Thursday, July 25th, 2019 at 6:29 pm - - University 1 Comment »

On 15 July I nipped across to Manchester for the evening, having picked up a flier in the Unity Theatre a month before for the performance of Tao of Glass by Phelim McDermott (twitter handle).

I made up for the price of the ticket by some very cheap train fares bought in advance. As I walked across the city in the summer air past a very long queue for a homeless soup kitchen (which should not be a thing in this day and age) I saw a statue of Queen Victoria covered in pigeon poo. It could never have been otherwise from the day it was erected, unless there were no pigeons in Manchester back then.

The Royal Exchange Theatre looks like the Lunar Lander parked indoors. I had never seen it before, but apparently it’s been like this since 1976. Initially I thought it was something they built especially for the festival, which was a problem for me at the start of the show where Phelim was sitting in the audience and recounting about all the amazing performances he’d seen in that theatre when he was young.

Here’s what it looks like inside. The stage is a massive turntable, so it can spin round and show you the whole performance even when the actors are not moving. I don’t know what it dos to their sense of direction.

Halfway through the first act I recognized the performer from something I’d seen before. It was from a random show I rather liked called Panic, on for one night at the Unity Theatre (just 2 blocks walk from my house), where Phelem played the Great God Pan with his three nymphs. There was a lot of mythology woven in. The goat-like god Pan suspiciously disappeared at the same time that the goat-like depiction of Satan emerged around the birth of Christ.

My favourite part of the performance of Panic was when Phelem was having an emotional crisis and began going through his collection of self-help books, pulling each one out of the box and progressively shrieking their titles. He specifically singled out Tony Buzan who, “every year writes a new book, and it’s always exactly the same as his previous book!” The quantity was overwhelming. He ended up pouring box after box onto the table.

The Tao of Glass went on about Kintsugi, which doesn’t work for smashed glass. There were some other allegories I’ve been unable to remember to look up. One of the reviews tracked down A Mindell’s theory of three conical layers of Consensus Reality, Dreamland, and Essence. I wish I’d taken notes.

I got drawn into the misdirection about Philip Glass, who helped write the performance with Phelem over a week of work-shopping near his home in New York, and was to appear at the end on a Steinway player piano that would reproduce his composition exactly.

But there was a final scene where Phelem lay down next to an old record player to listen to the start of Glassworks, which was the album with which he first fell in love with the music and used to play it at home on repeat (joke!).

At this point Philip Glass himself walked across the stage, joined the musicians in the corner, 4 seats away from me, and played it himself.

I am so lucky to be here. I ought to go to more shows near me.

Apparently there have been some revivals of the older Glass work, like Einstein on the Beach. I just discovered that there’s films of it online from a recent show in Paris. I can watch hours of it, like so:

I’d go traveling to shows of Philip Glass pieces, if I had a way to find out about them in time, like some folks do for Wagner Operas. No one else I know understands it.

It’s a shame I don’t have a video of a Panic or this show I can go back over and get the names of things I want to look up again. We need footnotes, or show notes, or a recording that ticket-holders are allowed to access after the run. How else are we supposed to get a self-education round here?

Monday, October 1st, 2018 at 3:46 pm - - University

I was over at The Hague last week for Sensible Code taking the overnight ferry instead of burning the planet with the so-cheap-and-convenient.

The highlight of the trip was a visit to RevSpace, probably the tidiest hackerspace in the world. As I cycled back to my hostel at 1am, I was wracked by the guilt that I’d walked out on two empty cans of diet coke and some crumbs at my desk space. It’s quite a nocturnal place, and I had to quickly run away before I accidentally stayed there till the sun came up.

I spent most of the evening trading tech with WJ who warmed up when I showed him how our hackspace in Liverpool manages its affairs through Github issues, and he couldn’t believe that we had things like Issue 807: “Replace the toilet seats” in public on there since last May. RevSpace doesn’t have a somebody-should/work-to-be-done list because all work has already been done as soon as somebody notices it.


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, 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.

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014 at 4:31 pm - - Machining, University 1 Comment »

I just got myself a new laptop and installed Ubuntu-Linux on it. Scares the hell out of me the speed with which I got it up and running. I am now lost in a sea of code. It’s like walking into a public library after you’d been out in the sticks for a month with only two dog-eared issues of the Reader’s Digest to keep you company. There’s almost too much here. I want to read all of it. And any book or manual you do pick up and spend an hour with means there’s another ten thousand you’ve not picked up that you should have been reading.

Anyways, while doing my apt-cache searching stuff for stuff, I noticed stimfit – Program for viewing and analyzing electophysiological data show up in the search for scipy.

It appears to take datasets of electo-potential readings from a single neuron at every tenth of a milisecond and then fit exponential decay curves [the thick grey line] to selected sections from the (negative) peak to the baseline.


A bit like a temperature sequence, eh?

Oh, and it has a funky Python shell built into it to help you automate the analysis functions. What’s not to like?


Thursday, August 2nd, 2012 at 8:51 pm - - Other

Recently, every time I come back to this blog, the apache webserver on my server has crashed. I have to log on and restart it. I can’t find out the problem. Maybe it’s due for an upgrade or something. But anyway, I’ll keep muddling along as I do.

Sunday, November 28th, 2010 at 1:01 am - - University, Whipping 5 Comments »

Students have been getting all uppity about university fees of late and channeling their anger into marches in London that are supposedly going to get noticed by politicians.

Seems like a waste of time to me, given that the actual origin of the policy has been on campus, pushed by the cadre of senior managers circulating through the higher education institutions like generals on tour of their military bases.

Take Sir Howard Newby of Liverpool University, now the third highest paid Vice-Chancellor in the country.

In 1999 Mr Newby had already made his position clear — especially on the importance of controlling access to the best universities by the ability to pay:


Saturday, November 27th, 2010 at 9:00 pm - - Other

Just saw For The Best down in town thisafternoon (newspaper review here). Aside from the dull choice of name, this site-specific performance was pretty intense.

Afterwards, when I came past the building after doing some shopping, death was outside in his bathrobe and slippers smoking a cigarette.

Monday, September 15th, 2008 at 11:53 am - - University, Whipping 1 Comment »

In spite of many incoming links to this blog from this trivial post, Gary (the unnamed owner of that very-new-but-already-much-more-popular-than-this blog) didn’t make it to Pycon 2008, so I went there knowing only one person.

I’d gone to Cambridge (to hack on Tunnel) using someone else’s return train ticket to London and didn’t want to get screwed by a single train ticket back to Liverpool (prices hiked by another £20 last week), so caught the bus which involved a 40 minute stay in a layby in Milton Keynes where I could see the great avenues of horse chestnut trees dying due to global warming (the mild winters not killing off the parasites). Apparently, this isn’t news, though it was news to me, and I wonder how it connects to the business of planting trees to offset a gratuitous jet-set flight across the Atlantic for a handful of hours at a conference when it’s about time someone started experimenting with telepresentations.

I checked in at Birmingham Central Backpackers and spent half an hour walking around in the rain unable to find their second bunkhouse because it was in a converted pub which still looked exactly like a pub, so I walked past it.

The talk schedule was so-so. But some of the talks turned out to be very good and important, though I couldn’t tell from the titles. The keynote speakers were Mark Shuttleworth, who seemed kind of ordinary, and Ted Leung, whom I would have recognized as being very important if he had phoned his talk in from Sun headquarters on a big screen, instead of being flown over bodily, as is the standard, unquestioned, routine practice at geek conferences that are supposedly tuned in to the future of the internet and planet. Readers of this blog will know that this is a big issue for me, and I don’t want to hear arguments about how presenting in person is better than doing it as a giant video conference, because I Have Never Yet Seen It Attempted.

I quickly wrote up and scheduled a lightning talk about the Metroscope project and cunningly inserted it into the half hour slot before Mark Shuttleworth’s speech, making sure to mention my wholly unsupported but very farsighted work on, (where you can find some of the international documents establishing the Registration Convention, among other things). The video channel failed to work when I tried to display my slides from someone’s machine which had recently been installed with Ubunto, so I was lucky enough to move my slot on by ten minutes and get them to show up on a Windows machine donated by someone in the audience. still has no supporters whatsoever, but a lot of people could see the point of the Metroscope. I have developed the notion that scrapers and parsers for these tiny sources of civic data should be run using a codewiki that runs in a sandbox using pypy. I have not found such a sandbox on-line. is not it, because it’s python running in your browser with the right plugins. Who wants to work on it? I must get a new laptop urgently as I my old one is really beginning to hamper this work.

The conference dinner which came with free wine and beer was excellent. The conference hangover the next day was not so good. I got back to the hostel at 3:30am, got up at 8am, sat on the road for 20 minutes until they opened the door and I could have breakfast of lots of tea with peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Still felt terrible. I needed to find a talk that was boring enough to fall asleep in, but failed because instead I went to one on software complexity where the speaker made us all stand up and talk in pairs to our neighbours about the problems we’ve had with software complexity.

The second keynote speech (the Leung one) was on the same theme as Mark Shuttleworth’s, though in greater detail. These two speakers saw their duty as trying to drive the direction of this herd of cats known as the python programming community. Big changes are happening in computing and the language has to get out of its box to make itself relevant so it doesn’t get eclipsed by, for example, Javascript. This is the greatest threat. Javascript captured the browser and now there are ten times more Javascript programmers as Python programmers. Javascript has also been stealing a lot of ideas from Python as well. The catastrophe will be when people start using Javascript on the server and displacing Python from there. (I lost the argument with HSMWorks that postprocessors should be in python — they chose instead to use Javascript.) The place to look is at the weaknesses of the language, and don’t accept them as part of the design.

The issues are multicore processors, performance limitations, no clear recommended web-framework, and being able to run on the browser platform — these are things that Java (do not confuse with Javascript) dominates. Regarding the web-framework, Django is seen with a lot of hope and optimism. I have to give up going to talks about pylons, as I’m just not getting it. I have resolved to try Jython, which is Python running on a Java virtual machine, once I get a new computer with some space in which to install things.

To me, the most important talk was about pro bono work converting climate science software to python from its old, incredibly impenetrable FORTRAN implementations. You could guess it would be them from reading their company’s heartful goals. Far too little pro bono programming happens outside of the field. A huge amount of volunteer work is done by programmers to improve and promote the public free open source software tools used by programmers (eg Python), but the phenomenon rarely breaks out of this arena and into dealing with civic and government software and data. I don’t know why. It’s considerably easier as the quality can be so ultra-bad outside the open source communities, especially when it relates to billion dollar government contracts. But, on the other hand, nobody out there seems to give a damn about software quality, so you for sure won’t get any thanks. It’s like writing poetry in a language nobody understands. The belief that good quality software is a gift that keeps on giving is nowhere around. Consequently, there’s a disincentive to produce it in the professional world.

Next year there is no UK Pycon. Instead they are holding EuroPython. This is a very good thing and everybody should go.

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008 at 2:58 pm - - Cory Doctorow, Machining, University, Whipping

While we’re waiting for someone to ask the Question from Hell, Becka has appeared in today’s New York Times.

Evidently this is related to the conference in Hamburg she’s just been to. I can’t give you a link because conference alerts takes things down too quickly, and I can’t even check it up yet on I’ll be able to find out maybe in 5 months time what it was without asking. This is an information black-hole.

A tip for any of you reporters who don’t see your job as sitting back and waiting for the PR industry to spoon-feed you with well-crafted press-releases, she’ll be at the ECVP 2008 in Utrecht showing off her haptic experiments.

Update: Stumbled upon this crude visualization of point-cloud data used to make a music video. For decades CADCAM engineers have been trying to convert this sort of data into usable surface models (eg at the meshing round table). This is one of those insoluble problems, because only when you make a concerted effort to solve it do you realize that what seems to be enough data is in fact insufficient, and everyone who hasn’t gone through that process just thinks it’s because you’re not smart enough.

Anyway, what’s makes this effort cool is they’ve released the point cloud data in downloadable format so people can play with it. Some results, using standard applications, are here. Maybe someone in the wider audience will prove smart enough, having been exposed to some real messy data. Working from clean data at the start seems always to spoil the intuitive understanding of the problem. That’s why I am thankful that my initial CADCAM experience was with the output of NCG Toolmaker, where everything was broken and none of the surfaces connected up, as you get from proper solid modellers these days.