OK, I had this idea a wile back and I finally got round to designing the concept, I don’t know if it would fly, but I think it is quite neat. Fundamentally the principle is that people in rural areas are pretty much excluded from the e-Cash revolution on the basis that they don’t have the infrastructure. By rural I am most interested in the way in which people in small villages or remote locations interact, especially in developing countries. We don’t have a means by which we could eliminate currency in their domains, we only have solutions for client server architecture in rich urban settings. Also the proposal for NFC is being built around expensive smart-phones which also doesn’t help the poorer in society. So I designed a device which should be cheap (~$10) and which can be used without being dependent on infrastructure.

I did a PDF to illustrate the Portable Currency Device concept.

More than a month ago now I announced my departure from Humax as their Chief Technologist. I have since been working for nice company doing some productisation work and while that has been interesting I have missed my colleagues at Humax. Recently I was called by my former Director, we had some discussions and after some careful negotiations I am returning to Humax. I am now to be a member of the development team and as part of this I will now be working more in Korea than before. It is a nice step-up for me and I hope I can input some valuable effort to the Humax development process. My departure from Humax was part of my personal development and I think it also gave a number of parties opportunities to consider approaches. This year is, so far, not only a good one for me but also I think this will be an important year for the companies I work with. The development of the YouView set-top boxes in partnership with the TV industry will be a minor revolution for the market place and Humax is well placed to take advantage of that through foresight and determination to lead the UK TV market. Furthermore I am also looking forward to working with freesat to bring their ambitions to fruition and I think that working together with them Humax can help their platform really evolve.

Here’s to the next step!

Having previously worked in education and still maintaining an interest in life-long learning I find it interesting to read what people have to say about the state of modern education. Regularly I see tweets and blog posts from the likes of @Euan and @MMetcalfe about teaching and learning. Not specifically from the aforementioned people, but one thing I often hear maligned is lecturing, the process by which teaching is done from the front and experience is shared, essentially lecturing to the audience. This is in compliment to the Socratic Method, in which lecturing is used with questioning to establish a pattern of feedback to measure student understanding and pace.

Recently The London Evening Standard has been doing a series of articles about literacy in London and how it affects us. Apparently four in ten job applications are now rejected on the basis of poor grammar and spelling and I saw this in action when I was lecturing because I would mark reports that I could barely understand. I was occasionally told that I shouldn’t mark a student down because of their ability with English but I never respected that view, if you can’t communicate then you deserve a lower mark people need to be driven to success. I’ve often discussed this with friends and family, and it seems to me, and a few others, that one of the biggest problems that we are having today is discipline and respect. I don’t mean in a Victorian punishment kind of way, but in terms of the way those in authority are respected, or not as it seems now. No longer are teachers and the police given the veneration that they need to do their jobs. Parents and guardians no longer tell their children that they must respect and obey teachers and policemen.

Now, I know there have always been disruptive students, there have been since the beginning of time, but once upon a time students knew who the boss was and these days it is politically incorrect to have a boss. I am not the most disciplined person in the world, but I know who is in charge and I like to think I also know how to take some authority when needed. Learning the basics of language really takes routine and practice, boring repartition and positive re-enforcement. Sometimes children need to sit down and try, and fail, and then try again because if at first we don’t succeed… Looking from a far there is a great deal of effort going into finding ‘alternative’ ways to teach children, when actually if that effort was spent doing boring stuff then the children might learn the virtue of doing mundane tasks. Because there are virtues in learning to do mundane tasks that a person in authority requires you to do and you shouldn’t always question authority.

Of course children need to be educated in critical thought, analysis and debate, I feel this more now than I have ever done, but they must also learn about self-discipline and motivation. In school my Design and Technology (metal and woodwork) teacher, who was very much old school, insisted that we couldn’t leave the class at the end until we had correctly answered a multiplication-table question. This forced us to look it up and learn them, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to leave and we would be a little embarrassed. Some might see this as bullying, I don’t, I think it was a cleaver way of motivating us and remember this man wasn’t a maths teacher he was just a man passionate about ensuring we had the right level of numeracy, which is more than I can say about some mathematics teachers I have known.

Perhaps I am getting more conservative in my old age (;-) but I look at society and the way that the suitability of employment candidates has fallen in recent years and I think it is a shame. I want the world to thrive and I don’t want the Western states to become the new third-world. Remember that in many third world countries children can’t all go to school but a child will do as much as they can just for the chance to be educated, yet in Europe they children will happily commit crime just to avoid going to school! So, I believe parents need to take an active role in ensuring that children respect teachers and uniformed authorities, this is quite controversial in itself and then I think teachers need to start concentrating on getting the basics sorted through routine not through time-wasting creativity. I feel teachers should be inspiring through their leadership and enthusiasm, not so much through dressing up and entertaining students, after all teaching should be engaging but it doesn’t have to be entertaining. It would take years to get back into some sense of order in schools, but perhaps then students would start turning up at higher education who can actually write something which makes sense and companies wouldn’t have to do remedial education for their students.

Also, testing and exams might not be pleasant and they don’t represent everyone’s abilities, but when combined with practical work and essays I think they are effective measures of students. The idea of not being competitive at schools is ridiculous, I want people to be acknowledged as being a bit thick so they can be motivated to succeed. I wasn’t much use at sports, but discipline forced me to participate more than I would have done of my own free will and I even found some things I was good at in sports. Everyone has something they are good at, I believe this, but some people are better than others. This doesn’t have to be a Plutocracy in which success is dictated by wealth, but it doesn’t have to exclude people from doing well and it seems to me that it is unacceptable to push one group ahead because it might offend those who are less able.

That is my rant, you are welcome to it.

OK, any posting with religion in it is probably an unwise and dangerous thing to do but it occurred to me this morning that the computer market is much like organised religion and here I will lay out my reasons:

1) Microsoft = Christianity

Penitent religion that once dominated the social and political map of the world.  Increasingly depreciating in it’s followers enthusiasm although many continue to attend the ministrations more out of habit than out of true faith. Many evangelical sects still exist, some have fractured from the core authority but they still believe in what it stands for. Some orthodox groups exist aside from the mainstream followers and still experience great attendance but without too much wider attention. Not nearly as influential as it once was and has made some serious mistakes in the past.

2) IBM (AIX or OS/2?) = Judaism

Some view them as the originator of a later much more popular group, others avoid the comparisons and associations. Still has a great many fundamental followers but that number is diminishing. Some followers only practice behind closed doors and outwardly show no signs of an allegiance. Others proudly show their support in the window at key points in the year. Well represented in the finance sector.

3) Apple OS = Islam

Often failing to recognise the origins of their group actually stems from a common route with other mainstream groups. There are a core of fundamentalists who insist their way is the only way and all other systems should come to their view or die. More moderate members of the group are satisfied with their choice in life, continue to worship with blind faith. It is the duty of followers to encourage those not following their path to join them.

4) Linux = Hinduism

A group with many deities and various ways of expressing a following. Often peaceful but occasionally a little dysfunctional, with some areas which maintain a legacy in a modern environment but functional most of the time as long as you don’t try to take it in a direction it isn’t prepared for. Having a style which occasionally mixes with other groups but to the casual observer from the outside looks intimidatingly different.

5) Embedded RTOS’es = Various native religions

Quite functional in their own environment and supporting the people with their needs. Often looks very different to the mainstream groups and can be incompatible. Smaller followings but often works well, in harmony with the environment.

6) RISC OS = Paganism

May have pre-dated origins within an unconnected population but was pretty much wiped out as travel and needs of users grew. Of little relevance in modern society but still practised by small groups. These small groups occasionally put on public displays in public spaces, to which some from other groups take offence and others look on with mixed feelings.

Today I saw on Facebook a campaign for “European Revolution” on 29th May 2011 seemingly started by some Greeks, I saw this and thought how stupid this is. Thus here is my response, I thought about posting it on their wall but realised they would probably just divert some of their negative energies at me causing me grief, but I trust it is safer to put it on a website that almost no one reads (mine):

Clearly a group of people with too much time on your hands. The power for real change isn’t in protesting, it is in acting in a positive way: it is about producing, it is about helping your country to recover. You are the government, the people have the power already. You blame the economic and political forces? What have you been doing that lets these forces control your lives? The answer is: Nothing. Politics is of the people, you and your families vote for the politicians. If there is corruption then you let it happen by not paying enough attention to your representatives. If the economic forces have controlled your life then you have forgotten that by earning money you, as the people, are in control. The way you spend your money determines the fate of the economy and the nation. You might think that your money is less important than the money of big business but then you are underselling your own importance. If you campaign for a positive change in spending, and if you are in the right, then you *can* make a difference.

 

Of course some will attack me for saying this, but I have seen what these protests achieve: Nothing. Because they are nothing but a forum for violence by anarchists who want to feel ‘something’ in their lives through this violence.

The Greek people in particular need to take responsibility for their national situation.  You are not victims, you are complicit in the situation.

 

I’ve been following the growth of interest in Thorium as a source of energy, it seems to me to be one of the best ways of producing large quantities of energy in a consistent way with a balanced ecological impact. Baroness Worthington was Raised to the House of Lords in February 2011 and as an ecological campaigner she brings something interesting to the mix. She made her maiden speech in the House recently and having seen it I thought I should send her a message sharing my views. Don’t know how it will be received by her (I used http://www.writetothem.com to do it) and if she will accept what I have to say, but without input Politicians can’t be representing the people. Bellow is my correspondence for your consideration and yes I am terrible at finishing correspondence:

Continue reading “Letter to Baroness Worthington”

 

If you’ve ever seen full frame uncompress 625line SD with component 10-bit colour then you will know that sometimes resolution doesn’t matter. At a previous employer of mine we could show normal people pictures on a Barco Grade 1 monitor and they would swear it was HD. Freeview just has poor quality because the cost of carriage is so high, especially when there are a dozen versions of BBC One or ITV1 and they have to compress everything down to the n-th degree. The reason that regionalisation costs money is that we must have a cellular transmitter design, each region has it’s own frequency (or more than one because of relays), adjacent regions can’t use these frequencies because otherwise that would affect coverage. The UK design has many “guard” frequencies to protect adjacent transmitters in this way. If every region had the same channels they we could uses a system called an “SFN”, or Single Frequency Network, in this configuration the transmitters all transmit exactly the same thing at exactly the same time at exactly the same frequency. When transmitting in an SFN if you are between two transmitters you get the signal from both transmitters, but instead of causing a problem for you it actually helps because the two transmitters actually re-enforce each other.

 

Continue reading “UK Broadcasting and Local Multiplexes”

Each year for the past twenty years I recall someone mention the idea of moving the UK’s time zone to CET, or changing daylight savings or some other such tinkering with the clocks. As I have come to understand time more and more this confuses me more and more. Not that I am confused by the concept of changing a clock, I’ve done that enough that it doesn’t matter to me, but my confusion is to why we need to change a unit of measure rather than changing our attitudes. One of the arguments for changing timezones or using DST is for “safety”, the idea is that if it is too dark in the mornings people going to work or school are more at risk. It is also said that energy can be saved because people wouldn’t use so much lighting if the clocks were different.

What this fundamentally ignores is the fact that time itself is not really variable, not on a scale that matters to our daily lives anyway, in each SI day there are 86,399, 86,400 or 86,401 seconds (yes there are not exactly 24 hours in a day because the earth isn’t perfect). When people talk about fiddling with the time they are really just doing it for political reasons, to assert themselves and their own importance. If it really mattered about the time at which children went to school then schools could open earlier or later, businesses can make their own decisions about when to open and operate. I currently work at a business that opens at 08:30, but I have started at 05:00, 08:00, 09:00 and 10:00 in differing jobs. Delivery drivers, bakers, presenters and many more people get up at a time that suits their work (Shift Work). I once worked with a team that didn’t even assume a 24 hour day, they worked on a short but intensive cycle over many days, living on site and then had a long period off at home.

I imagine the counterpoint to the argument is that if schools started earlier then people would be in difficulty if their employer didn’t change the hours. But already it is difficult for people who are constrained by employers who enforce archaic working practices, changing the clocks isn’t going to make better employers and if children went to school earlier then it wouldn’t be as bad for parents worrying about getting to their 8am start at work. There is supposedly evidence that indicates that some deaths on the road, especially those of commuting school children, can be attributed to poor light levels. Well, I would point out that if the children were to leave school when it was more light (irrespective of clocks) then they would be equally likely to be outside on the streets (doing whatever children do) afterwards which wouldn’t make it much more safe.

So, recently I have, on two occasions ended up discussing the pro’s and con’s of different power generation systems. I thought it might be helpful to capture some of the arguments here and have a place where follow-ups could be noted. Some of the balance of the argument depends on geography, some on natural resources and sustainability over the long-term. I might have made some mistakes, so I would appreciate any input.

Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuel thus not long-term sustainable, they are created from ancient organic materials which have been compressed and baked until they turn into a combustable solid, liquid or gas. It takes millions of years to produce these materials and they cannot be replaced in the lifetime of our civilisation. Continous supply of energy as long as it is needed and possible to reduce output to match demand.

1) Natural Gas Fired

Western European countries Gas fields are increasingly depleated. Cleaner burning than many other fossil fuels and relatively efficient conversion to electricity. Scales from domestic generator to power-station with good efficiency.

2) Coal Fired

Mining coal is either a difficult and dangerous operation under ground, or it can be strip mined which leaves significant scaring on the landscape. Burning coal is relatively dirty.

3) Oil Fired

Difficult and dangerous extraction as shown by the Gulf of Mexico. Quite dirty generation.

Atomic / Nuclear

Typically continous supply which is quite reliable to meet demand, but may also be wasteful if the energy is not needed off-peak.

1) Uranium Fast Breeder Reactor

Principles designed over 50 years ago for a different age, sponsored by government because the by-product is weapons grade radioactive isotopes. Easy to generate large ammounts of electricity. Expensive plant design, long-term safety implications and difficult end-of-life management for the facility. Financially difficult to justify because of the end-of-life implications but with subsidies possibly one of the most powerful continous supply generators.

2) Thorium Molten Salt Reactor

Thorium is much more efficient to extract than Uranium and relatively safe to handle. When embedded in molten halide salts then it can easily be deactivated in the case of difficulties. The isotopes it produces have a fairly safe half-life and are not very radioactive. Also because the radioactive material is contained in a liquid it cannot suffer from physical stressing like a solid fuel.

Environmental Power

1) Wind turbines

Subject to mechanical stresses, so requires difficult maintenance. However can be constructed from sustainable materials and can be recycled. Heavy bases need to be constructed with concrete but can be reused. Not dependable and predictable, cannot be adjusted to meet a growth in demand. Subject to the availability of heavy winds, with no wind there is no power generated and has to be shut down in excessive wind. Possible environmental impact to wildlife, particularly birds, and some visual/noise impact. Good energy transfer from the mechanical wind to electricity.

2) Photovoltaic

Produced from a silicon chemical substrate, environmental impact in production and risk of pollution. Poor efficiency compared to carbon impact of manufacturing and transport. Power output is subject to the availability of good levels of sun.

3) Solar-thermal-electric

By focusing the sun on a boiler or Sterling generator a clean and sustainable electricity is generated. Subject to sun availability and still difficult to transfer but with potentially less polution in manufacturing than alternatives.

4) Geo-thermal

Using the heat of the earth to produce steam and generate electricity. Dependable source of energy, subject to regional effectiveness where pockets of hot earth are available for use.

5) Tidal/wave energy

Use of the power of the sea to turn generators. This is a very powerful and clean form of energy, in areas like the British Isles a fairly consistent output can be given. Probable environmental impacts on fishing and wildlife. There is enough sea energy on the west coast of Ireland to power the entire British Isles demands for energy.

6) Hydroelectric

Requires a massive geo-engineering effort involving large ammounts of concrete which has a highly polluting production. However once constructed it can have a long lifespan of clean production.

Bio Fuels

Biofuels are sources which can be burnt to release their energy which was usually gathered through the growing of plant materials. The carbon released is almost as much as that which was consumed in the growth. However this is at the sacrifice of land which can be used for growing food, with world food shortages it is a shame to be burning crops for energy.