Freesteel Blog » Julian

Tuesday, February 6th, 2018 at 8:18 pm - - Whipping 1 Comment »

Don’t get me wrong; innovation is an important thing, and it should be undertaken by every person in every organization at every hour of the day. There are reasonable economic theories that say it is one of the important components of productivity. And productivity can be a good thing if it means we get to do more work in less time, and spend our remaining hours doing things that really matter to us. (On the other hand, it’s not such a great deal if we end up working the same amount for the same pay, and all that happens is the boss of the company makes more money.)

Being as Innovation can be important for the public good, the Government thinks there should be more of it, and have funded an organization called InnovateUK staffed by people who have no clue and exactly zero intellectual curiosity as to what innovation is and what are the causes of innovation.

They simply treat it as a word without meaning or measure, as though it were a prayer to a nonexistent God, or a claim of piety. Is person X more innovative in his job than person Y? Well, let’s see if he has appointed himself Head of the Innovation Department in his company.


Wednesday, January 24th, 2018 at 3:05 pm - - University, Whipping

And so, I got an FOI response to my questions about the University Enterprize Zones.

The problem with all this sort of thing is they’ve not got a single case study of the kind of accelerated high-growth incubated start-up business around which to design their support infra-structure.

And, even if they did have a realistic example to work with, the genesis story behind every successful business is almost always entirely different.

Actually, that’s not true.

The one commonality is that successful business have customers who buy stuff for money. Investment, premises and business advice comes way down the line and is not normally relevant to an inquiry into the foundational existence of the business.

The fact that’s missing here is that the United States developed its wealth of home grown industry by spending its vast bloated military budget on the purchase of yet-to-be-developed high tech products. For example, the CNC machine tool was entirely uneconomical for the first 20 years after their development at MIT with the help of a five year US Air Force investment program. (see detailed blog article).

And these UK government clowns think it’s all about nine-month turn-around accelerators administered by money-focussed technical know-nothings with no vision and no buyers for on-the-edge feasible but not yet developed products.

So, here we go again with another vision-free and customer-free University Enterprise Zone boondoggle that aims to:

  • encourage universities to engage further with business and with LEPs in driving innovation and growth at a local level
  • encourage businesses with innovation potential to engage with universities
  • address the issue that there is little or no appetite in the private sector to invest in buildings on science parks providing office, workshop and laboratory space for small firms (incubator and grow-on space)

I’ve got the application forms for from seven of our leading universities here.

The most important question on the form is:

3.2 What demand is there for the services being proposed and what evidence is there that there is a market failure that needs to be addressed?

Now, let’s do something radical and begin with the definition:

In economics, market failure is a situation in which the allocation of goods and services is not efficient, often leading to a net social welfare loss. Market failures can be viewed as scenarios where individuals’ pursuit of pure self-interest leads to results that are not efficient – that can be improved upon from the societal point of view.

An example of a Market failure is the London Housing Market where private construction is almost all targeted to the top 10% where there is the greatest profit, and totally fails to supply anything for the rest of the people who have to live and work in the city on the wages they receive.

None of these responses contain what I think fits the description of a Market failure.

Birmingham proposed to add a new mezzanine floor in Faraday Wharf, and claimed that “the space for entrepreneurs currently on the Innovation Birmingham Campus is already full… An independent demand and need study [no reference provided] undertaken as part of the business case development for the iCentrum Building identified demand amongst West Midland businesses for science park premises that provide opportunities networking with like-minded businesses and bespoke business support provision.”

Bradford proposed two buildings in the city centre, and explained that “The Digital Exchange has a current occupancy rate of 40% and has struggled to compete in the general managed workspace market.”

Doesn’t sound like a market failure to me.

Manchester listed 16 health agencies associated with their university incubator facilities, and admitted that “although many of these bodies have explicit remits to support industry engagement and wealth creation, there is currently no infrastructure to effectively leverage assets to drive and capture local business creation.”

Their evidence of a “market failure that needs to be addressed” was as follows.

Newcastle was going to build an innovative lightweight fabric and timber structure on its Science Central campus and a two storey hatchery/incubator wing onto its Centre for Innovation and Growth Hub in Durham. They claimed that their unpublished report had found evidence of “new startup companies failing to secure suitable facilities in Newcastle because of a lack of incubator space” and of “new life science companies with established connections to the city being turned away.” Durham university claimed that they are “routinely approached by external businesses seeking space on campus to be close to facilities and research teams, [but] these requests generally have to be declined due to priority allocation of space to core research and the lack of dedicated incubation space.”

Are the rents for high tech firms too high in Newcastle due to property speculators? I’d like to know.

Liverpool included pictures of the sensorless building they were going to build, and gave four clear reasons for the so-called market failures:

  • A disconnect between industry, academic research into sensors and access to facilities for R&D
  • Difficulties in bridging the sensor innovation gap / “valley of death”
  • Skill shortages in the sensor market
  • High cost of prototyping and custom development

I have no idea what any of these have to do with building a brand new building.

Nottingham promised to build an incubator facility into a new 3-storey building situated alongside the iconic Sir Colin Campbell Building. Like a lazy student repeating the terms of reference of her set essay, they wrote: “As the Government’s own reports indicate, there is little or no appetite for the private sector to invest in incubation centres given that the returns do not justify the capital outlay. There is no prospect of a commercial investor taking the risk with out proposed centre, which our financial projections show will deliver an internal rate of return [redacted] [redacted] [redacted]. The proposal is therefore clearly addressing a market failure.

Bristol was going to build a robotics hatchery in the old Hewlett Packard R&D and fabrication site. (This is the same HP company that blew $9billion on an acquisition of a crap UK company with a rip-off salesforce and no technology to speak of. We can ask whether UK Gov views Autonomy as exemplary for conning so much money out of a stupid US Corporation, or as an embarrassment.)

In the “Demand for services” section, the applicants wrote: “Locally the take-up of incubator space has been rapid. Operators SETsquared and the Bath Innovation Centre report high occupancy rates and excess demand — both are actively considering second-phase development.”

Thus, they contradicted the stated claim made in the UEZ proposal, and won funding for their project, along with Liverpool, Nottingham and Bradford.

I’m still meaning to go try out coworking in each of these places if I can find the time.

Monday, January 22nd, 2018 at 6:59 pm - - Weekends

I know this is old tech, but we seem to be reaching peak mapping. Here’s my house from the Cathedral:

And then there’s the World bike hire schemes webpage which has everything.

I think I’m going to retire. It’s all getting so far beyond me.

Friday, January 5th, 2018 at 5:25 pm - - Machining, Whipping 5 Comments »

Most software related to engineering and construction is woefully out of date, time wasting, and under-deployed. New on my list of examples is the Passive House Planning Package (PHPP), the de facto standard for designing and retrofitting energy efficient houses.

It comes as a massive multi-tab 7.9Mb unfriendly Excel spreadsheet. An example (rendered into PDF) looks like this.

The purpose of this software to “build up a useful interactive understanding of the design” in terms of materials, wall insulation thicknesses, windows direction facing into the sun, etc. and so forth. The results have been validated to a statistical average (but with up to a factor of 2 error), there’s a huge industry of consultants and training materials around it, and it’s trusted by the experts who seem pretty happy with its format.

The problem is that building it in the Excel platform fundamentally cripples its capability. And by being a paid-for product, not an open source program, they prevent any software developer, who is up to date with the efficient and more modern methods of production, from making improvements. (Instead these software developers end up devoting their time to perfecting a remote control light bulb and writing more lines of code than would ever be found in a Javascript-based port of the PHPP.)

Some background.


Monday, January 1st, 2018 at 3:39 pm - - Kayak Dive 1 Comment »

Grr, the youtube video editor got canned a few months ago. I didn’t notice because I haven’t done anything worthy of videoing and editing for months.

Fortunately, with the power of the record button in vlc and its capability of gluing clips together using these runes:

vlc 1.mp4 2.mp4 3.mp4 --sout "#gather:std{access=file,dst=join.mp4}" --sout-keep

I was able to get the clips trimmed down without wasting too much time.

There were wipe-outs.

Monday, January 1st, 2018 at 10:09 am - - Cave, Kayak Dive

While Becka abandons me for a whole month in Abkhazia including an unbroken 19 day underground camp (not due to surface until January 5), I finally had some Not-CavingTM fun out canoe surfing on Crosby Beach. (I had to sign up to spacebook to find the arrangements.)

I was happy because I was not at Bull Pot Farm, and I totally ignored the New Year celebrations because I was tired and sleepy, though the cathedral bells and the fireworks disturbed me.

Going again now, still with notably sore biceps. Hopefully the waves are a little less harsh. They roll in a little too frequently on that beach.

Friday, December 15th, 2017 at 6:48 pm - - Hang-glide

If I don’t blog it, it hasn’t happened. I have been forgetting this fact.

Yesterday I had a minor breakthrough.

For years I’d been seeing beautiful videos of simulated cloud convection online, but was never able to run them myself in order to look at the data.

The structure of thermals has been a long-term mystery to me, and I’ve noticed that some pilots seem to be able to navigate through and climb these invisible things quite reliably, yet are not able to explain how they do it. They are in the dark just as much as I am, yet they have — probably by luck (plus the necessary skill to recognize and lock it in) — struck upon the combinations of responses to inputs and gut senses that just happens to pay off spectacularly.

My gut feelings and responses to inputs don’t always work out so well because my imaginations of the air are probably too logical, incorrect and counter-productive and they require resetting and retraining to break free from their false notions.

So I’ve decided that it has got to help me if I can see what is going on, and not carry on wondering whether thermals are columns or vortex donuts, are surrounded by sinking air or tailwind incoming air, are observably warmer than their surroundings or mere upward kinetic energy.

So this time I tried harder to get to the simulation code when I had the time.

I am now pretty sure that the code for the GPU-resident Atmospheric Large-Eddy Simulation (GALES) is unpublished.

However, I did eventually establish from one of the papers that GALES is based on DALES — the Dutch Atmospheric Large-Eddy Simulation where it said the code was to be found at the broken link Fortunately it does exist at

This divulged a pile of Fortran90 code and a CMake script, and I was able to build it and run it against the cblstrong case example.

This eventually (after heating up my computer’s CPU) dumped out a file called initd03h00mx000y000.001 written by the function modstartup.f90 writerestartfiles with lines like:

write(ifoutput) (((u0 (i,j,k),i=2-ih,i1+ih),j=2-jh,j1+jh),k=1,k1)
write(ifoutput)  (((v0 (i,j,k),i=2-ih,i1+ih),j=2-jh,j1+jh),k=1,k1)
write(ifoutput)  (((w0    (i,j,k),i=2-ih,i1+ih),j=2-jh,j1+jh),k=1,k1)
write(ifoutput) (((thl0 (i,j,k),i=2-ih,i1+ih),j=2-jh,j1+jh),k=1,k1)

By the power of Python I used the module to read the velocity component records like so:

ku = f.read_record(dtype="f8")
kv = f.read_record(dtype="f8")
kw = f.read_record(dtype="f8")

and determine that the number of double-float values in each array record came to 475300. Of course you can immediately tell that this factorizes into 50*70*70, so that the 3-dimensional array of vertical components of air velocity can be stated as:

kkw = numpy.resize(kw, (50,70,70))

Thus this is plotted slice-wise at a constant altitude by:


to make a familiar image of computer generated thermals seen in past papers:

I didn’t stop there, and generated the following video of a melt through from the bottom to the top with black arrows denoting the horizontal wind components:

using the code:

cmdstring = ('ffmpeg','-r', '5','-f','image2pipe','-vcodec', 'png', 
             '-i', 'pipe:', "testA.avi")
p = subprocess.Popen(cmdstring, stdin=subprocess.PIPE)
X, Y = numpy.mgrid[0:70, 0:70]
for ik in range(1,50,1):
    plt.figure(figsize=(11,11), frameon=False)
    Q = plt.quiver(X, Y, kku[ik,:,:], kkv[ik,:,:], color="black", headlength=4, headwidth=2)
    plt.imshow(kkw[ik,:,:], cmap=plt.get_cmap("coolwarm"), vmin=-5, vmax=5, interpolation="bilinear")
    plt.title("zslice %d" % ik)
    plt.savefig(p.stdin, format='png', pad_inches=0.0, bbox_inches='tight')

Boy have I wasted a lot of time on this so far, and I’ve got to do some other things while I catch up on some Basic Lessons on CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics). It can only help to have some background knowledge of the field.

The next step will be to investigate how to program the initial boundary conditions and setup to create a single idealized thermal, which is an evolutionary structure in time and space that a glider like mine might encounter. And while a glider is flying and circling and climbing in it, the thermal is evolving, so your experience can only be expressed as a slice that runs like a diagonal corkscrew through the spacetime continuum fluid in four dimensions.

There’s no way this is ever going to make sense, but if it challenges my intuition to break out into another state where the flight of my wings flows through the air better, then it will have certainly worked for me.

Sunday, December 10th, 2017 at 2:51 pm - - Whipping

Page 332 of Buckminster Fuller’s 1981 book Critical Path has the following passage (rewritten for readability):

In the early 1960s I was commissioned by a Japanese patron to design one of my tetrahedronal floating cities for Tokyo Bay.

Floating cities are designed with the most buoyantly stable conformation of deep-see bell-buoys. Their omni-surface-terraced, slope-faced, tetrahedronal structuring is employed to avoid the lethal threat of precipitous falls from sheer high-rise buildings.

The tetrahedron has the most surface with the least volume of all polyhedra. As such it provides the most possible “outside” living. Its sloping external surface is adequate for all its occupants to enjoy their own private, outside, tiered-terracing, garden homes. These are most economically serviced from the common, omni-nearest-possible center of volume of all polyhedra.

In 1966 my Japanese patron died and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development commissioned me to carry out a full design and economic analysis for potential USA use. With my associates I completed the design and study as well as a scaled-down model.

The city of Baltimore was interested in acquiring the first such floating city for anchorage just offshore in Chesapeake Bay. At this time President Lyndon Johnson’s Democratic Party went out of power. President Johnson took the model with him and installed it in his LBJ Texas library. Baltimore’s politicians went out of favour with the Nixon administration, and the whole project languished.

That’s interesting, I thought, and looked for information about it at the LBJ presidential library.

I couldn’t find any record of a model, but I did get this transcript of an oral history interview with, I think, one of the White House staffers.

Liz [Carpenter] (press secretary to the formidable First Lady) and I had a fascinating afternoon. Charlie Haar, assistant secretary of HUD (under RC Weaver), who had some money for grants for new and innovative kinds of things, had given Buckminster Fuller a grant to develop a concept and model of an offshore city, floating habitation. Bucky had done the model in terms of, I think, San Antonio. Am I right? Is that on the coast? No, no, Galveston. That’s on the coast.

Haar was intrigued by it, and he thought we’d be interested in seeing it. So over we went, and there was this great model in the hall. Mr. Fuller and Secretary Haar began explaining how it worked, and Liz looked at it and she looked at it. This was the latest and most advanced, most sophisticated concept of all integrated facilities and services and shops and schools and housing and residences and everything all piled in a great bundle out at sea where it didn’t take any land, et cetera. She said it looked like a filing case, and what kind of people were going to live in a place like that? What was going to become of them if they lived in a place like that? She was shocked with Charles Haar. In fact she was going to turn the Sierra Club loose on him if he ever surfaced this proposal anywhere. People would turn into moles and be stunted if they had to live in a filing cabinet. She thought it violated everything we’d been standing for and working for.

Poor Fuller blinked, and I think that’s one of the best things that ever happened to him. Because he’s the kind of person who’s a demigod among technocrats and innovators, and everyone pays tribute to his genius. But Liz Carpenter sure didn’t. Liz just cut him down. He began talking about the mobilty of people these days and how he lived out of a suitcase and went from hotel room to hotel room. He was always making speeches and consulting here and there, and people really just need a place to bathe and lie down for a while. This kind of facility was designed for the new mobile age. Liz said, “Well, if they don’t stay home, it’s because we haven’t given them anything to stay home for.”

Charlie began getting worried that his august consultant might be offended. Liz was so direct and so irrefutable and so to the point and so insistent that they face up to the more basic question she was asking that Charlie finally sort of pulled her over under one side of the model, and I pulled Fuller over to the other side of the model to keep them away from each other. We temporized as hard as we could, and then we got Liz in an elevator and sent her down. I sort of patted Fuller on the back and said, “Now don’t you worry, and don’t you ever forget anything she said, because you know she’s right. But don’t let it get to you.” Charlie and I rolled our eyes at each other and felt that one had distinctly backfired. I think it shows her extraordinary contribution, and I couldn’t help but be glad that she’d done it.

For a bit of context, this was the era of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project disaster, which was designed by no less than the architect of the World Trade Center buildings. Public housing is hard– especially when public administrators are politically instructed to ruin everything in their power.

A clue of the personal-social dymanics between the professions is provided in an essay entitled; The Pruitt-Igoe Myth:

Even after the architects had switched to an all high-rise scheme, they faced continued pressure from the Public Housing Administration to keep costs to a bare minimum. In a 1975 study of the St. Louis Housing Authority’s expenditures on Pruitt-Igoe, political scientist Eugene Meehan analyzed the extent to which these budget constraints affected the final design. In addition to the elimination of amenities, such as children’s play areas, landscaping, and ground-floor bathrooms, the cost cutting targeted points of contact between the tenants and the living units. “The quality of the hardware was so poor that doorknobs and locks were broken on initial use. …Windowpanes were blown from inadequate frames by wind pressure. In the kitchens, cabinets were made of the thinnest plywood possible.”

…By continuing to promote architectural solutions to what are fundamentally problems of class and race, the myth conceals the complete inadequacy of contemporary public housing policy. It has quite usefully shifted the blame from the sources of housing policy and placed it on the design professions. By furthering this misconception, the myth disguises the causes of the failure of public housing, and also ensures the continued participation of the architecture profession in token and palliative efforts to address the problem of poverty in America. The myth is a mystification that benefits everyone involved, except those to whom public housing programs are supposedly directed.

Sunday, December 10th, 2017 at 1:27 pm - - Whipping 1 Comment »

I’ve had a bit of a layoff for the autumn due to various issues, but strength seems to be returning. I have just finished reading Buckminster Fuller’s 1981 book Critical Path, which was written well before the internet or the invention of free software.

I wanted to type up an excerpt. But since the writing was so terrible I decided to edit it down extensively so you can read and get the gist more easily.

Chapter 8, Critical Path: Part Two

It was important to adopt a target date so far in the future to avoid making any of the power structures of 1927 feel their interests were threatened by what I was proposing. It was necessary to reach beyond their most forward developed visions so that my concepts would appear to be either a pleasant “pipe dream” or innocuous nonsense.

I was able to do exactly that. The most powerful people I knew found me utterly unaccreditable but “interesting” — and to some “fascinating”. This induced them to invite me to their parties to entertain their guests with my “dreaming out loud”. For this reason their press frequently gave my projects prominent publicity– because they found my concepts popularly entertaining. They published them ever more frequently and prominently, hoping for advertisements-inducing, increased readership.

I will now discuss the probable order of livingry-reoriented realization of the socioeconomic results of our already-accomplished, half-century, critical-path-artifacts development.

Approximately 60% of employed US America are working at tasks that are not producing any life support. Jobs of inspectors-of-inspectors; jobs with insurance companies that induce people to bet that their house is going to be destroyed by fire while the insurance company bets that it isn’t, and so on.

The majority of Americans reach their jobs by automobile, probably averaging four gallons a day– thereby, spending four million real cosmic-physical-Universe dollars of nature’s stored accumulated millions of years mineral wealth without producing any physical Universe life-support– which alone constitutes wealth.

We can ask a computer the question: “Should we carry on as at present, trying to politically create more of these no-wealth producing jobs, or pay everybody a handsome fellowship to stay at home.”

The answer is obvious.

But then wouldn’t all the people staying at home just continually buy all kinds of expensive things? The answer is No. Because these people will want to travel around the world, and they will quickly discover that while you can’t take it with you when you die, you also can’t take it with you around the world. They will each discover for themselves that the greatest luxury is to be able to live unencumbered while able to get any information you want in split seconds and any desirable environmental condition they want in a day.

Assuming that, as a result of technological advances with machines, we can produce adequate life-support for humanity in half the present time, present custom would say we should adopt a four-day, five-hour-per-day work week. But this would result in living in the same spot and clogging up the highways with local weekend to-and-froing. Instead I propose a few years of continuous six-day-per-week, eight-hour-per-day service as in the military or medical internship so that by the age of 38 workers will have completed their service in direct production support of humanity. With their wisdom evolved, they will have more than half their lives left to live. They will be extremely well-informed and free to initiate their own commitments to the improvement of human functioning within the eternally regenerative integrity of Universe.

Along with making it economically feasible to permit a large majority of people to remain at home in country or city, to think fearlessly and unselfishly, we will permit all children to study at home, eliminating the schoolhouse, schoolteachers. school janitors, and school-bus systems, which cost unnecessary trillions of dollars each school year. At home we shall provide each child with a private room, television set, and video-education cassettes as well as world-satellite-inter-relayed computer and controlled video-encyclopedia access. These will make it possible for any child anywhere to obtain lucidly, faithfully, and attractively presented authoritative information on any subject.

Children and grown people will be able to get their continuing intellectual education at their home terminals. They will get their social experience and tool-handling education in locally organized neighborhood activities when humans wish to converge.

Those who have attained high scholarly capability assure us that the only real education is self-education. They also say that this self-discipline is often inspired by great teachers who make it apparent that it will be worthwhile to take the trouble. The records of all great self-educated individuals show that they discern intuitively when and what it is they want to learn. Thereafter they arrange to do so by four main strategies. The first is by self-conducted experiments, if they are scientists. The second is by going to living people who have educated themselves from direct experiences. The third is to contact through books those who have discovered and learned but are now dead. Fourth, they sometimes recourse to word-of-mouth information passed from generation to generation by craftsmen-artists.

Fearful of losing their jobs, the tenured professional educators of today and all those earning a living by teaching are relentlessly fighting video. Since they can’t tell the truth about their motives, these tenured pedants rationalize, “What the children need is the personal equation.” What I’ve long observed in the movie world is that millions of human beings fall in love with heroes and heroines knowing only their photographic images cast upon a blank wall. All the “personal equation” can be transmitted with more poignancy by electronics than would ever be feasible in ordinary, personal-contact life.

After beginning to receive their home-research lifetime fellowships and trying the video educational system themselves, professors and researchers won’t protest anymore about loss of the “personal equation” in education.

With complete freedom of choice, much of humanity will begin to discover that it loves to work at tasks of its own choosing — that it loves to discipline itself to demonstrate its competence to others — that it will compete with the many to demonstrate its competence to serve on one of the multitude of production teams. There will be no pay for work. It would be like qualifying for the Olympic team to be allowed to do what you want to do. You would have to prove that you could do the job you wanted to do better than anyone else available to get onto the production teams. Permission to serve on the world’s production teams will be the greatest privilege that humanity can bestow on an individual. There is no joy equal to that of being able to work for all humanity and doing what you’re doing well.

There will be no attempt to block automation to keep human muscle and repetitive-selection jobs operative. There would be continual inspiration to invent more automation. Those who are real craftsmen are good at developing the tools-that-make-tools and love their work will be at the heart of the production teams. There will be no need to earn more because your fellowship will always get you more than you want. You won’t be able to buy any non-consumables– you will only be able to rent. If you are renting more than you can use, the system will call the excess back.

Those who love to teach and have something valuable to teach can discipline themselves to qualify for membership on the subject-scenario-writing teams or on video-cassette or disc production teams. Great scholars will thrive, whatever their fields may be. They will be free to devote their entire time to their labours of love. Vast numbers will discover that they are earnest, capable independent-research scholars. What they have to say, if unique, can become the subject of a video-cassette world-satellite-relayed encyclopedia entry.

Monday, September 18th, 2017 at 7:47 pm - - University 1 Comment »


To celebrate the upcoming move of DoESLiverpool to formerly derelict factory space, I decided to peel open the can of worms embodied by the new construction known as Sensor City — literally 8 minutes walk away.

We have a joke around the hackspace while we’re teaching one another to do epic stuff with different sensors, that they got a grant for £10million and then spent £9.999million of it on the building, leaving not one penny left for sensors.

So, effectively all the money that taxpayers were told was going to go into the goodness of high technology seems to have actually been spent on wages for bricklayers, architects and concrete mixers.

Not that I have anything on the building trade, but the whole purpose of an Industrial Strategy is to overcome the fact short term investment in buildings will always be more profitable and less risky than investment in innovation and technology, and this country seems to be run by morons who don’t know how to invest in Innovation and Technology.

Case in Point: Sensor City.

Somehow millions of pounds of national investment into this very promising emerging technology, due to its sudden cheapness and pervasiveness, got converted into an investment into a crappy building clad from ground to roof with embarrassing printed circuit board-themed glass panels.

At no point as the design passed through the hands of the great and the good of University Vice-Chancellors, Professors, Civil Servants and other well-dressed highly-paid smart people, did a single one of them probably think:

“Hey, that’s a nice piece of art. But has any one of us seen a machine that can cut real Printed Circuit Boards of the kind that can carry electronics? Maybe we should buy one for about the cost of one of these glass panels so that companies in region can get their prototypes as rapidly as those innovators in China where all such services are on their doorstep?”

The turn-around time to getting your prototypes produced and tested in the form of circuitboards that can carry surface-mounted sensors seriously drives up costs and harms innovation. In China their innovators get turn-around times measured in hours, so you can get circuits made and debugged quickly and take chances. On the other hand, it is super-slow and expensive if you need to get things right first time (they never are) and it takes up to 4 weeks to get each prototype built.

Just think. They could have easily called a meeting back in 2014 between all the companies and startups in the area and simply asked: what are your PCB design needs for carrying sensors, and which machine do you think should we get to help you out?

A plan for sourcing the relevant machinery could have been outlined and assessed, always ensuring that it was going to be available out of hours at a cost-effective level (ie practically free) for learning and training and growing the expertise among the community to do it productively.

But no, they decided on the basis of no sense whatsoever that the one thing we were missing for turning this area into a hub for sensor technology was 2500m^2 of bank-account draining swanky office space.

How did we get here?

Well, contrary to my initial guess, the bollocks was right there from the start with the government press release of 13 December 2013, £15 million boost for local business growth at universities, where the Prime Minister said:

Our world-leading universities have historically been at the heart of innovation but we need to give them the tools to be even better at cultivating the seeds of growth as well as knowledge.

University Enterprise Zones will unlock the potential of so many students who will be able to move into affordable business space and start to build their own business straight after their degree.

I want to see University Enterprise Zones help create the next Yahoo or the next Microsoft – bringing jobs and prosperity to both the local and wider economy and helping us succeed in the global race.

Interesting choice of examples to pull out of one’s arse.

Microsoft got its big break in 1981 when they closed the deal to supply the operating system for the new IBM PC — an operating system which they did not have. But the company was originally founded in 1976 in New Mexico to be near their first customer Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems. They moved from there to their current home in Washington state in 1979 owing to the difficulty of hiring top programming talent in the middle of the desert.

No mention was made of the attractiveness of the office space, which I’m sure was fine in Albuquerque.

In more recent decades, Microsoft has booked very high profits hocking their shite products and services to the UK government for billions of pounds. If that kind of money had been spent procuring superior services based on open source software over the last 20 years, we’d have a much more robust and vibrant high tech industry today.

Also, we can go look at the history of Yahoo! (links to a book called the “Chief Yahoos of Yahoo”) and how that company came into existance at the dawn of the internet when nobody in the world yet knew that the one thing that was fundamentally most important to the internet was a search engine:

By November 1994 an amazing 170,000 people a day were using Yahoo!… Yang and Filo could not expand their company without money. They still had to find someone who would be willing to invest in their new company.

And so it goes from luck, happenstance, and general communication in the community activity to serendipidy.

They found an investor in the same way that they found themselves owning a business — by doing something else. In this case, it happened during the search for a host for Yahoo!. Yang and Filo ran into Randy Adams, who operates the Internet Shopping Network. In early 1995 he was also just getting his business started. Adams introduced Yang and Filo to Mike Moritz who was the head of an investment company called Sequoia Capital.

Moritz and the other members of Sequoia Capital instantly liked the idea of Yahoo!. As Moritz jokes about it, “It was a suicide impulse on our part” because any new Internet company was a risky investment. Most of them failed within a year.

Does this sound like the attitude of any capital investors in the UK? Also, he knew about the tech and the business, not like some know-nothing flock of bean-counters.

But Moritz was used to taking risks and backing computer companies. He had already helped out Apple Computer and the software company Oracle, both of which became highly successful businesses. After meeting with Yang and Filo and liking what he had seen and heard, Moritz agreed to give the two young men a million dollars in exchange for a part interest in the new company. He also sent his business people to help Yang and Filo fend off the sudden swarm of would-be buyers.

Yes, it is possible for one member of the business community to recognize the havoc wreaked by that element of society and actually take steps to shield new entrepreneurs from its destructive impulses.

But finally we reach the relevant paragraph of this story:

Now that Yang and Filo had decided not to sell, they faced practical issues: Yahoo! might have a Web site, but now it needed a physical office as well. Yang and Filo decided on an office in Santa Clara, California, not too far from Netscape’s office in Mountain View, and started looking for employees.

So you see, kids, business location is driven by (a) the proximal location of the customer, and (b) the availability of the hirable staff.

It’s never anything to do with the “(un)affordable business space”.

It wasn’t two steps from the Prime Minister’s statement to reach this sanity check.

I could go on, but to wrap things up for the today. I have to mention the important University enterprise zones pilot: evaluation document, which explains:

Universities and Local Enterprise Partnerships come together to create a University Enterprise Zone. The UEZ itself is a partnership between actors in a specific territory. It is accompanied by: (i) funding to build office space to house start-up businesses (incubator space); and (ii) support from UKTI to create an investment proposition.

In the context of the Witty Review of universities and growth, the purpose of the policy is to get universities more involved in economic growth. A logic model is presented in the next Chapter.

The universities and LEPs have to work together in delivering this UEZ. This is meant to encourage universities to get more involved with the LEP and economic growth. The aims of the policy are: (i) increased university-business engagement; and (ii)
increased cooperation between universities and LEPs.

…which leads deeper into the rabbit hole to the so-called Witty Review of July 2013, chaired by Sir Andrew Witty, long-time CEO of the monopoly drug-supplier GlaxoSmithKline which has pled guilty in 2012 to lying about the safety of its products while bribing doctors to proscribe them. People must have died for their bottom line.

Andrew Witty, the firm’s chief executive, said procedures for compliance, marketing and selling had been changed at GSK’s US unit.

“We have learnt from the mistakes that were made,” Mr Witty said. “When necessary, we have removed employees who have engaged in misconduct.”(bbc)

So, the just the right sort of guy to conduct a review into “how universities can drive growth in their areas and for the benefit of the wider UK and to disseminate knowledge and best practice,” and to build on the Wilson review of Business-university collaboration of February 2012.

I can find nothing of interest in the Witty Review, aside from some really laughable recommendations, like:

Recommendation 5. Universities should put in place a single point of entry for SMEs that ‘triages’ their needs and directs them to the relevant part of the university. This point of entry should also look to drive up SME demand and engagement, and work with external partners across the locality, as well as within the university. University business schools should be incentivised to prioritise working directly with local businesses on workable solutions to practical problems.

Goddamnit! Do you know the kind of people who wind up at the desk of this “single point of entry”? What the hell is this? You can’t mail-order a package of innovation from the Amazon website: “I’d like an idea for setting up a billion dollar company please.”

That will be £15million, and we will spend all of it on a carbuncle of concrete and steel.

And don’t get me started on those University business schools. If I was teaching in a University business school, then Section 1 of Lecture 1 of Module 1 would be: “Let us now download and review the business plans for this University for the last ten years, for which you, the students, are considered the customers, and examine them in light of what we can see around us in the context of our hopes and dreams.”

Why do they have zero curiosity in any actual local businesses as it is?

It’s not a hard concept.

Many local businesses would be happy to open their books to be scrutinized and fixed up, just as I am happy to open my mouth at the University dental hospital where they need real teeth to practice their skills on. Business schools are the unabbreviation of BS.

Universities could arrange for their professors to go out into the community and give lectures about what they’re doing on a weekly basis. Maybe hold an open themed Unconference on their site every six months.

You have got to get the contacts flowing between the technologists who are working on the actual tech on matters that seem trivial, not set up some kind of dragon’s den scheme between their so-called leaders who do not have a clue.

The Witty Review praises several university incubator spaces, but doesn’t recommend them. For that, we look to the Wilson Review for:

Recommendation Universities, UKTI, local authorities and LEPs should work together with other relevant organisations (such as the UK Science Park Association) to develop coherent routes for the international promotion of available space and development opportunities in university-linked science and innovation parks. Further, the government, in conjunction with the LEPs, should examin the benefits of using local authority enterprise zone type measures such as simplified planning or local taxation to support university-linked science and innovation parks.

The basis for this recommendation was the following quote:

“Terman came up with the great idea that did more than anything to cause the tech industry to grow up here.” — Steve Jobs

[Steve Jobs was referring to the Dean of Engineering at Stanford University, Frederick Terman, who in 1951 created a 700 acre industrial park on university land for private companies that could commercialise the ideas of his students, now called the Stanford Research Park.]

Indeed, we forget that 1951 was during the height of the Cold War when Uncle Sam was buying huge amounts of aerospace and micro-electronics technology, which then underwent a period of revolutionary innovation.

It’s the customers that count, and the staff in the form of new graduates who didn’t have to move very far to get there> It was California.

For example, if you wanted the half billion quid engineering firm James Fisher and Sons plc to up sticks and move from Barrow-in-Furness to Liverpool, then you’d commission the nuclear submarines here rather than in Barrow. Nothing to do with the office space, is it?

Not all government purchases have to be military. For example, the UK and Local Governments have spent billions over budget procuring IT debacles in the last two decades, nearly all of it to large firms who based it on crappy Microsoft technology. That was a golden opportunity wasted which has not been acknowledged in any business innovation review I have ever read.

Can it be this bad?

Am I making this up?

Well, I couldn’t making up the story in 2007 of ULivE, company set up to commercialise research from Liverpool University laboratories which they attempted to float on the stock market at the value of £70million and might have questionably been capitalizing itself on the basis of the revenue stream known as “research funding grants”. It was wound up in 2011 with no lessons learned because it has been airbrushed from history.

Well, this time these know-nothing incurious bean-counters have created a building, which is not going to be so easy to hide under the carpet when the whole daft plan falls to pieces, on account of having no idea what innovations looks like even were it hit them like a cow. Microsoft and Yahoo!, said the Prime Minister. I mean, what is this about?

Final word goes to Professor Wilson who warned in his review:

I add a caution to the issue of measurement, especially in the context of the inevitable league tables that will follow… Measuring what exists will focus universities upon the activities being measured; it has a strong potential to inhibit innovation, not drive it.