stuff

I first saw Bladerunner in 1984, at the Albacon science fiction convention at the Central Hotel in Glasgow.

I was 13, on my first solo trip away from home (Whiting Bay, Arran, pop.700) to the “big city” (Glasgow, pop.700,000).

I was already terrified of being in a city. Sitting in a dark room with a bunch of strange (in many ways) adults in a strange (in many ways) place — a makeshift cinema in a fairly shabby conference room in the hotel — watching these incredible scenes unfold on screen …

I left thinking that cities around the world were simply *already like this* (and given the difference between Arran and Glasgow, they might as well have been). And the music, which had a deep impact in shaping the music I’d go on to write in my late teens. Research, work, and, well so many things.

Like visiting Shanghai 15 years later , to this …

and then, onto some pretty interesting projects / work-in-progress…

 

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W3 conf logo, meet AMEE logo

February 22, 2013 by

Nice to see the similarity in thinking here (2008 AMEE logo vs 2013 W3 conf logo)

 

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A quadrillion lives are in your hands. We often hear people talk of “protecting future generations”,and there is certainly a lot of value in thinking of your children and grandchildren when thinking about the future – it makes it personal.

But there is an additional way of thinking about this, which carries equal moral authority – that of existential risk at a human-extinction level.

If you use a pan-generational lens, the lives of all of the potential future generations are at stake.

Think about that idea for a moment. The future of human history.

It changes our perspective: we are familiar in considering genocide as abhorrent, but we are not used to thinking of omnicide (or ecocide) as even a credible threat.

You can also contextualise this by thinking of the differences between (a) peace, (b) 99% extinction, and (c) 100% extinction. What are the relative differences between (a), (b), and (c)?

Arguably the Manhattan Project was the first time we’d formally assessed the potential for omnicide – the study looked at whether a nuclear blast would create a chain reaction in our atmosphere, potentially destroying all life.

With an economic lens, we could consider our current financial markets as a “flawed realization” – we may have reached a technological maturity, but our financial infrastructure may be dismally and irremediably flawed: and a systems change needed to remedy it. It certainly has succeeded in ephemeral realization – but this spike of value is countered by our global consciousness of our bounded condition and is degrading rapidly.

The image of our island Earth has taken a generation to kick in.

Humanities “production possibility” frontier depends on the resources available at any point in time, but the amount of accessible free energy is finite and bounded. Whether we are 1 billion or 10 billion.

The distance between the reality of physics and the reality of our economic and social structures are so great, that it’s hard to envisage any material solution.

When we look at facts, such as the fact we have lost four fifths of arctic ice volume since 1980, that cleantech is already a $trillion dollar industry (about 1% of planetery GDP), or that PWC think that there might be some kind of “business as usual” scenario in a 6C world  we know one thing: we have to change. Typically change doesn’t happen slowly: it waits a long time, then happens much faster than anyone expects. We need to remember that to create the problems of an industrialised world, we spent *multiples* (not fractions) of our GDP. While this has created many kinds of wealth, the systems-cost, the existential risks, are still struggling to be truly taken on-board.

I wonder, now, what change we will see in our generation, and if we will even be in a position to reflect on what was needed to make a meaningful difference.

I view environmental sustainability (including but not limited to climate change) as an existential risk. In the systems design of our economic, resource-scarce, finite and bounded ecosystem, there is a desperate need to create meaningful mechanisms to engage, at scale and in the mainstream, that enable people to discuss, understand and act on their environmental impact.

In an age of fiduciary, evidence-based decision-making, our balance-sheets are missing volumes of data.

We have tried to create laws, processes and standards (e.g. Kyoto, Climate Acts, ISO), and ratings (e.g. green scores) but none have managed yet to scale to hundreds of millions of people and businesses and dozens of countries in any meaningful way.

There are many, many reasons for this, but looking forward, we have new tools (the web, open data, new currencies, pervasive networks), and new ways to drive collaboration. In order to catalyse engagement, we can now create different starting points: the rest is down to collaborative (p2p) engagement between people with the absolute minimum of hassle (e.g. understanding methodologies, zero or low financial costs of change, and minimal time and effort) to improve our insight. We then need to automate everything, so the lowest barrier to entry is to do nothing at all (we’re all busy and/or lazy to change unless confronted).

One question is “how can we influence our Treasuries?”. I wonder who will be the first to truly bring change here – governments in the EU, China, or the USA? or Kickstarter and BitTorrent? Or who will be the first to join up our global data-ecologies to reveal the health benefits of energy efficiency, the true financial impacts of education, or the social benefits of codified law.

To catalyse change needs many forcing-functions: policy has a role and will play a greater role over time, but until then we will continue to rely on the goodwill and foresight of the small number of inventors, innovators, influencers that have actively engaged in trying to make a difference. We need to build more success stories, based on evidence, and redirect our collective energies at scale. And fast.

Essential reading
http://www.nickbostrom.com/existential/risks.html (you may find Existential Risks PDF easier to read)

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During the Olympics Opening Ceremony, the creator of the web tweeted “This is for everyone” to millions of people around the world.

Decades since their invention, we are still discovering and unlocking value from the innovations catalysed by the open web, open internet, and open source. The Open Data Institute‘s mission is to demonstrate and unlock the value in Open Data.

Today, I am joining Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Professor Nigel Shadbolt at the ODI, as its CEO.

The ODI is a start-up – the first of its kind in the world. We have ambitious plans, and aim to have a substantial and positive impact for many, many people.

  • Incubate and catalyse innovative new companies
  • Help large and small companies develop and derive value from open data
  • Provide the right environment to inspire, train, and develop world-class talent
  • Enable organisations publish high-quality open data
  • Help shape standards in this emerging space

We have had fantastic support across the political spectrum, from academia, from the private sector, and from individuals.

Open Data creates the potential for anyone to innovate. The web was created using, and exists because of, open source and open data. I want to explore how we can best deliver;

  • data presented in a structured, “machine-readable” form so that data can be used by and between services (for example, using Apps)
  • data that is addressable via the internet and can therefore be linked together

I believe that

“information causes change, otherwise it’s not information”
James Burke, dconstruct 2012

There are massive benefits of getting this right. Governments, businesses, and individuals around the world are gradually coming to understand the power of data. The World Economic Forum has now categorised Personal Data as a new “Asset Class”:

“Personal data is the new oil of the Internet
and the new currency of the digital world.”

Meglena Kuneva, European Consumer Commissioner

And this is just the beginning: there is an emerging shift in our collective understanding of the power of connected, addressable information.

The ODI will help us reveal this power, guide us towards best practices, fair usage, and empower a new generation of innovators to create value – and in this definition I include economic, environmental, and social value.

What is Data?
This may seem like an obvious question, and to help anchor our language I want to be clear what this means. We live in an age where almost everything is, or will be, digitised. We are familiar with government spending data, health statistics, company financial reports, school assessments, and our own personal records. We are less familiar with data that is collected when we (as governments, businesses, or individuals) use the web, or devices that generate new data (such as location data from your mobile phone, or using Facebook).

I see two trends here: one is a growing set of opportunities for innovation – creating new services that improve our lives, the other is a growing sense of anxiety – that we are monitored and not in control of our information. I want to address both these areas.

What is Open Data?
Firstly Open Data does not mean “all data”, or that it’s a free-for-all. For example, your personal health data is extremely private. There are benefits, for example aggregated anonymous statistical analysis can help us make better decisions. There are also risks – we know that companies, governments, and individuals are not always as well equipped to handle information as we may want.

Examples (please send me more – I am keen to learn!)
- Public data released around MRSA has contributed to reducing death rates
- Company data released around environmental data has helped to catalyse the transition to  more energy efficient operations
- And even remarkable stories involving individual data could help to find new cures…

 

NB: I will remain on the board of AMEE.

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“On 12 April 1961 Yuri Gagarin became the first human in outer space and the first to orbit the Earth. 2011 sees the fiftieth anniversary of that event…”

As part of my ongoing work on Binary Dust, I am speaking at Heavenly Discourses on Sunday 16th October 16:45 – 18:00. PANEL: Music

I’ll be presenting new work (including sounds and pictures derived from ALMA) that my great collaborators, Andrew Newsam and Julie Freeman, have helped me with (thank you!).

Here’s the abstract of my paper. I am delighted to have been accepted – esp. as I’m one of the few/the only non-institutional presenters at the conference.

The utterance of a cosmological model?

A conjoining of languages, Acoustic Cosmology is an attempt to describe our audible worlds – a 21st century progression of the music of the spheres – a narrative of acoustic sculpture within n-dimensional space. With no intentional stance on sound as a cultural construct or phenomenology, we openly explore links between cosmology and music, using the language of mathematics and sonic art.

Building on the works Trevor Wishart and Jean-Pierre Luminet, and developed by professional astronomers and musicians, we question and connect the fabric of these non-verbal languages.

Using cosmology and sonic art as its basis, this paper will provide a journey of discovery – a basis for discussion in the junction between music and astronomy, opening up new methods of comprehending scale, connection, depth and complexity. Sound examples and visuals will be included in the presentation.

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Those are my stars…

September 25, 2011 by

Calling Virgin Galactic: “if we could get our political leaders to have a summit meeting in space, life on Earth would be markedly different”

Alex Evans reflects “during a break in an all-day meeting of senior policymakers at the United Nations, on the subject of ‘global sustainability’. Know what? The room had no windows”

On this excellent snippet from and interview with Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell:

“Every two minutes, a picture of the Earth, Moon and Sun, and a 360 degree panorama of the heavens, appeared in the spacecraft window as I looked. And from my training in astronomy at Harvard and MIT, I realized that the matter in our universe was created in star systems, and thus the molecules in my body, and in the spacecraft, and in my partners’ bodies were prototyped or manufacted in some ancient generation of stars. And I had the recognition that we’re all part of the same stuff, we’re all one. Now in modern quantum physics you’d call that interconnectedness. It triggered this experience of saying wow, those are my stars, my body is connected to those stars. And it was accompanied by a deep ecstatic experience, which continued every time I looked out of the window, all the way home.”

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Educational biomes?

April 10, 2011 by

I’ve got some thoughts about a different way to create a distributed education. One I think could break through silo’s in our Psychogeography and Biogeography. Please bear with me and, of course, if someone has already done this, please let me know!

Background

A familiar problem but always a new one to first-time parents: how to choose a school.

In the UK, there are useful Ofsted reports, as well as excellent emerging services like School-o-scope.

But these don’t seek to address some of the macro-issues that exist and, being a data-geek, it got me thinking.

The catalyst was hearing that there is a “really good school” down the road, that happens to be a Catholic school.

Firstly, let me state clearly that I have no issues with other’s belief systems. I am non-religious, but I do strongly believe in secular systems to promote equality (including equality of beliefs).

So, some data (please send me better data if you have it);

  • Catholic schools provide 10% of school places
  • Catholic schools receive 90% state funding as opposed to 100% for pure-state schools
  • Catholic schools maintain 30% intake of non-Catholic denomination
  • Catholic primary schools: 74% were rated good or outstanding, higher than the average of 66% across the UK

From this point on, I’m going to stop referring to “Catholic” as the points I wish to explore are not even specific to faith as an issue.

We have an interesting perspective here: state funding of a belief system producing better results. State-funding of 90% of the school with only 30% of the intake who are “non-demonination”.

This got me thinking;

  • Do I think faith-based schools are acceptable: yes
  • Do I think the state should help fund them: I have no general issue here, other than balance
  • Do I think private faith-based schools have the right to discriminate against kids who don’t “believe”: it’s up to them
  • Do I think state-funded, faith-based schools have the right to discriminate against kids who don’t “believe”: definitely not. This is prejudice at the entry-level to society. It does not create a path to equality.

I then went down a line of  “how do you break an embedded system” which is fairly immutable, and being annoyed that my child wouldn’t have fair and equal access to a “state-funded best school”, because of a belief system he is not old enough to comprehend.

How could we cultivate more diversity? What would be the implication of disallowing state-funded schools to be predjudiced against children based on a notion of faith that the kids don’t even comprehend?

But it occurred to me that there was a much bigger question.

Having grown up in place where there was one school (and buses to take us all there), this wasn’t a parameter I’d had to consider. Now, living in London where there are hundreds of schools, a high population density, and huge cultural diversity, I had some immediate observations:

  1. 1. There is fierce competition. Parents naturally want to get their kids into “the best” school. The parents have the Ofsted reports and anecdotal evidence to go on. They produce a preference list. Then cross their fingers.
  2. 2. Schools have a selection process that is defined by each individual school’s Admissions Authority, and then broadly the distance (“catchment area”) you are from their school. I’m sure the school’s AA’s go to great pains to ensure fair distributions, but I have not found a data source that aggregates and makes all the rules public (ie. data mineable).
  3. 3. In a school near me, over 70% of the kids speak English as a second language. This obviously reflects a local population-density along specific cultural lines.
  4. 4. In “one of the best” schools near me, less than 30% of the kids are allowed in unless they follow a particular belief system. Such imbalanced “nodes” can act as magnets that affect the local population.

So, how could you address the ghettos of cities (middle-class, low-income, monoculture pockets, etc — my definition of ghetto is a physically local group who live there because of social, economic, or legal pressure – this applies to Chelsea as much as Silvertown). What would you do instead?

We have geo-coded data emerging that maps that detail ethnicity, religion and related metrics. We know the data on all the schools. We could get the rules of every school and simply game the system to individual advantage. But, wouldn’t there be a better way?

A 20 mile cycle around East London on Saturday helped me get a feel for the psychogeography, and a possible solution.

Using data to evenly distribute diversity

My proposal is this;

“We wish to create an outcome of less prejudice, more integration and better learning. This should start at school.”

We can posit the following;

  1. 1. We have a legacy notion of distance. In this case, the physical distance surrounding a school.
  2. 2. In cities, we have vast cultural diversity in dense areas. Often this is ghettoised. It is mapped.

What if;

  1. 1. We redefined distance as the temporal distance (TD) surrounding a school. In other words, how long it takes to get there, not how far.
  2. 2. We insist all state schools (including belief-based schools) create a completely equal entry system rather than devolved selection criteria (the AA’s can add flavour, but not affect the macro-distribution). This uniform distribution would be based on the ethic, cultural, belief, gender and related distribution profile of kids within the TD of the school. We have this data .

Imagine chartering a bus and traversing a TD of cultural diversity, which takes the diversity of the city to the heart of their education platform: the schools.

So, now go and mash up travel data, schools data and the census data, and create shards of cultural diversity that can get to school. I think this could break through substantial silo’s in our Psychogeography and Biogeography.

Starting points

Tom Carden has done the TD for the Tube Map. Note that the scale is minutes, not distance.

Bill Rankin (and many others I’m sure) have done geo-coded maps of diveristy. For example:

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Periodicity

July 3, 2010 by

Building on this

two things:

1) add the cyclic patterns for every form of centralisation->decentralisation

technology | politics | finance | energy | cosmology | art | religion | etc…

2) look to see if there’s a damping factor

Are we dealing with periodicity that has diminishing amplitude?

ie. thinking in a political/government sense: do we “normalise” into the status quo – and then need a revolution to introduce a new disruptive signal?

How quickly do we get to the “right” cloud-edge balance?

Can we map the damping factor to accelerate change? (ie. reduce wastage)

If we use a large pile of sand, could we get expectations towards “sustainability”(1) moving faster?

Or am I trying to invent (another) negative entropy machine?

Or is it all just about gravity?

(1) Sustainability being defined as “measuring the rate of change of the right thing”.

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Keywords: WordPress, HostPapa, managed hosting, image upload, fix, migration

I recently moved a friend’s blog to a managed (virtual) hosting solution (hostPapa in this case) and it all worked fine apart from the fact they couldn’t upload images via the wordpress UI.

In the WP-Admin site, if went to edit a page, then tried to upload an image, you got (for example);

“Unable to create directory /public_html/wp-content/uploads/2010/06. Is its parent directory writable by the server?”

After chasing around the houses, and annoying HostPapa  – who claimed that they have a slightly different ruleset around chmod (for example, they don’t allow 777 even though you can set it in their UI).

I found the fix to this issue was to edit a field in the WordPress database as follows

Table: “wp_options”
Entry: “upload_path”

change from
“/public_html/wp-content/uploads”
to
“/home/<username>/public_html/wp-content/uploads”

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Things wrong with Companies House Crown Copyright data disclosure (which allows free copying)

Get the DVD rom of the data – SIGH

£30 for a copy of the data – PARTIAL WIN (it’s accessible)

£1200 if you want to actually save the data – FAIL

Crown Copyright Data is in a closed format -  FAIL (although in a trivially hackable form)

DVD self-destructs after 6 months – WTF!
(not stated at the point of sale, or on the phone when I called them)

Then it gets worse;

Windows *only* — not stated anywhere apart from the booklet inside the DVD (e.g. not on the website, phone or on the outside of the DVD)

Uses ActiveX wrapped into an executable — so I had to reset my default browser to IE…

Requires the DVD to be in the drive (“please insert DVD number XXX”) — so tied to that specific DVD

Has an “Award for excellence” badge on the back of the DVD.

My verdict: 1/10.  Not excellent. Not even good. I couldn’t do what I needed to with this open, Crown Copyright data. They have an XML API, but that is traffic-restricted.

FOI request sent.

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