June 28, 2006

How Low Can You Go?

Jon Udell points to this mp3 of a thought-provoking speech given by Brian Schweitzer. Schweitzer is the charismatic, common-sense talking governor of Montana and in this talk he lays out his ideas on how to solve the problem of climate change.

Cleverly, he doesn't label it as such, and instead talks about removing America's dependence on foreign oil and about creating jobs and new businesses. His take is that in the short-term we can save 20% of our energy use through efficiency and conservation; 20% with renewables (interestingly, he points out that a new wind power plant in Montana is providing electicity at $38/megawatt, but a new coal power plant they've also built can only manage $41/megawatt); and a further 20% with bio-fuels.

That leaves a gap of 40%, which he argues could come from new, cleaner coal technologies. These aren't perfect, but his argument is that until the hydrogen economy arrives (or whatever the yet-to-be-invented solution is) we're going to be using some fossil fuels and the newer technologies already exist to strip the toxins from coal before it's burnt (so no mercury and such is released into the atmosphere) and they can capture the carbon-dioxide and sequester it in old oil-fields (it's ideal for helping extraction of oil, and the oil companies will gladly pay for it).

It sounds like a better short-term solution than the expansion of the nuclear program that's being promoted in this country.

The only change which has an immediate pay-off is reducing energy consumption. We need to make saving energy cool, and Brian Schweitzer's rallying cry is "How low can you go?"

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June 26, 2006

links for 2006-06-26

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June 25, 2006

Evita at the Adelphi Theatre

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June 24, 2006

Free Range 2006

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links for 2006-06-24

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June 23, 2006

Less Copying, More Innovating

More lamenting why we aren't Silicon Valley via Ellee Seymour, only this time worryingly it's the shadow chancellor complaining.

To begin with, I thought there were some good points in his article, but the more I think about it the less convinced I become.

Why does it matter how many universities we have in the world's top 20? I don't remember any of my peers at school even thinking of going abroad to a different uni, so we aren't losing tomorrow's startup founders there. My experience of university was that it tended to be rather academic, and not too tuned to business, so encouraging that would be more useful to foster more startups.

I'm also unconvinced as to how useful patents are. Myspace doesn't have anything in that hasn't been done before (and given how ropey it is, most likely done better before).

All these efforts and initiatives trying to emulate Silicon Valley are pointless and will ultimately be futile. If I wanted to be part of Sililcon Valley I'd have gone there. I'm not yet sure what we do need to encourage more startups, but we should be looking at how to build our own success, not copy someone else's.

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June 21, 2006

The National Grid of The Future?

Jon Udell has posted up the mp3 from a conversation he had with Mike Frost about intelligent energy management. It's an interesting discussion about how Mike's company, Site Control, are building telemetry and control networks in businesses to let them monitor and control their electricity usage.

The main drive in take-up seems to be cost-savings through increased efficiency and control of the businesses energy usage, but as Jon notes, as you get finer-grained control over your electricity it opens up opportunities for the grid to manage usage. Rather than cut power to entire companies, or entire streets of houses, when there is a shortage the power companies can ask (possibly just through dynamic prices) users to scale back their usage. Which would you prefer - brownouts and power-cuts, or a heating system that ran a couple of degrees cooler every now and then?

Jon has written more about the energy web in the past and hit's one of the big problems head on when he says:

"It's crazy, when you think about it, that your phone bill is exquisitely itemized but your electicity bill is a single number"

I think if we had better ways of visualizing our energy usage, maybe even some of these more imaginative, almost ambient displays as detailed on Open Loop's Energy Projects links page or Open Loop's own Buried Light project, then it would reduce the amount of energy wasted needlessly and increase pressure on appliance manufacturers to improve their products.

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June 20, 2006

The Rise of Awareness

I considered including this in my earlier post but couldn't find the right link between the two, so this gets its own entry.

Karen has posted an excellent post exhorting people to do what they can and providing some links to let you find out how (btw, I'm not the Adrian in the comments, that's Mr. Sevitz).

She'll hopefully be pleased to read that thanks to the Attenborough documentaries, we're upping our environmentally-friendliness beyond the home composting; cycling virtually all journeys under five or six miles; using panniers to reduce the number of plastic bags used; and growing some of our own vegetables. I'll post more about the extra things we're doing after they've kicked in properly.

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Climate Chaos

Did anyone else watch the David Attenborough documentaries Are we changing planet earth? and Can we save planet earth? I wasn't expecting to learn too much from them, as I think I've got a pretty good awareness of the issues and some of the solutions, so I was shocked at the impact watching them had on me. They really brought home just how big an issue global warming is, and how important it is that we start to act now.

With the entire BBC Climate Chaos season and Al Gore's film, it feels like we're reaching a tipping-point of public opinion - but I suspect that I'm noticing these things because of my "green tendencies", and in fact most of the country (and the world) are largely unaware of the size of the problem facing us.

I think the BBC should make the documentaries freely available for download on its website. Surely it would be a masterpiece of public service "broadcasting", and a perfect way to promote the Creative Archive? Does anyone have David Attenborough's email address...?

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links for 2006-06-20

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June 19, 2006

links for 2006-06-19

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June 17, 2006

links for 2006-06-17

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June 15, 2006

My Wikipedia Contrail

Matt Web tried typing "en.wikipedia.org/wiki" into his web browser address bar to see what came up (basically it'll show which Wikipedia pages you've visited recently).

He's published his list here, and is interested in seeing other people's lists. So here's mine. Following Matt's lead, if you hover over any of the links you'll get a brief note about why I was looking for that...

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June 11, 2006

CHASE: Half Minute Media

I thoroughly enjoyed this month's CHASE meeting. Richard Konig gave a very open and engaging presentation about his company, Half Minute Media - quite impressive given that it was his first go at public speaking.

Half Minute Media have some digital fingerprinting technology that they use to recognise ad-break "bumpers" - those programme idents, or sponsor messages that come before and after every break for adverts. They use the technology in an entry-level PC to identify when the adverts have started, and then switch to a different channel for the duration of the ad-break. This lets them provide a service for pubs, bars, gyms and health clubs that shows more targetted advertising or details of upcoming promotions or events at the venue. Revenue comes from the sale of advertising, although the venue showing the adverts gets 30% and the opportunity to use up to 4 advertising slots for their own adverts.

Richard also covered some of the lessons they've learnt in starting the company. Funding and cashflow are vital - the DTI loan guarantee is expensive (although they couldn't have coped without it), and lack of funding has hampered their growth somewhat. Patents are expensive, and it's too early to say whether they've been useful or not. They have taken the very clever step of patenting some of the methods of attacking their main patents, to help prevent any competition. Don't start a family at the same time as starting a business - at present there are four employees of the company, and two of them are on maternity leave! And finally, get rid of time-wasters as quickly as possible.

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June 07, 2006

links for 2006-06-07

  • Stuart Bell is writing up a lot of his rides in and around Cambridge including the distances. Looks like it's building up into a useful collection.
  • Huge searchable archive of Movietone news reels (as was shown before films at the cinema years ago). Aimed more to let people find clips to licence for use in their own films or TV programmes, once you register you can see a small-sized version of any of
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June 05, 2006

Why Haven't You Started A Startup?

The article which indirectly sparked my Is Cambridge The UK's Startup Hub? post has been causing further conversations through a number of other blogs that I read. Not all are centred around working out how to encourage more people to start their own businesses but that's what intrigues me most.

Having thought about it some more, I think that the most important factor in encouraging more startups is people. A business can't start without a founder.

That sounds obvious, and maybe it was to everyone else, but I'd spent some time thinking about all sorts of other factors like location, availability of staff, living costs, and so on before realising that the best way to gain more new businesses would be for more people to decide to start them.

Almost everyone I know has at some point speculated about starting their own company, or getting out of the rat race and having more control over their own life. Yet far fewer have actually done so. Why is that? I'm not well placed to answer the question, because I've started my own company - there are all sorts of challenges and problems that I've encountered, but solving them would just have made the startup journey easier rather than affecting whether or not I embarked upon the journey at all.

So, what I'd like to know is have you ever thought of starting your own business? And if you have, why didn't you continue with it? Or did you start it but decide to stop? And what affected your decision?

Or is it the case with starting your own business that those that are going to do this do, and those that aren't shouldn't be encouraged?

What would it take to persuade you to start your own business?

Bonus links, if you want to read some more about the debate

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June 02, 2006

KISS - Keeping It Simple Sells?

Harvard Business School has recently published a report entitled "Feature Bloat: The Product Manager's Dilemma". In it, they discuss one of the big problems facing anyone building products today - that when faced with a choice, people will often be initially drawn to the product with the most features, but in the long run they prefer simpler products that they can actually understand and work.

I'm definitely tending towards the cleaner, simpler, more understandable side of building products. DataCocoon doesn't offer the ability to burn your backup onto a CD because most people know how to copy things onto a CD, and it defeats the "backup software you can forget about" if you have to remember to put in a CD regularly. And with tedium I spend a lot of time working out how to add new features without cluttering the basic mechanism of getting my to-do items into the computer as quickly as possible.

The problem is then how to persuade people to use my software when at first glance it doesn't seem to compare well against some of the competition because they have more features. I'm hoping that the Internet, and the conversations and communication it allows through blogs, forums, usenet, etc. will give people the knowledge to look beyond the initial shiny baubles of an extra feature and choose the product that will best solve their problems.

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links for 2006-06-02

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June 01, 2006

Blood Brothers at the Corn Exchange

So, Blood Brothers then. I was surprised that a throwaway mention of it should generate two comments, obviously my readership is girlier than I thought ;-)

Overall I enjoyed the performance, although it took a while to get going. At the interval, I was fairly ambivalent about it - the songs weren't memorable and the narrator was hard to understand, plus as the story is set in Liverpool and Skelmersdale - both areas I know well - I'd let myself get distracted picking at where in Liverpool it could be based on the backdrop, the mixed attempts at scouse accents, and wondering why the "posh" family would ever move to Skem...

Things picked up a lot in the second half, the plot quickened and drew me in. I didn't quite think it was worthy of the standing ovation given at the end, apart from the actress playing the lead role of the mother. Strictly she was the understudy for Linda Nolan, but I doubt we could have had a better performance from anyone else.

I'm glad I saw it, but unlike the couple sat next to me, I don't think I'd be booking to see it for the third time in a week.

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