iphonemania is upon us again

Predictions on the big Apple announcement on Wednesday.

Okay, it’s a fact, I’m a techie. I consume, use, enjoy and even care about , technology.

And every year at this time, one of the most interesting tech companies has a big event where they announce (but not release) the next iteration of their phone.

How different will the 5 look?

Yep wednesday is Apple iphone 5 day. And I want to put my stake on the ground as to what I suspect will be announced.

Having absolutely no insider knowledge, this is just where I suspect it will be going.

– Slightly faster
– Slightly bigger
– Slightly more batter life
– Slightly less glassy
– Slightly less compatible with previously used attachments
– Slightly more cloudy
– Slightly improved user interface

These will all be good improvements to what is already a really good pocket computer.

What I suspect they will also do is add a bunch of what can only be called “Meh” stuff.

Such as Near Field Communication (NFC), which will be presented as the future of cashless paying, but will in effect be the future of crime, both theft and identity theft.

And they may well have a siri upgrade, so there will be a reason for more celebrities to get paid for adverts touting a technology that only works rarely and is still many years away from primetime.

We’ll probably also see a new set of integrations with cars and other devices, that will sound great, but won’t mean anything for nearly everyone.

Also we will see the announcement of the release date of the next iteration of the phones operating systems (iOS6), which has been in beta for a while, so every techy pundit has already written about the new features. But it will be cool to see this out.

What we won’t hear is that the ability to make a call and not have it drop out has improved. It’s already pretty good, but not perfect. And just like every other smartphone the iPhone is a great pocket computer and a mediocre phone.

This was still the best phone I ever owned, at least to make phone calls….

Still like every other smartphone user in the world, I (and/or my wife) will be watching this launch and will probably upgrade very shortly.



How is it the US Government doesn’t understand the basics of economics?

If I need to buy a lawn mower and I go to a lawn mower manufacturer, I can buy one. It’s simple they provide a price list, I choose the one I want and I can buy it.

Now if I need to buy 1000 lawn mowers and I go to that same lawn mower manufacturer I can negotiate a much better price based on the additional volume. And if I go to several lawn mower manufacturers and get them to provide their best offers I can play them off against each other, ending up with the best possible deal.

It’s not that difficult there is huge negotiating power when you are a big purchaser.

Things change when you work with government bodies. Vendors to capture business play all sorts of games, and where possible they try and maximize the price. But the thing that amazes me is that government falls for it!

When a candidate takes funds to promote himself in an election, he or she is expected to provide “favors” in return. This means that businesses get to influence both elections and policy directly and proportionally to the amount of money they spend. More money equals more influence.

This turns politicians at all levels into bought and paid-for stooges.

Other democratic countries around the world have recognized this issue and to differing levels made it illegal for money to be paid to political candidates or their supporting organizations in exchange for influence.

Other countries have mandated that every citizen must vote. They can chose to mark the “none of the above” box of the ballot, but they have to show up and be counted.

In the US more time and effort is spent trying to stop the “wrong” people from voting or manipulating constituency boundaries to give specific parties an unfair advantage than anywhere else in the world. And the amount of money pushed to candidates in elections is so extream as to completely remove the governments ability to fairly negotiate contracts.

All of this adds up to a system that just doesn’t get the most efficient or effective government.

Lets take healthcare, the bits of healthcare that the government does actually cover. These are Medicare and Medicaid, which provide care for those with virtually nothing and those who have reached retirement age. Everyone is so concerned that these programs are going to become unviable and so are looking at creative ways to lower the costs.

But they are missing the most basic ways of reducing costs. Stop paying providers so much for the services they offer.

In the US drugs are not centrally purchased by the government, but are instead bought on a case-by-case basis. This ensures that the US government is paying the highest possible price. And its been made illegal to buy drugs outside of the US, effectively creating a captive market.

Also services are not charged on a results based basis, but on a time and materials basis. This means that if an old lady goes to the doctor complaining of a headache, the doctor is incentivized to give her a whole range of expensive tests rather than as aspirin.

If the doctor doesn’t provide the most expensive and complete set of tests and misses something then lawsuits would likely follow.

Medicine is an art and a science, and we need practitioners that use there best judgment to maximize the quality of life, not maximize their bank account and minimize their litigation insurance.

So here’s the answer. Use the buying power of the US government and its 300,000,000 customer-owners to deliver the lowest prices for every drug and service that is paid anywhere in the world. And balance this by removing the most egregious litigation threats. And lets have a pay for results based system that rewards the most efficient use of drugs and services.

Costs would go down, quality would go up, and the books would be balanced.

Now that’s just healthcare!

The same goes for education, transport, power, telecoms, and every other basic service that every level of government provides.

Some would call this socialism, and get wild about how terrible socialists are. But this is not socialism, this is economics!

Every efficient business uses these same techniques.

Lets remove money from politics and use the power and the scale of the US to get the benefits we deserve.

This is fiscal conservatism at work.


The Limits of National Pride

Living in America, you get to see many very overt shows of national pride. Many buildings and businesses fly the stars and stripes, people at national events take off their hats, place their hands over their hearts and listen or sing along to the National Anthem and political rallies resonate with the sound of the audience chanting the letters U, S, A.

So all in all it’s clear that America is a very patriotic nation, that truly believes in the exceptional nature of itself, and frankly this feeling is honest and often well deserved.

National pride also extends to its men and women who serve in the armed forces. The four arms of the forces (Army, Navy, Airforce and Marines) are all well respected, with civilians regularly showing their respect to vets with comments such as “Thank you for your service”.

There have been times when politics has muddied the waters a little, with veterans returning from wars in Asia not always given the warm and supportive welcome home they deserved. And honor guards to honor the returning dead from more recent wars were at times been shrouded in some levels of secrecy. But these acts driven by politicians and those who were trying to make a political point at the expense of these returning heroes were eventually shown for the mistake they were, and were apologized for and (hopefully) learnt from.

And recently we had the Olympics, where the whole of the United States got behind the US team. The papers were full of descriptions of every performance. Whole swathes of TV broadcasting was turned over to the games. In fact the biggest controversy was that not enough games were being shown, people wanted more!

So for a country that takes every opportunity to display its National Pride, how was it that the Paralympics were absolutely and totally ignored!

Two weeks after the end of the London Olympics the worlds para-athletes gathered in the same location for the world Paralympics. And the United States sent a large team. There was a huge opening ceremony, followed by weeks of incredible sport, followed by most of the world and a very impressive closing ceremony (by all accounts). And in American the coverage was incredible, every channel offer equal time. No channels were differnt, every channel on TV, Radio and in print offered exactly the same coverage. And the coverage from each and every station, channel, publication and website in the United States of America was exactly ZERO.

Yes that’s right, the country which spends so much time talking about its exceptionalism and patriotism, didn’t think it was interesting or important to support its citizens who were disabled.

I just don’t have the words to express how shocking I find this.

Jessica Long , USA Gold Medal Winner

One of the presidential candidates this cycle was the head of an Olympic organization for a winter games in the US, and even he hasn’t been talking about this lack of support for these amazingly talented sports stars.

America won nearly 100 medals in the 2012 London Paralypmics.

31 Gold medals, 29 Silver medals and 38 bronze medals

The USA Paralympic team at London 2012

233 United States of America athletes completed in total.

When they arrive home, will there be any public recognition of their amazing success?

I hope so!



When is a tribute valid?

So what exactly is a tribute band? I would suggest that any band that is playing music that was previously performed by another artist is actually a tribute band.

NY Philharmonic

This would include bands such as the New York Philharmonic and the London Philharmonic. Clearly these are very talented and professional operations, but the works they perform were original to other artists. That makes them tribute bands in exactly the same way that Strawberry Fields is a Beatles Tribute band and Almost Queen is a tribute band to Queen.

Almost Queen

I’d go one step further and suggest that many bands end up being a tribute to themselves. When a band stops creating new works, but instead performs their previously popular material then they are in fact a tribute to themselves.

Today Roger Waters makes a great living travelling the world performing the Pink Floyd rock opera “The Wall”. I’ve seen the performance a couple of times and it is great. I saw it performed in Berlin a year after the wall came down, and again in New Yorks Madison Square Garden a couple of years ago. It was a perfect facsimile of the original work. And I would class it as an excellent tribute to Pink Floyd.

Roger Waters – The Wall

Sir Paul McCartney regularly performs works from the Beatles and Wings, again it’s wonderful that the ancient Liverpublian can still croak out these works in tribute to the fab four and the rebound group in which he performed with one of his earlier (and well respected) wives.

I’ve seen Level 42 perform their hits from the 80’s in the 2000’s and Grand Master Flash pay homage to themselves.

Last year I got to see and hear Earth Wind and Fire (at least the last couple of original members with a dozen newbees) play their most famous hits from the 70’s

There is nothing wrong with tribute bands. In fact I’d go as far as to say when music is so great it is played by others, or even the original performers as a tribute it can be wonderful.

There was a time when tribute bands were frowned upon, as being something less than new creations. But having spent a little time today listening to MTV, I’d suggest that most creative innovation in music is highly overrated, and often a tribute is a much better option.



How evolved are we?

Is it actually possible for someone who has read a simple description of evolution supported by experimental evidence or modeled the idea on paper or a computer to seriously question the concept?

And why would someone who has not read a simple description of evolution and has not bothered to review the supporting evidence or modeled the idea think that they have enough information to make a valuable contribution to the discussion?

There in nothing in the concept of evolution that explicitly negates the idea of a supernatural influence on the universe, even though there is nothing in the concept that requires a supernatural influence.

But there is a lot that helps explain the natural world we see, and helps expand the knowledgebase and allow many fields of technology and areas of science to progress.

Why would anyone want a generation to grow up without the skills to work in these fields for the betterment of humanity?

Not teaching evolution is not just irrational, it is frankly abusing children, reducing their ability to understand the world and work in some of the most exciting fields that will appear in their lifetimes.

The Catholic Church (which has been one of the most conservative institutions over many centuries with respect to science) accepts the concept of evolution (even though they have no formal position on how species evolved). Have a look at http://www.catholic.com/tracts/adam-eve-and-evolution

Religion and Science while clearly very different should not fight over proven knowledge. Those who seek knowledge are partners.

Religion cannot decide to use ignorance as a virtue. It is not virtuous; it is plain stupidity leading to fear of the unknown.

People who play with words to try and disprove a concept are just wrong. The word “theory”, means “a coherent group of tested general propositions, commonly regarded as correct, that can be used as principles of explanation and prediction for a class of phenomena”.

If you don’t agree with a theory then show another set of test results that prove its inaccuracy. If you don’t agree with the theory of gravity then show some results of some test you have performed that explain why what we see is what we see.

If you don’t like the theory of evolution then show the results of some test that explain why what we see is the way it is. It is not enough to come up with a fable that makes you feel better if you don’t think about it too much. The evolutionary process has helped people make many advancements in medicine and biology and can be proven in the laboratory. When you think about it, it makes absolute sense.

A slow moving rabbit is much more likely to be eaten by a predator, so the chance of a fast moving rabbit escaping and mating is much higher. This is natural selection, it works and the results we see are exactly what we would expect to see.

We now know how genes and DNA work (at least at a simplistic level) and we can see the vast array of permutations that can be created. It makes sense that over generations desirable attributes are more likely to be successful and will lead to more offspring with those attributes and how over time the best match for a species and its environment will be most successful.

Denying what we can see and explain is a trick from the middle ages.

Great philosophers, great religious thinkers, great scientists, all are willing to have their ideas tested by others, and when they are shown to be wrong, are happy to learn and rethink their ideas.

There was a time when the Muslim world contained the greatest thinkers in the world. There are still pockets of great knowledge there, but it’s clear that when fundamentalists take control of a religion and choose to dominate their people through the propagation of ignorance, no good will ever come.

This should be a lesson to the western world. We cannot allow fundamentalist religious bigots (or any other bigots) to take control, as it will lead to terrible things.



Partial Response, Maximum Likelihood

In the early 1990’s a very cleaver little formula become popular in computing and telecommunication fields. This little formula was called partial response, maximum likelihood (PRML), and it was able to identify the digital data stored in a very weak analog signal.

That might sound rather boring, but PRML was one of the turning points for stored and transmitted data. All of a sudden the amount of data that could be stored on a hard disk grew exponentially. Before PRML a big hard disk would have been 80MB, and it was limited because the space needed to store a bit of data was large due to the strength of the magnietic field needed to write a strong enough data bit. but as soon as PRML hit the streets a weaker magnetic field could be used and the space needed to store each bit was reduced dramatically. This allowed the capacity to jump up to 120MB, 250MB then 500MB and then 1GB, now drives are hundreds of gigabytes and often multiple terabytes per 3.5 inch disk (with multiple platters in each disk drive).

And as the capacity was growing, but the size of the disks stayed the same, data transfer rates also grew dramatically. This allowed Microsoft and others to create much larger bloatware. If it wasn’t for PRML maybe we would never have seen the paperclip in word, or be able to store just such an immense amount of porn and pirate movies on the internet.

And of course PRML was responsible for much more than just hard disks becoming massive. Another amazing PRML child was the digital cellphone. Before PRML cell phones were analog which meant that the quality of sound you heard in your ear was full of pops and whistles and people saying “hello can you hear me, this fu&*ing piece of Sh$t phone gaaaaaahhh”. And the phones themselves were much larger to deal with the much higher transmission powers.

But since PRML the sound you hear in your ear is crisp and clear, as it’s digital you either get a sound or you don’t. And with PRML checking every bit to work out if it’s a one or a zero amongst all that static and interference on the radio spectrum what you hear is clean. Of course cell phones still drop calls (yep, a lot less than decades ago, but still enough to drive us nuts). But when a call quality is so low that PRML can’t work out the signal, what you hear is silence, rather than the person at the other end screaming expletives into the mouthpiece.

As I’ve basically grown up with PRML, I’ve discovered another even more valuable use for the technology.

I use my own version of PRML on conversations people have with me. It’s so much easier than listening to every word. Now I just listen to the odd bit of a sentence and my PRMLing brain fills in the missing bits.

I find this process to be perfect, and I’ve convinced myself that I never miss anything important.

I suspect my wife does not totally agree…..



Debugging – old school

I grew up in early 70’s London, England. When I was young my father was an accountant in the city. Like many in that time, he was spending more and more time working on the mainframe, writing programs on punch cards and booking time to try them out. I remember him reading though stacks of cards at home in the evening checking his logic. But most of all, I remember the once-a-year event where all the kids of the staff would come into the city on the weekend and help with the debugging.

The system was shut down and we were sent into the racks to dust the cobwebs off the boards. We were small enough to reach between the cards with a feather duster. I remember being told just how important it was to keep the dust down as this helped airflow and stopped short circuits.

Looking back, I remember being amazed at all that advanced technology; it was an exciting time. But nowadays, no one believes me when I tell them my first ever job was debugging on the mainframe.
People growing up today will miss so many of the experiences that we had:

– Setting up your own bulletin board or using dial-up modems to connect systems all around the world
– Finding a very quiet place to format the servo surface of a 12-inch hard disk
– Making a line printer sing
– Stopping a system and stepping through the instructions on the front panel o Writing efficient code to do floating point math
– Saving space by using two digits for the date
– Knowing by the tone what speed your modem is connecting at.
– Soldering up an RS232 cable from memory
– Being able to discuss the relative merits of token ring versus vampire taps into the WAN
– Being able to read assembler from the HEX

While these and many other examples of getting down and dirty with technology may seem quaint, they gave us all a deep understanding of efficiency; we knew what it took to make something happen, and so understood the benefits of being neat. It’s why the mainframe is still so efficient today, and why it will be even more relevant as the world looks to be green.


Social Media = Domesticating a Wild Animal?

All organizations now have some sort of a digital strategy and “social media marketing” as part of their plan.

It seems like a no-brainer – Facebook and Twitter accounts are free and we can use the interns and “young employees” along with a few extra cycles from the PR guy.  It’s Win-Win.  Free advertising.  No foreseeable downside, right?

Example For Your Review: A major college football program (Arizona State), and their conference which generates more than a quarter of a billion dollars per season (The Pac 12), learned the hard way that it isn’t always “Win-Win” with no downside.  The program recently had its pre-season “Pac 12 Media Days” and scheduled press conferences with Q&A for each team’s head coach, including ASU’s new leader Todd Graham.  “Use that interweb social media stuff to promote the event!” was the likely command from the 60+ year old university leadership to the underpaid 22 year-old running social media for the school, along with, “Do your Tweeter thing and get us some new viewers!”   The young social marketer thought it would be a great idea to get fans involved in the Q&A by allowing them to tweet questions directly to the coachvia the #AskASU hashtag during the televised event in front of a room full of media.  Well, what occurred was what is known as a “hijacking” – In this case, fans of ASU’s new coach’s previous team (the Pitt Panthers), took this opportunity to ask their former leader a “few” questions about the circumstances of his abrupt and unexpected departure last December.

You see, less than a year after being hired to a 5-year contract by Pitt (and unbeknownst to his employers), Graham took another job to coach the Arizona State University football team.  He informed his team and Pitt via a text forwarded to a Pitt football administrator.  Graham took a lot of heat in the national media, especially in football-crazy Pittsburgh.  Ridiculed during his 1-year Pitt tenure for his use of football platitudes like “high-octane offense” and panned for throwing his players under the figurative bus, there was no love lost between the coach and the Steel City.  He also called ASU his “dream job” after saying the exact same thing about his previous employer 12 months earlier.

The Twitter “question” queue was completely dominated by Pitt tweets and included:

Coach when you mentioned speed speed speed, were you then hinting at how fast you would be leaving Pitt? #AskASU

Coach G, you do realize that allowing transfers without penalty is only a privilege for Penn State students, right? #AskASU

#AskASU coach, what are your thoughts on having more wins than Joe Pa last year? Will you use that for your next dream job?

What genius catchphrase will you invent this year that’s bound to be taken so seriously by the students in Tempe? #AskASU

Coach, would you leave Penni if an opportunity for a “dream” wife came along? #AskASU

#AskASU so how do you feel about email breakups

Coach Graham, I know what it feels like to be unfairly vilified. You have my support. #AskASU #PennState#Misunderstood [Eds. note: That’s a fake Mike McQueary account.]

#AskASU Coach,aren’t you glad you don’t have those pesky Steelers hanging around YOUR cafeteria

Have you put your house on the market yet? #AskASU

Hey Todd, my grandmas cat passed away, can you text her the bad news. I dont have the heart. #AskASU

Coach Graham- How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop…or do you just quit licking and leave half-way? #AskASU


Todd (aka Fraud) Graham: Did social media help get him labeled as “the devil himself?”

-Win-win?  No downside?  Maybe not.  This hijacking was so thorough that news outlets saw how high it was trending and wrote stories about it and the coach in question.  His status as a pariah and example of what’s wrong with college sports is now complete.

Trying to use social media to promote your company or organization is a little like trying to domesticate a chimpanzee or tiger… it’s a only a matter of when you’ll get bitten so think about the risks and prepare for the good and the bad that comes with this “free” marketing/PR.