 per hour is a king’s ransom in Nottingham) I could even install a basic system, controlled via the Internet of Things (for more on this, see my forthcoming book, available from all good book shops).

Furthermore, in preparation for his life as a digeratus, he should perhaps consider reviewing Sherry Turkle’s latest book, Alone Together, in which the MIT professor outlines her thoughts on robotic technology and our relationship to it. As one of the book’s interviewees says: “Show me a person in my shoes who is looking for a robot, and I’ll show you someone who is looking for a person and can’t find one”.

While this might have a tinge of unrealistic expectation and an unwillingness to compromise, I think it’s much more helpful to think of it as pragmatism. And in my experience, it is always easier to get a robot to do the cleaning than a feminist.


December 16, 2011

From the blog that gave you the edible iPod and social computing for puddings, I now present… iPoetry. Following on from a mid-winter poetry reading by authors from Salt Publishing’s Modern Voices series earlier this week, I thought I’d round off the year with a poem by Manchester-based poet and fellow techie Adrian Slatcher, which he has kindly given me permission to reproduce. As you can see there is a strong hint of something Internet-related and it seems a fitting note on which to end the blogging year. This could be the unofficial anthem of the newly emerging Web Science agenda, which seeks to understand what we have created and where it is taking us, and of which I suspect we’ll be hearing a great deal in 2012.

A Colossal Machine

Rewinding our histories can’t play the tape,
For that requires a colossal machine,
That has long gone out of production,
Or has yet to be made. In part, it’s myth,
Yet we subscribe to it, our site feed
Syndicating the latest news, as if a thing
Can be dripfed to us through words.

The manual alone would be extensible,
Using a language shared by half the world’s tribes,
Competing to contribute to a shared goal.
The ultimate prize for the next life;
Our essence read, stored, accidentally erased,
Whilst the tests go on in private.
In my room I murmur a prayer.

Adrian has also done some interesting things with technology to link readings to user responses, but as this is only available on his iPhone I haven’t got a link to post. However, there is a video of Adrian reading Colossal at his website and if you are in the Manchester area today then he is appearing at the Whitworth Art Gallery this evening.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a peaceful New Year.

Display technologies

June 17, 2011

Back in 2005 I wrote a fairly long report for JISC on the future of display technologies, covering the likes of 3-D TV and holographic imaging. Two of the peer reviewers, Mark Fihn and Wayne Cranton, were particularly helpful.

It appears they’ve not been idle in the intervening years as they’ve just announced the publication of a new book, the Handbook of Visual Display Technology. Weighing in at a mighty 2000 pages in two volumes this is not for the faint-hearted, but it looks like this book represents a substantial summary of this important area of electronics.

Richard Stallman in UK

February 18, 2011

He’s back. Richard Stallman, the digital rights pioneer will be presenting his own unique take on free and open source software at events during March in London, Cambridge, Brighton, Sheffield and Preston. If you’ve not come across his work with the Free Software Foundation have a look my report from his 2008 trip to Manchester. All in all a fascinating, and hugely entertaining, evening. Recommended.

Further details:

Ken Olsen

February 11, 2011

I have fond memories of the PDP11 minicomputer from my days as an undergraduate in the 1980s. So I was sad to hear about the death of Ken Olsen, the founder of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), the company that made the machine. In a society awash with iPads, smartphones and other miniature computing devices it is easy to forget the role that DEC’s minicomputers had in the history of the industry. They provided a bridge between the room-sized mainframes of the 1960s and the invention of the PC, and helped train a generation of undergraduates and researchers.

It was the PC that was DEC’s downfall and unfortunately Olsen is mostly remembered for his failure to spot the evolution of smaller computers beneath DEC’s feet. I however will remember Olsen with gratitude for the hours of pleasure in the computer room at Leeds University, learning to code in ‘C’, and occasionally being distracted by the flash of my mate Punkah’s orange cagoule as we sent each other messages on the computer’s rudimentary email system. Just because we could.

Bacon for lunch

November 9, 2009

Last week I interviewed Jono Bacon about his new O’Reilly book, The Art of Community. Jono is the open source community manager for Ubuntu, a popular version of GNU/Linux. As such he has a wealth of experience in setting up and running a virtual software development community. His key argument is that community is essential to the development and sustainability of open source software projects and to achieve that you need to foster a sense of belonging.  His book outlines the practical reality of going about doing that. You can read the interview on the OSSWatch website.