I can’t say I was enthused at the prospect at getting up at 7:00am this morning to meet with all the other media people over breakfast but I figured I should make the effort, if only for the fact that free food is hard to turn down. It was a bit of a struggle but nothing compared to attempting to do the same in freezing Canberra weather, something that I’m thankful for the brief respite from. After the breakfast and a quick chat with everyone we were whisked back down to the showcase floor to have a cosy session with some of the Microsoft guys, their customers and some solution providers.
If I’m honest these kinds of high level talks bore the crap out of me. I understand their place, they’re great for people who aren’t into the nuts and bolts of technology, but for someone like me who lives and dies by their understanding of how to implement/configure/maintain things they’re just not that useful. After that it was off to our session choices for the day and I had chosen a path that was focused on virtualization/cloud topics which turned out ok, save for the couple sessions that were simply not worth attending. In case you’re wondering the sessions I attended were:
VIR 312 and VIR315 well worth attending as they gave a really solid overview of the new features in Hyper-V 3.0. I had read about most of them before but it was great to get an introduction to those things that aren’t usually covered in much detail in marketing material. Those two sessions were the basis for the first part of my blog for LifeHacker (which will be up tomorrow morning I believe) with the second half being based on some of the things I gleaned whilst attending the cloud sessions. The sessions I’d probably skip catching up on are WSV313 and VIR316 as they’d only be useful if you’d never designed a virtual infrastructure before or if you you weren’t capable of comparing Microsoft and VMware’s offerings. The last two were really just for me, although I’ll probably use some of the info I got from them in tomorrow’s post.
I was also lucky enough to win one of the helicopter rides because I tweeted something non-generic at the right time. It was a pretty quick affair, just a 15 minute jaunt around Broadbeach and Soutbank but it was pretty awesome to get a birds eye view of the place. I certainly didn’t expect to win when I entered with my slightly bizwank-esque tweet but obviously the people behind the account love to indulge in a little geek humour.
The whole day was really entertaining but thoroughly exhausting. When I wasn’t in a session or a helicopter I was up in the media room review my notes from the previous session and attempting to draft up the post for the day. When I was first told that I only needed to do one post a day I didn’t consider it much of a challenge, I mean I’ve been doing exactly that for years now, but its one thing to research a single idea and write about it and a whole other thing to try and distil 6+ hours of content into a single blog post. I think I did a good job of getting at a couple ideas I believe are key (and the editor liked it) but I’m so exhausted that I’m not sure how the greater public will recieve it.
But then again I don’t usually know that anyway
The wonderful world of tech Initial Public Offerings isn’t the same beast that it was back in the hey days of the dot com boom. Gone are the days when caution was thrown to the wind on any company that managed to demonstrate a modicum of social proof, where the idea of going IPO was just a way to get another round of keeping a company going until they found a sustainable business model. Today whilst going IPO is still done with an eye to gather more funds for expansions they’re also big events for investment companies to make a quick buck on the hype surrounding a tech company going public. So much so that it’s become something of a trend for sexy high tech companies stock’s to soar on the first day only to come back down to reality not long after.
Take LinkedIn for example. On its opening day the share price skyrocketed, more than doubling its price on the opening day. Many took this as a sign that the tech bubble was returning with a vengeance, that tech companies would soon be inflating the market beyond its sustainable limits and that we were seeing the makings of another crash. More astute observers recognised that instead it was actually a ploy by the investment companies managing the IPO process. Instead of it being a sign that these tech companies were fuelling another bubble it was the investment companies severely under-pricing the IPO. Doing this would seem highly counter-intuitive, I mean who wouldn’t want the best debut price? The answer is of course, and unfortunately, very simple.
They wanted to be the ones who profited the most from the IPO.
Pricing the IPO so low meant that the initial buyers could acquire many more shares than they could if the IPO. Knowing that the stock was undervalued they then just had to wait for the pricing to hit it’s trading peak before unloading their shares on the market. Done at the peak of the LinkedIn IPO companies like Morgan Stanley, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and JPMorgan who were underwriters were able to get an easy 1X return without little to no risk. Employees and preferred stock holders who elected to have shares in the IPO got screwed of course, but that’s not a concern for these big name investment firms.
So it was with great anticipation that I watched the recent Facebook IPO. It’s by far the biggest tech IPO in history and also managed to set records in terms of trade volume on the first day. Since then it’s been a slow downhill trend for the nascent stock, shedding something like $11 per share since its high of around $42. Whilst the first day of trading was cause for concern, mostly because there wasn’t an insane pop like there was for all other tech stocks, the following days have been nothing short of astonishing at least for the investors who jumped in alongside everyone else on the first release shares. You’d think that this was a bad thing but for this aspiring start-uper it’s nothing short of glorious.
The other tech IPOs that showed explosive growth only did so because they were engineered that way. Now I have no idea why the Facebook IPO didn’t, it certainly had all the makings of one, but there’s a good chance that the watchful eye of the SEC had something to do with it. For all the people who bought in early they’re undeniably screwed but there is one group of people who (rightly so) profited from Facebook’s IPO: the people at the company.
The shares that made up the original offering would have come from preferred stock (early investors), common stock (employees) and options that other people had accured over Facebook’s 8 year lifespan.For them a right priced IPO that then declines in value means that they’ve got the maximum amount of value they could and were not screwed over by an artificially low stock price. Of course this has the not-so-nice aspect of pissing off a lot of investors, many of whom are now crying foul over the share price making a beeline for penny stock level. That’s warranted to some extent but you’ll forgive me if I don’t shed a tear for those companies who screwed over many a tech company in the past in the pursuit of a quick buck.
The question on everyone’s lips is where Facebook’s stock will go from here. Honestly I’m not sure, they’ve definitely struggling with mobile which is starting to heavily cut into their revenue and apparently the reason behind their Instagram acquisition but you’d figure that they’ve innovated heavily in the past so they should be able to turn it around in the not too distant future. Still all this negative press isn’t going to do the stock price any favours so unless the commentators want to see the price keep falling they should probably just shut their yaps and wait for the market to properly correct. The next few weeks will be very interesting times indeed and I can’t wait to see how the investor butthurt plays out.
Before I say anything, you need to watch this video in its entirety:
Long time readers will know I have a soft spot for Quantic Dream’s work, having played their first title Fahrenheit some years ago. My status as their fanboy was sealed when I played their second title Heavy Rain, a game that pushed the limits of games as a medium of expression. The video above is Quantic Dream’s latest achievement and whilst they say that this isn’t directly from any of their current projects they have done other videos similar to this which were very indicative of their future products.
Needless to say this has me very excited for what they’re currently working on. Whilst it might not be exactly what’s shown here you can safely bet that all the elements: the graphics, the emotion and the story telling will make it into the final product. The fact that it all runs in real time on the PS3 is even more impressive as whilst the graphics aren’t exactly cutting edge they’re right up there with other titles.
I really can’t wait!
My last two years have seen me dabble in a whole swath of things I never thought I’d dip my toes into. The first was web development, arguably inspired by this blog and the trials and tribulations that went into making it what it is today. Having been out of the development game for quite a long time before that (3 years or so) I had forgotten the thrill of solving some complex problem or finding an elegant solution to replace my overly complicated one. This then led me to try a cascade of different technologies, platforms and frameworks as ideas started to percolate through my head and success stories of overseas start ups left me lusting for a better life that I could create for myself.
For each of these new technologies I pursued I always had, at least in my mind, a good reason for doing so. Web development was the first step in the door and a step towards modernizing the skills I had let decay for too long. Even though my first foray into this was with ASP.NET, widely regarded as the stepping stone to the web for Windows desktop devs like myself, I still struggled with many of the web concepts. Enter then Silverlight, a framework which is arguably more capable than but has the horrible dependency of relying on an external framework. Still it was enough to get me past the hurdle of giving up before I had started and I spent much of the next year getting very familiar with it.
Of course the time then came when I believed that I needed to take a stab at the mobile world and promptly got myself involved in all things Apple and iOS. For someone who’d never really dared venture outside the comfortable Microsoft world it was a daunting experience, especially when my usual approach of “Attempt to do X, if can’t Google until you can” had me hitting multiple brick walls daily. Eventually however I broke through to the other side and I feel it taught me as much as my transition from desktop to web did. Not long after hitting my stride however did I find myself deep in yet another challenge.
Maybe it was the year+ I had spent on Lobaco without launching anything or maybe it was the (should have been highly expected) Y-Combinator rejection but I had found myself looking for ideas for another project that could free me from the shackles of my day job. Part me also blamed the frameworks I had been using up until that point, cursing them for making it so hard to make a well rounded product (neglecting the fact that I only worked on weekends). So of course I tried all sorts of other things like Ruby on Rails, PHP and even flirted with the idea of trying some of those new fangled esoteric frameworks like Node.js. In the end I opted for ASP.NET MVC which was familiar enough for me to be able to understand it clearly without too much effort and modern enough that it didn’t feel like I’d need to require IE6 as the browser.
You’re probably starting to notice a pattern here. I have a lot of ideas, many of which I’ve actually put some serious effort into, but there always comes a point when I dump both the idea and the technology it rests on for something newer and sexier. It dawned on me recently that the ideas and technology are just mediums for me to pursue a challenge and once I’ve conquered them (to a certain point) they’re no longer challenge I idolized, sending me off to newer pastures. You could write off much of this off to coincidence (or other external factors) except that I’ve done it yet again with the last project I mentioned I’m working on. I’m still dedicated to it (since I’m not the only one working on it) but I’ve had yet another sexy idea that’s already taken me down the fresh challenge path, and it’s oh so tempting to drop everything for it.
I managed to keep my inner junkie at bay for a good year while working on Lobaco so it might just be a phase I’m going through, but the trend is definitely a worrying one. I’d hate to think that my interest only lasts as long as it takes to master (well, get competent with) and it would be a killer for any potential project. I don’t think I’m alone in this boat either, us geeks tend to get caught up in the latest technology and want to apply it where ever we can. I guess I’ll just have to keep my blinkers on and keep at my current ideas for a while before I let myself get distracted by new and shiny things again. Hopefully that will give me enough momentum to overcome my inner challenge junkie.
So it turns out that my blog has been down for the last 2 days and I, in my infinite wisdom, failed to notice this. It seems like no matter how I set this thing up it will end up causing some problem that inveitably brings the whole server to its knees, killing it quietly whilst I go about my business. Now this isn’t news to anyone who’s read my blog for any length of time but it eerily coinciding with my main machine “forgetting” it’s main partition, leaving me with no website and a machine that refused to boot.
Realistically I’m a victim of my own doing since my main machine is getting a bit long in the tooth (almost 3 years now by my guess) but even before it hit the 6 month mark I was getting problems. Back then it was some extremely obscure issue that only seemed to crop up in certain games where I couldn’t get more than 30 seconds into playing them before the whole machine froze and repeatedly played the last second of sound until I pulled the plug on it. That turned out to be RAM requiring more volts than it said it did and everything seemed to run fine until I hit a string of hard drives that magically forgot partitions (yes, in much the same fashion as my current one did). Most recently it has taken to hating having all of its RAM slots filled even though both of them work fine in isolation. Maybe it’s time this bugger went the way of old yeller.
Usually a rebuild isn’t much of a hassle for someone like me. It’s a pain to be sure but the pay off at the end is a much leaner and meaner rig that runs everything faster than it did before. This time around however it also meant configuring my development environment again whilst also making sure that all my code didn’t suffer in the apparent partition failure. I’m glad to say that whilst it did kill a good couple hours I was otherwise planning to spend lazing about I have got everything functional again and no code was harmed in the exercise.
You might be wondering why the hell I’m bother to post this then since it’s so much of a non-event. Well for the most part it’s to satisfy that part of me that likes to blog every day (no matter how hard I try to quell him) but also it’s to make sure the whole thing is running again and that Google is aware that my site hasn’t completely disappeared. So for those of you who were expecting something more I’m deeply sorry, but until the new year comes along I’m not sure how much blogging I’m going to be doing. Let alone any well thought out pieces that I tend to hit at least a couple times a week
There’s been many times when I’ve caught myself with some kind of random idea for a product, service or whatever that I’ve quickly thrown on an ever growing pile of ideas. It doesn’t seem to take long for that one idea that I’ve had to turn from something I thought that I only thought of to someone else’s business venture upon which time I curse myself for not following through on it. Granted many of these ideas have been kicking around in my head for years without them coming to fruition and my recent attempts to develop one of them has been quite the eye opener, showing me that ideas are great and all but implementations are still king.
This is one of the biggest challenges that anyone will come up against when trying to develop a product or service: someone has already done it before. In this world that thrives on innovation being the first to market with a new widget is a powerful force and almost guarantees you the lion’s share of the early adopter market. The problem here is though that being first to market with something means one of two things: either you’re creating a market that didn’t exist before (see Apple and Nintendo as good examples of this) or you’ve seen an established market and noticed something sorely lacking, which pits you against established players in this space. In both these cases if you’re just starting out at being an entrepreneur your friends, family and potential business partners will more than likely shoot a skeptical eye your way telling you that there’s no way it could work.
For the most part they’re right, in a traditional business world starting from scratch is a pretty risky business and whilst the jury is still out on how you can judge failure rates of new companies it’s no secret that you’re more likely to fail than succeed. To an investor a business plan that builds on proven methods will look a lot more attractive as there’s a much better chance that they’ll get a return on their money even if it would be smaller than something that could be perceived as a higher risk. Consequently this has the effect of stifling innovation for certain high risk ventures, although that trend is starting to change.
In the tech industry at least this can be attributed to investors gaining back the confidence they lost in the tech industry back in the dot com bust. After the crash many investors sought more stable investments (and look how that turned out!) and shied away from funding what looked like high risk ventures. As a consequence many hungry start up founders started to make do with a lot less and this drove a phenomenal amount of innovation. Primarily this was to attract their once bitten investors back into the fray and the last couple years has seen the resurgence of the high tech start up craze that we lived through only a decade ago.
For those looking to lash out into the world of tech start ups this means that for any idea that you might have you’re going to be compared to those who’ve come before you. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re destined to fail, it just means that you’ve got your work cut out for you if you’re looking to make an impression in the tech world. Innovation in this fast paced tech world is the name of the game and whilst any market you may care to get into (hats off to you if you manage to create one) may appear to be completely saturated that doesn’t mean you can’t succeed in that space. It all comes down to how you differentiate yourself from the pack.
Maybe this blog post is more for my benefit than anyone else’s as I’m currently staring right down the barrel of trying to attempt such a feat myself. The location space is heating up like crazy and all the large players in other spaces are already integrating location based services into their current offerings. Initially this was a boon for me but I’ve come to realize it first as a hindrance to me progressing my core functionality (Oh another information feed with co-ordinates in it, better integrate that one too!) and secondly as another blow against a product I’m looking to deliver. Realistically though I know what I want to do is different enough from every one else to warrant at least an attempt to make it successful and should it fail I’ll be that much wiser about the whole process, ready to try over again with yet another idea.
Realistically I’d need a team of 100 people to try all the ideas I have, so I could be in this cycle for quite some time
Everytime I think I’m losing my interest in space something always comes along to bring me right back into that almost dream like state I first had when I decided that leaving this blue marble was my lifetime goal. Whether it be pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope, a few readings from the Mars Exploration Rovers or even a discovery that might one day lead us faster than light travel I can’t doubt myself for more than a day before I reminded of the beautiful, complex and ever changing universe that we live in. It is my fervent hope that I can one day instill such passion in a wide majority of the world, and the beginnings of that are contained in this blog.
However I understand that we don’t live in a world that is governed solely by one man’s desires and hopes. In this world that is ruled by politics, economics and raw resources we have work within these constructs in order to achieve the goals we set for ourselves. Unfortunately in the case of NASA these rules have led from it being a source of inspiration for humanity worldwide to a struggling organisation who can barely make the headlines. Whilst some might say that this is because there are bigger problems to solve here on terra firma I and many others would disagree:
Tyson echos a sentiment I’ve held for quite a while now. Born well after the initial space race and in the remote location of Australia I was cut off from the world of space for a very long time. My earliest memory of having anything to do with space was a night of astronomy when I was about 8 years old, seeing a bright red dot through a large contraption I had no understanding of. It would be another 4 years before my next brief experience of space when I saw Mission to Mir on the IMAX screen in Sydney. After then I can not think of one experience I had with space until a couple years back, when I discovered my passion for space and all things to do with it.
After the dizzying heights that were reached when NASA was formed to win the space race it has taken a slow downhill course to irrelevance. No longer are they charged with pushing the boundaries of what we are capable in space, more they are responsible for a very expensive transport business with a small dabbling of science on the side. This is why they are no longer the inspiration they once were, every they do is routine. For decades now NASA has been in a position to cast off its routine duties and begin clawing at the edges of space, just like it did so long ago. We have the chance to do so much yet such a comparatively small cost is too great for those who have the ability to pay for it.
Maybe I’m just nostalgic for a time that I didn’t live through, but after going so long not knowing about the tremendous benefits that NASA and its projects brought to our world and then finally discovering them I can’t help but feel that the everyman is in the same situation. As a species we seem so focused on the immediate problems of our world that we tend to forego looking up and seeing the direction we should be moving in, leaving us only to tread the paths we’ve been down before. It would seem that collectively we’re incapable of drastic change over a prolonged period of time.
The point remains however that should NASA axe its human space program that it will become irrelevant in the public’s eye. Whilst we have had a tremendous amount of success with robotic exploration missions they fail to grab the attention of the everyman as they can not identify with them. Whilst I lament the idea of flag planting missions they serve to inspire the generation of their time to achieve such lofty goals which, if continued over an extended period of time, leads to a feedback loop of epic proportions. Had NASA continued along the same path as it did when it was first created there’s no telling where we would be today, but there’s no use dwelling on the past.
Despite this we are on the cusp of another revolution in space which the fledgling private space industry is responsible for. We have so many companies that are now willing to do the job that only NASA was capable of just a decade ago that soon NASA will have no choice but to give way to them. Once they have done this they can refocus their efforts on pushing the limits of technology like they once did and hopefully see them return to their rightful spot as the most inspirational government organisation mankind has ever seen. Just that thought alone is enough to keep a dreamer like myself going even when NASA seems to be going through the darkest times.
My thanks go out to my friend Glen for linking the video that inspired this post.
Taking a look over the past decade or so of technology and communications you’ll notice that they’re hasn’t been any revolutionary ideas that have come forward. Sure there have been a lot of improvements or augmentations to current technology but no one has really gone back and thought about the underlying principals of communication and how to make them transcend new mediums. When I first heard about Google Wave it was something that was supposed to be “pretty cool” but I didn’t hear much more of it then that. Queue the following video, which I thoroughly recommend watching if you have the time (I’ll give a general overview of it anyway if you can’t spare the 1.5 hours):
In essence Wave is a wrapper around many different modes of communication such as email, twitter and instant messaging with augmentations that allow for some creative ways of interacting with the flow of the communications. This by itself isn’t a revolutionary means of transforming communication but due to Google’s idea of open sourcing the majority of the code and having a wealth of APIs developed this will allow the market to drive the innovation, and that is where the true revolution can begin.
Looking over it I couldn’t help but notice a trend that has been developing over the past few years when it comes to technologies like this. On the Internet we have access to such wide and disperate sources of information that it is easy to become overwhelmed when you’re trying to filter out everything you don’t want to see. Many technologies have tried to solve this issue by allowing you to aggregate your personal choices into one interface (things like RSS feeds) in the hopes to focus your experience. Wave is Google’s attempt to transcend all the mediums and bring them onto a more robust and open platform which is not only a boon for them but also for standards based development, something that the Internet has been lacking for a long time (thank you Internet Explorer!).
I like the idea a lot. I see myself using many different forms of communication these days and it would be great to have a unified web based interface to the lot of them. Of course the augmentations that Google has added (that spell checker and auto-translator are awesome) would make using this platform worthwhile but as we’ve seen with other Google products once the developers get their hands on it the applications will widen considerably. Couple that with the fact that they’ll let you run your own Wave server and I’m sold, I love having new toys to play with on my web server
Hopefully the haiku and ASCII frog I sent them will butter them up enough to send me an invite…..
With the cost of space travel so high and the benefits lacking real monetization strategies few private companies have made a lot of progress in this realm without the backing of government agencies. Whilst there is a considerable amount of activity in the low earth orbit realm for telecommunications, geo-spatial and meteoric industries these are all concerned with doing things once they’re up there. There are only a few companies who dare recreate the infrastructure that the governments have invested so heavily in.
One company I’m constantly impressed with is SpaceX, founded by the the co-founder of Paypal Elon Musk. He took a very coroprate look at the space industry and came to the conclusion that the majority of the costs incurred were bureaucratic, and sought to solve that problem. Incidentally he’s right on the money, since the Shuttle has about 13,500 staff required to keep the shuttle operational. SpaceX on the other hand operates with about 600 currently, with only about 25 dedicated to launch and 6 forming mission control. That in itself is an achievement especially considering that after 3 failed launches they managed to get their fouth rocket into orbit. Here’s a pretty awe inspiring video taken from one of the on board cameras.
They must be doing quite a few things right since NASA has selected them to take on the resupply missions once the the shuttle goes into retirement. I must say it couldn’t go to a better company as these guys are really on the cutting edge when it comes to rocket technology.
Another company I’m impressed with is Bigelow Aerospace. Founded by chain hotel giant Robert Bigelow they took an interesting step in purchasing the rights and patents to the Transhab design created by NASA. It was a disappointment that NASA never got to build one of these modules (as they would’ve proven an invaluable way of increasing our space living volumes) however it was a big win for the private industry. They haven’t been sitting on their hands with these plans either as they already have two habitats in orbit right now. They’ve even contracted SpaceX to make a Falcon 9 for their third launch, which is match made in heaven if you ask me.
It’s an interesting time for the space industry. We’re seeing the transition from what used to be a government only endeavour to a flourishing industry filled with pioneers who are building on the success of the people before them. With the help of other companies like Virgin Galactic who are popularizing space for the masses the market can only get larger for companies like this which will hopefully bring the cost of space travel down to the everyman in the near future.
I know I’ll be waiting with bated breath.
It seems every other day we’re bombarded with promises of new technology or scientific breakthroughs that can revolutionize the way we work, live and play. Whilst there is a great amount of research being done around the globe which will in turn lead to tangible benefits for all of us it would seem that we’re always told of technology that’s “just around the corner” or “at least a decade away from practical implementation”. It would seem on the surface that scientists are spending most of their time 10 years behind where they should be, rather than working on something that will provide real benefits now.
However it is prudent to note that the media is great at drawing wild conclusions from even small scientific discoveries. The majority of them fell under the umbrella of wild speculation, and I’ve got a couple of examples to show you.
One of the best I’ve seen is Resveratrol. Here’s a quick blurb on what it’s effects are:
A quick googling of this term brings up over 3 million sites with 10 or so links for you to buy the product. Even though this is completely unproven we still have people heralding this compound as a cure for many human ailments. The main reason it has taken off so well is probably due to its life extending properties, which has only been proven so far in mice.
Twenty years to the day that two electrochemists ignited controversy by announcing signs of cold fusion at an infamous press conference in Utah (watch a video of the 1989 event), a separate team has made a similar claim in the same US state. But this time, the evidence is being taken more seriously.
Back in 1989, Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons at the University of Utah announced the tantalising prospect of abundant, almost-free energy, but their claims of fusion reactions in a tabletop experiment were dismissed by nuclear physicists, not least because such reactions normally occur inside stars. The few watts of extra energy they found were widely considered a fluke.
Now Pamela Mosier-Boss and colleagues at Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) in San Diego, California, are claiming to have made a “significant” discovery – clear evidence of the products of cold fusion.
Most people will read the top half of the article and not see the clarifications that come at the end. Whilst New Scientist usually does a good job of reporting on science discoveries articles like this are so easily picked up by regular journalists and turned into sensationalist dribble that only causes people to think that scientists are promising more then that can deliver.
If you read over the article you’ll discover that they in fact haven’t discovered anything to do with cold fusion, just evidence of energetic neutrons which are unlikely to be created in such a reaction. If it did turn out to be a cold fusion reaction I’d be among the first to congratulate them on freeing us from our energy constrains, but call me skeptical when I see something that doesn’t even actually generate power as being heralded as cold fusion. I would have much preferred to see this article under the heading of “Energetic Neutron Creation in Room Temperature Environments”, although that’s not as sexy or provocative as “Neutron tracks revive hopes for cold fusion”.
So to all those people out there who are wondering where our flying cars are or why we haven’t cured the common cold yet please remember this: The media is not a factual source of scientific information and any breakthrough you hear about has more then likely been sensationalised. There are many great people working on pretty much every aspect of our lives without us knowing about them, and it is they who will bring about real progress to the world.