Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Why do we age? genetics v lifestyle

Not sure if I've made this point clear before so here goes. As I see things there's a strong possibility that aging and its symptoms could be largely related to levels of activity and the balance it has with nutrition and recovery.

The link I see is that old age is linked with both reduced activity and reduced levels of human growth hormone (HGH). HGH encourages cell maintenance as well as growth. Now there's no evidence that aging reduces potential for exercise. It lowers your maximum marathon speed but doesn't stop you running a marathon. 

Your capacity for exercise is directly related to your regular participation in it and the quality you put in. So is it any surprise that we're less active as we age so we lose the capacity for quality activity. Concomitantly we don't encourage the production of HGH and our bodies wither like a flower with no sun or rain.

Children on the other hand are generally the healthiest. Their attitudes are to be admired. The take big challenges in their stride they take failure as something normal and something to over come. They don't worry about tiredness or activity they just play and rest play and rest. They're more in tune with their bodies . This shows in their lifestyles and their health. 

As we age we seem to lose touch with our bodies we don't work as one with them we work against each other so neither actually achieves its goals. I'm learning how to work better with my body and find out what it can do with some TLC and respect. Already I feel younger. I'll see
how this works in time

Why do south american teams do so well in the world cup?

I've always wondered why south american teams do so well at the world cup particularly brazil and Argentina.

I thought maybe it's the number of games they play in qualification. They seem to play twice as
many as we do in Europe that it would give their players coaches and staff longer to get to know each other and figure out the answers to all the questions they will be asked on the pitch. It could be the passion for football within the country. That will provide many highly talented players and coaches and they will all be used to the grilling they get at a list world cup. 

Seeing that Argentina were just thrashed 6-1 by bolivia at altitude highlights that they all have to play in such varied environments from altitude to sweltering heat and oppressive humidity and then extreme cold. The continent is so vast they get to regularly perform in all kinds of environment. The best team can falter heavily to a weaker team playing in difficult conditions. The number of games they play encourages building a large resilient squad that can survive the intense rigours of the qualification campaign that makes the finals seem relatively straight forward. 

I don't think its any one of these points that makes this continent so formidable i think its all of them and many more.I think it's worth considering this in our quest for world cup glory. 

10 promising web platforms

the article 10 promising web platforms from the guys at readwriteweb just knocked my socks off because I couldn't believe how much innovation is going on in the web. I know it's obvious but to see it happening and know that these will be old hat in just one year time is an amazing thought.

is intermittent fasting a version of training?

Following a thread about intermittent fasting I liked the following comment I read

Using IF (intermittent fasting) is not about extended fasts…’s about breaks here and there while still getting in food (quality). Think of it as just compressed eating windows on some days, still focus on getting foods and not just going without anything. If you think fasting is just a quick way to lose weight and do it too much, then yes….the weight comes back. If you do it slow and steady and eat right, you will lose the fat and keep it off. Refer to the IF 101 post on how to go about it (link below) but just remember it’s “Intermittent” Fasting and not extended or excessive fasting we talk about here for the most part.
I haven't looked that far into intermittent fasting but what I have read leans toward the idea of training the body to deal with limited resources and all the benefits seem to be linked to this. Thus it's similar in some respects to physical activity and training for sports in that the resources of the body suddenly become scarce and the adaptations that follow are about dealing with this. 

The health benefits seem to come from our bodies being less wasteful and more proactive about dealing with the challenges they face.


Irony: Is Google Android to the operating system what Internet explorer was to the Web browser market?

I love history because it's where you can appreciate irony.

Watching the tale of the Android operating system unfold reminds me of how Microsoft went about competing in the internet world. they embedded their internet browser in their operating system and did what they could to make theirselves dominant. they made it free, relatively easy to use and due to its proliferation every site had to work with it. Thus they created a virtual monopoly that was hard to break down. 

funny thing is that mobile is becoming the defacto standard particularly in less well developed countries as pcs and even laptop are beginning to feel cumbersome and limited. Android is apparently an operating system for a new age built on the best free solutions of the old age. It's offered completely free and designed to work on many different mobile devices. 

Naturally it's going to embed google's strengths into it and make them freely available and extremely easy to use. So it's only natural that the very approach Microsoft use to gain dominance in the web browser market has been utilised to bring about a serious competitor to their very dominance in their mainstay. The cheap flexible operating system that's a household name. 

I'm watching this saga with interest because either way we all should benefit since it's all about helping us connect better. I think google may have the upper hand because they have a less chequered past and seem to have learnt from the mistakes Microsoft has made aswell as the good choices. We'll see how long this continues. 

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Training is about fast recovery

I've just got back from a touch rugby training session and the thing it reminded my of very vividly is how I could measure my fitness by how quickly I recovered from an intense drill or sequence of moves.

I've noticed for a long time how the fitter players have to work harder to tire themselves out, that's obvious though, but also recover from their exertions much quicker, that's not so obvious until you look for it. 

That's what I'm seeing now that I've been playing regularly for a couple of months. I haven't really trained hard but my fitness as improved and I can really see it in any activity I do simply because I recover much sooner. I get my breath back sooner and any pain I feel quickly subsides. I'm also ready for another burst very quickly and can keep pushing myself for many more bursts of activity. 

That to me is the example of a training effect and seems true whether its mental or physical training you're doing.  So as a general rule I find the simplest way of training is to use really intense bouts of activity with short rests. Do this regularly depending on the amount of recovery in between and the impact and strain of the actual activity you can do this daily or every few days even just once a week and you'll find great improvements from very little work. 

Upgrading your code or a 3rd party app. Is there a reliable way?

In programming there is a constant debate about how to design an application. Whether it should be object orientated, should test cases be included. Lost of questions and everyone has an opinion.

I don't have a computer science degree or background I have a sport science one. I taught myself to program and learnt very much on the job. So I don't claim to have all the knowledge. What I have done is learn from those who do and used the web particularly to look into these debates to see what history and current best practices teach us. 

An age old problem I've come across is how to move from an old system to a new one or how to rely on a 3rd party system while ensure the application you present to the world maintains the quality and standards you have built a reputation on. 

As is usual with me I have generally found a way to do both the above by finding a model that provides both options. It's not a highly technical plan because that would only work on specific operating systems and programming languages etc. It's more of a theoretical one that poses some questions and answers that fit what I care about most. That's efficiency, stability coordination and other such words. 

Ok that's a bit arty farts. What I'm really getting at is that it's common to want to update your systems and find that's going to be a nightmare and costly. it's better to have planned for this in advance and to be able to regularly keep up with, and plan for, best practice. To have well defined general approaches to keeping up to date regardless of the technology you're working with. 

I do this first by asking questions. Laymans questions that come from the idea that applications and solutions are built by humans for humans. They are not designed for machines. They may connect to machines but it's to help humans that these solutions exist. 

So if you have an application that you know is going to need upgrading how would you go about it?
I always do it slowly. I look at the patterns that are inherent in what it does. What kind of tasks does it do regularly and does it need to be good at. I then begin a process of changing from within. I create reusable pieces of code and tiny solutions that cater for these specific repeated patterns. I start to weave these into the code, first tidying things up a little then as this new code starts to do more and more of the work I find it becomes possible to make larger changes because the new code is making things easier. it sounds too easy but from experience if you plan for reuse, and I've found I'm quite aggressive about reuse I think it's crucial, then you'll find the code you have to write and work you have to do to achieve new qoals becomes easier and easier. 

Early on particularly I do this work in such a way that users don't actually see any change. Apart from things slowly getting faster. I care about build api's which are common ways for applications to talk to each other and within themselves. so I make sure each set of code that gets replaced can be used in the same way. It just does it better. This isn't the rule but if I do this I often do. Particularly with the user interface. I often prefer to improve the underlying code, the infrastructure, before working on the interface because this is what most customers care about. So leaving it leaves me free to get the nuts and bolts right. 

The approach I use is what I've seen builders do when renovating a building. They don't always knock it down and start again. At the OU they recently renovated the buildings the BBC used to broadcast from. I heard that the building where listed so they couldn't knock them down. I'm not certain that's true because they removed everything just left the walls and ceilings. That implies to me that it just costs too much to completely demolish a building. That's also what I've heard from engineers. If the walls and ceilings are fundamentally sound and planning permission is not required, since the building already exists (politically that concept is key as well as legally) much cheaper and quicker to use what's already in place and make the best of it and get good at making the best of it. Mainly because things are always improving so better to be an expert at taking something and improving it than always needing a fresh starting point. that in itself is a major limitation that can be costly. 

So if an application were a building and the application was still being used, much like a building that's still being inhabited. I would get good at doing important work without forcing people to stop their work. there are many examples you can use in building that compare with what I use. If you need to change a key part of the system that can only be changed when no one is using it then the solution depends on how critical it is, how long you've got to do it and many other factors. 

I pick from a long list of options I have to suit the situation:
  • Put code or solutions alongside that to be replaced and a switch that can easily be flicked. Use this approach throughout the system so that you can always switch back to the original code if you need. In case your upgrade doesn't quite work
  • have a decent test bed. Figure out the essential tests that you need to run and have a system that can support this. Very quickly you'll realise that the most important question is 'is each part of the system doing what it should do?'. Tests are the only reliabel way of doing this. The more critical the change you're making the more the tests are required.
  • where possible build off site, or off your code base and drop in the fix when finished. All manufacturing has moved to this approach of easily switchable components, from cars to ships (I watched a documentary about the Queen Mary 2 showing how parts were built separately then stitched together) to buildings. Each individual part can then be tested thoroughly before being stitched into the whole. Software development is no different. There are ways to do this. If you don't know them then learn them. 
  • Find ways to organise things better. from the code itself to the files and application structure. this makes it easier to find problems, to find code to know what's new code and what's new. 
There are plenty more techniques and ideas I've come across. Some just common sense to me, others I've found from other people. Just thought I'd start putting them down here. To do exactly the kind of thing I'm recommending. I always start to work towards a standard. I either find one I like or generate my own. Standards and patterns go together and that's essentially what I work to. Once I start identifying patterns I start seeing quickly how to reuse a lot of the work I do to save time while improving quality Standards are about applying the patterns regularly and making it easy to do so. 

I see that I haven't covered how I work with 3rd party applications. In truth I use the same list as I was creating above. With the extra caveat that I like to distance myself from the application itself. I like to write a wrapper or set of wrappers around the 3rd party software so that I have my own layer inbetween. Every application that connects to this 3rd party application goes through the layer I have built. This way the 3rd part application can change but all I've got to do is change my layer to work with these new changes. 

Obviously it's not always this easy but with time and care it often is. More than once I've done a major upgrade but, due to these small changes and the stability layer I've added, the systems that use the software have worked fine. I've used the tests I always run to see what's stopped working after the upgrade. this has told me what work I need to do. then each time I've completed some fixes I run the tests again to see what's left to do. Normally I can fix the stability layer so that the existing applications can still work unchanged. Often any important changes needed to support the upgraded 3rd part application can be built into the stability layer at some point leaving the dependent applications unchanged. If there are changes required then atleast these are minimised.

I say stability layer but tin practice it's just a set of files that store my code as opposed to the third party code. Where appropriate I mnay tie these into the 3rd party code itself. the important thing is to be easy to distinguish the difference. If you can't see easily what's yours or not then you'll have problems sooner or later. 

Encourage collaboration and delegation by creating a plan

I don't know about any one else but I often find that the best way to get a consensus in a group of people is often to start with a plan, no matter how basic and essentially disagreeable to everyone its content are and begin redrafting it from there on.

Seriously. Along the lines of 'fail to plan plan to fail' I always like to start with something recorded that everyone involved can access, understand and contribute to. It doesn't necessarily matter who creates the plan, the point is that you have something as a starting point. 

I do this before I've started any work and often it comes out of an initial brain storming session. Get as many people involved in the project together as possible, brainstorm all aspects from early requirements gathering and development to testing and release phases. 

The most important thing to do is to get used to reviewing the plan regularly and encouraging others to do so. Much like a car journey. Your route may be right until a traffic jam occurs, then your route may have to change. You have to check the traffic reports and your map to see if changes are needed. Sometimes they are sometimes they aren't. But regular checks are important. Otherwise you could spend weeks undoing and redoing what you could have done right in the first place. 

This also means as many people that are involved should be in a position to contribute. Maybe they can't change the file but they should be able to see it and understand it. They should also know who to go to to discuss changes and the route to go through to present changes and get them approved. This also implies that everyone should know which is the current plan, which are archived versions and which are those in development that aren't yet approved. 

Sounds like a lot of work already. You quickly get used to it and find that in truth it isn't. Much better to maintain a plan well and know where your efforts are headed than be lazy and find out that you were doing work that nobody wanted. It doesn't matter how good that work is. It's stilla  failure. 

The advantage of having a plan is that you now have something everyone can discuss and it's the discussion that it generates that's really useful. My first plans always need changing. That's normal. As I get more used to the process I get better at creating plans everyone is happy with from the outset but never forget how important a plan is to a project. The more people involved the more delegeation is required. Everyone person putting in effort needs to know who they're affecting and who to work with to ensure it's all coordinated. With out a decent plan this cannot happen well. 

What if your customer changes backend application that manages its sales. This system produces reports in formats you weren't planning for. You were planning for the old version. The new system is going live in three months. Surely some one should have made you aware so that you can begin planning how to connect to this new system and deal with its reports etc. 

With a plan that's open to stakeholders delegation becomes much easier. In this case, if you havd a plan you would have recorded the sales application you were integrating to. Everyone can then see this, with this information in place it becomes more obvious and so the problem is more likely to be spotted and reported. It's also clearer who to report to. The person maintaining the plan at a minimum. It's also obvious how to inform everyone of the changes. Update the plan, distribute it to everyone involved highlighting the changes. 

Every project I've been involved in has gone through phases of major change and very little. At each point it was really important to know what the plan was at the time. To constantly step back and check everything is well coordinated and nothing is getting left behind. 

Very quickly I found that while I worked hard throughout a project I had no more work on at the start than at the end. I generally found that those without a plan felt they had plenty of time at the start and worked like crazy to meet the deadline at the end. The main difference being, every time I veered off course I pulled myself back on course very quickly so when I delivered it always worked as the customer now expected it to work. No matter what was initially expected we'd come to a solution that match the timscales, resources and requirements. 

Those without a plan invariably had some or all of their work that was quite different from what the customer wanted or needed. Sometimes it just was no use to them. Thus a lot of rework had to be done. 

So in the end the process of planning. Of writing and maintaining a plan has always saved me far more time and my employer far more money than the cost or time involved with fixing the mistakes a plan can prevent. 

Saturated fat: Why all the fuss?

I'm just finishing a text book I forgot to finish a year or so back. Got into the chapter on heart disease.

It reminded me why I get a little frustrated with current nutritional and health advice and why I think the public gets so confused and follows so many fashions. In my view it's because so much of the evidence we hear about comes from correlations. Correlations are not actual scientific fact they're part of the evidence that informs us where best to focus our research. They give a hint as to where the solution may be found. However they do not ever provide fact and during my A levels and degree we were all lectured to death never to confuse correlation with fact and never to present it as such. 

So that's why I find it hard to take everything I read as cut and dried. As perfect truth. It's the reason so many explanations keep changing. One day you'll hear that anti-oxidants are great or saturated fat is bad and the next you hear others pointing out that both anti-oxidants can inflict damage on cells and that saturated fats are more stable than other fats and thus can be beneficial. 

The reason being the initial advice wasn't based on sound well researched fact where each point in the chain towards the cause has been tested and verified. No, it's mainly a set of correlations, often from a very big study with lots of funding, paid for by an influential body and with enough people studied , usually tens of thousands, to make the results sounds water tight. 

So what triggered off this rant? 
In truth it's been building for years, I've only just got round to it, but right now it was a paragraph that mentioned that 
much research has found the highest correlation of  coronary heart disease in those whos diets obtain a large part of their energy from saturated fat 
They then go on to test your interpretation of this statement to make sure that you answer that this means getting a lot of your energy from saturated fat means you're more likely to have heart disease.

While that's a fair thing to say it often ignores a lot and not once is there any question that this data is from a correlation. The question being, is it saturated fat that is bad and that's what's being shown? or is it that saturated fat content is high in foods that contain ingredients which may cause heart disease? or diets with a high level of energy from saturated fat are common in people with a lifestyle that promotes heart disease?

I find no real discussion of the credibility of the information in the first place. I'm not questioning the fact of the main statement i.e. that high saturated fat is linked to problems, I am questioning the interpretation and particularly the way it is presented and assessed. I find no space to query or critique this view, which during my psychology and sociology a levels  I was encouraged to. Yet in biology and physiology the idea of encouraging critique in exams and the subject itself doesn't seem to be allowed. 

This idea that saturated fat is the main problem has been around for decades yet I find as much evidence questioning it's label as a bad boy as I do supporting it. Thus I find it like a jigsaw where the piece doesn't quite fit. I've heard lots of theories, often political, why saturated fat gets the blame. Those that influence me the most are the ones that take into account the facts that we do know instead of the correlations we assume. 

Take this suggestion. I read recently that saturated fats are in fact more stable than poly or mono unsaturated fats meaning they'll be less affected by free radicals and other damage both in storage, during cooking and within the body than mono and poly unsaturated fats. That makes sense because that is the very definition of a saturated fat. It means that all its carbon atoms have solid double joins to the hydrogen ions in it's fatty acid chains. That's a technical answer but that's the point. It matches up technically. Data was also presented to show that these fats were in fact the most stable in various situations and thus should be nutrients that cause little harm to the body. 

I'll leave it to real experts to explain the efficacy of the last statement but atleast the answer used facts to make a point. It was also something that should be relatively easy to test and prove, atleast that in certain solutions and situations you could prove that the fats were inert or that they were unstable and would be less susceptible to free radical damage. 

So that's a small example of why saturated fats themselves may be mis labelled because they are just associated with bad things but may not be the cause. 

Another problem is that correlations can only predict the things you measure. There is a growing list of things that are now measured in relation to health. The point being that our ability to measure certain things is improving all the time but also means we can't measure alll the things we want to measure. Thus again we'd find that we label saturated fats as bad simpy because we're able to measure them among lots of other things. Yet  for many years things such as stress levels, levels of sleep deprivation and other things that have been more recently shown to be important factors would not have been included in the older types of research. Also the difference between man made, hydrogenated fats and natural saturated fats was not known or recorded in a lot of these studies. Again I believe more recently it's the amount of calories from hydrogenated fats that's even more important. 

Let's switch our focus though. There is plenty of evidence that lack of activity is our big concern. There are enough people across the world who have lived long, health and productive lives on a diet relatively high in saturated fat because that's what their culture has survived on for generations. Their lives have adapted and generally include a lot of activity and it's the activity that is linked to clearing up the metabolic waste that excess calories creates. It's also this extra activity and the metabolic demands it puts on our bodies that uses up a lot of these extra calories that these people consume. 

In essence the picture here is that many people in westernised nations have reduced their activity whilst maintaining their food intake. This has simply lead to a gradual and regular surplus of calories. Remember there's a limit to the number of calories stored in the body as carbohydrate but not as fat. So it's obvious that any one who eats a bit too much will have excess fat travelling around their body. So fat gets the blame because it contains more calories, weight for weight than carbohydrate and protein and so it's more likely to lead to an excess. 

We've already mentioned that there are man made fats and that the last hundred years have seen a huge rise in foods that are quite removed from what we've evolved to eat. They often contain, or atleast many years ago they contained, saturated, particularly hydrogenated, fats. Now remember that saturated fats from natural sources will contain vitamins and nutrients that we've evolved to survive on. Our bodies often store things in our fat cells for use later and so do animals. Thus this fat can be a vital source of our daily requirements. However the man made fats, those that have been highly processed are just more likely to have lost a large amount of these.  A diet missing important nutrients, no matter how small the amount that's required, is bound to lead to problems. So again you see how the simple statement that high saturated fat diets lead to heart disease does not tell the whole story.

There's been so much written for and against saturated fats that I could go on all day but I'll leave it there. What I'd rather do is encourage people to expect more of those who report scienctific information and also look a bit further into what's presented to see the quality of information that's behind the data. Always remember correlations are useful but not proof of anything. When I've looked further I've generally found that the actual researchers acknowledged that correlations weren't sufficient evidence and indicated need for further research. It often seems that political needs drive the adoption of these correlations as fact. 

Given the vast and growing amount of conflicting information that's out there I think it's also a very good reason for the scientific community to provide a way for everyone to search, visualise and understand it all in better more open ways. Right now there's just too much that's unavailable to most of us because we don't have the time or resources to trudge through it all and then make sense of it. Surely the technology should be helping us. 

Monday, 27 April 2009

Speed up your windows machine. Empty your recycle bin

Just thought I'd post a tip for any Microsoft Windows users that can be a life saver if you need to speed up your machine. This won't fix every machine that's running slow. It's more a simple thing which might help.

Basically empty your recycle bin. For some reason on windows every time you create a new folder in your hard drive or do certain tasks on it Windows actually checks the files in the recycle bin. Don't ask my why but it does. So if you have a lot in your recycle bin, number of files seems more important than size, then this could be part of what's slowing things down. 

It's rarely the only thing but any performance improvement is welcome isn't it. 

Eclipse: Check out a project from CVS and use PHP specific features

How do you check out a project from cvs in eclipse and retain the php specific functionality you get from being able to build the project?

The question comes because I had many projects checked out which had the option 'build project' greyed out and others that didn't. I noticed that only the CVS projects had this problem. I checked in my team and some helpful guys told me the answer so I thought I'd post it so I won't forget and others might find it useful. 

The problem arises simply because eclipse sees this project as a CVS project not a php one. To fix this you can go into the actual project file itself of a project that works how you want and copy a couple of lines into the project file of the project that doesn't. But there is a simpler gui based way that avoids messy work with files. 

Begin by creating a project from CVS and working through the relevant screens. When you reach the screen titled 'Check OutAs' simply choose the option 'check out as a project configured using the New Project Wizard' and pick php project when asked. 

You'll then be tying a CVS project to a PHP based project and all php related features will work. 

The shots you pick not the shots you play more often determine your fate

In continuation of a previous article on how break building in snooker can be used to apply psychological pressure to an opponent whilst building your own rhythm and confidence I also wanted to point out that tactical awareness and discipline is something you need to be consistent on throughout a tournament. Use tactics to put your opponent under pressure and get your rhythm and thus improve How you play the shot.

I haven't got time right now to go into this but as part of a mind over matter approach it's very helpful to watch the real greats such as Roger Federer, Michael Schumacher, Pete Sampras, Tiger Woods and others and see how they are always, without exception, experts in tactics and understand that competition is about your strengths beating your opponents weaknesses. thus you must have ways of finding out their weaknesses and using your game to exploit them. 

Without exception, those that rule their chosen sport have worked diligently at this skill above all others because it's not about being the best, it's about being the best on the day every day. If you're going to beat someone better than you then don't let them know your weaknesses and be damn well sure of theirs and how you can use your skills to get the upperhand. 

Psychological pressure. understand it to achieve success

Watching stephen hendry in the snooker world finals it really strikes me how much of the game is mental. I've always known, but watching Hendry it is really obvious.

I grew up watching Stephen in his hey day and was used to his domination. Seeing him playing his vintage style in the second round of this years world finals it's clear that he really understands that the way snooker is played can play on your mind and on your opponents mind.

I mean that when you're in play your opponent isn't so if you're building a break and gaining rhythm and confidence your opponent isn't. More likely he's losing it. So the act of building a break does as much to help your mental state as it does to dent your opponents.

Stephen hendry has made over 700 professional centuries and watching the world championship over the years I've seen so often how he uses his break building to keep his opponent off the table. Prevent them getting rhythm and make them scared of making mistakes. So he's always heaped psychological pressure on any one he's played at the crucible arean. 

In contrast many others fail to make use of this very important feature of snooker and fail to apply psychological pressure on their opponent and often end up losing to those who do.

Could losing weight be made easier by just taking longer to eat and enjoying every mouthful?

Could losing weight be made easier by just taking longer to eat. Savouring every mouthful and enjoying what you are eating. This allows you to eat what you want and makes you enjoy things more.

I've been doing this for a while and I've just found that I enjoy both the food and the process of eating so much more now. the main advantage is that you really don't have to change what you eat. Or atleast I didn't. in fact I found it easier to have all the things that I apparently shouldn't like cakes and pies and roast dinners. 

I just see it as being about quality over quantity. I've changed my approach to food to be about the best quality, taste, texture and combinations that make me enjoy the entire experience and I've moved away from shovelling in as much as I possibly can until I feel full. 

Atleast this way eating has become a pass time in iself rather than a way to stop feeling hungry. That means I have more things to enjoy in life and look forward to and less things to try not to do as in I don't worry about the calories in my meals because I take so much longer to eat them, focussing on each mouthful that I can't consume as many calories as I used to. I'm also satisfied that the meals and diet is much more balanced because I'm having a very wide range of foods and not too much of anything. 

How did we survive before fridges?

Seriously. It's one of those things we take for granted. We need a fridge to keep food fresh how else would we do it? I just thought I'd explore this area a little and see what questions pop up and if I have any answers. Just thought I'd record this for anyone else who's interested.

My mum remembers a time without fridges. Perishables like butter, milk and eggs stored under the sink. Milk delivered daily. But what about fresh fruit and veg. Do fruit seasons provide fruit all year round? Think of fruit picking. I think strawberries are picked early summer, June and July. Plums, rhubarb and others late summer. Fine that's not all fruit but spring, summer and autumn have seasonal fruit but what about winter. That's 3-4 months without fruit. Assuming dried fruit isn't as good as fresh.

Did we just get our fresh vitamins from vegetables in winter? What is emphasised these days is year round freshness. That's key apparently. What I'm arguing is that fresh, as in freshly picked or harvested, wasn't possible then, yet we still survived. In fact we often thrived. We stored and preserved our food to maintain nutrient content and quality because we had to. We had no choice. We had to maintain knowledge and habits that made most efficient use of what we have. These days we can easily import freshly harvested fruit and veg. But are we missing something? Are we making best use of our resources and should we be so dependent on fresh produce?

I'm reading Dr Zhivago and it clearly reminds me that throughout history easy access to fresh food such as we have now. Has often been limited. This has led to disease but we forget that many also survived. Before fridges communities planned for winter. Produce was stored, tinned, pickled and so forth.

Should we forget these solutions now we have fridges and fresh produce all year round? I don't think so. These older ways are efficient ways of using resources. They reduced the fuel used to
provide nutrients and reduce costs. 

We're often told fresh food is needed for a healthy body to get the nutrients it needs. When I looked into this through a course at the Open University I found that the food industry is highly regulated. All areas, frozen, tinned, fresh are tightly controlled and quality is ensured.

Importantly though tinned food doesn't lose as much nutrient content as you'd think. As a way to get part of my 5 a day it's a god send since I don't have to worry about use by dates much. I can
store tinned or bottled items at home or work and use whenever. No planning needed. 

Anyway I'll stop there for now. I've been meaning to write about this for a while. There's much more to say. In essence i'm not so convinced our bodies are as weak as they are portrayed. We evolved in much tougher times than these. We've thrived for millennia without our current technology and I want to learn how and why. What have we forgotten and what can we learn?

Using immersive games to teach children how to be safe using a safe and highly controlled environmen

I've always thought that games are brilliant for teaching. Their mix of fun and addictiveness keeps
your attention whilst their rules and challenges encourage you to use your faculties and improve yourself.

The addition of connectivity through networks, the internet and so on adds to their appeal. Truly immersive games are now becoming reality so the experience matches life very closely. I would like to see games that use many of these elements to teach basic concepts such as safety and good social skills. For children this would be so helpful because you could provide a safe environment to practice skills that are necessary in the outside world. 

I grew up with fairy tales. They're a common way of introducing children to the bad elements of life in a less scary way. It seems the witches and gremlins represent many of the people we want to protect our children from in real life but don't want our kids to know they're real. 

I'd like to see this in a game where children can practice the skills of staying safe and having fun whilst in a sand box environment controlled by teachers and such. The children play games and complete tasks like a normal game. Maybe they do some work too like following French signs to somewhere. Along the way they meet lots of people who may help or hinder them. Any of these characters could be played by teachers and other children or the computer. You could also link classes together and create teams. Then just use scores or other means to reward for the right actions. 

The ultimate prize in this instance would be getting to the destination following the signs and puzzles correctly and working well with the characters you met along the way. Figuring out who the goodies and baddies are and dealing with them correctly. I feel this would be a fantastic way
to introduce children to real life and help them learn the skills to stay safe whilst getting on with things. It provides a very safe and highly controlled environment thats easy for teachers to work with. 

Effective Delegation: key to any form of success

Delegation: that's something that is key to completing any project. Just thought I'd brainstorm a little about what I need when some one delegates something to me and what I also try to give those who I delegate to. It's key if you need to collaborate with others in any particular way. 

If you can't do something yourself and have to pass it on to someone else or a group for any reason e.g.:
  • enlist a supplier
  • pass to a colleague
  • pass to your spouse
You've got to remember that you're basically asking them to do something you want, in the way you want it done i.e. not their way, and to your standards not theirs.

Basically they need to get inside your head. That either implies a brain dump or a process in which a mini standardised brain dump occurs.

This implies a tool set and a process needs to be in place so that both you and the delegate understand things and collaborate well.

This has been relevant throughout my career and through most of my life. I'm always relying on others. so isn't it better to get good at this and build it into my life both work and personal.

Isn't it also a key part of any project. Software or other. A common pattern that one coordinator must delegate things to others. All work must be well coordinated so that when it's plugged back into the whole it merges effectively without much or any hassle.

I believe it's possible and just small and regular processes and use of key tools can make this happen.

This is like a plan with change control process. It can change but clear identification of which is the current signed  and agreed plan and which is the latest unsigned draft.

Common agreed ways of working. You can work any way you want but if you want me involved and my sign off then I support these formats, protocols process etc.

Benefits. Everyone knows what's happening and can find out in their time. They don't have to catch people at the right time. More data is available than otherwise and tools are available to make the data sensible to you.

Sleep: De-cluttering the brain

I love it when research shows that the way our bodies work reflect the way man made things work. It implies we're along the right track and also that this knowledge of ours will then be useful to us in other ways in time.

an article describing the sleep deprived brain as a brain full of wool implies that the brai, while constantly maintaining and improving itself according to daily needs has a constant stack of work left to do. Much of this work can only be done in a rested or resting state. Thus without sleep this backlog builds up and up until eventually it effects our ability to perform and do basic daily things. 

Analysing a GPS log file

I've just got a gps addon for my W890i sony ericsson mobile phone. it's great because I can now track where I go and do and analyse the data it collects. The major limitation is that I don't yet know how to export the log that it generates.

This is a major frustration because until I can I am just logging data that's going to be thrown away. I also can't do any decent analysis on it because I'm restricted to the software I got with the GPS>

That's one of the reason I'm looking for a gphone. That said I want to log the GPS software I've been recommended for use when I can upload this info. It's called sport tracks and helps you analyse the gps log files you upload. Can't wait to use this or something like it when I get my gphone. 

those who succeed have no fear

To succeed you should have no fear. Watch all the great's. They only really come alive when challenged. They revel in the challenge. You get good at what you focus on. Winners aren't scared of losing. So in practice get used to the challenge. Practice second serves at match points, and all the other difficult pressure shots. Practice coming alive then. Learn to enjoy it and not worry.

Train your brain for a vigorous mind

Ooh I'm having a day today. I feel like I've hit the jackpot. I've always felt I could train my brain.So imagine my joy when I find yet more research that supports this notion.

I have a very long and intense concentration span when I want it. There have been many times that I've used it and found that my mind seemed to be so much fitter and lively than before.

For example, for much of my career I'vebeen solving problems. Those times when I've been on a critical project and putting in all the hours I've got so used to solving these problems under pressure and on an almost hourly basis I have found that I could see a problem and envisage the entire fix for it instantly, almost as I was reading or viewing the data on it. it often took hours to write up what the fix was or to implement it but I could see all parts at once. 

This kind of experience makes me believe very strongly that not only can we humans do parrallel processing, attend to multiple problems at once, but our subconscious is a continual presence in our lives helping us deal with things so imperctibly that we forget it's even there. Yet if we train that part of us that we know so little about we really will achieve so much more than we're all used to. 

So I believe strongly that we can train our minds just like we can our bodies. In fact I think we can train them more. Our bodies have so many physical restrictions they must cater to and work within. Our brains have far less. Apart from not being able to outgrow the cavity they are housed in the show amazing abilities to be able to do tasks in microseconds even our fastest computers 
find difficult. And they do it with very little energy and resource and producing very little waste and heat. 

Given this background you can imagine I was excited to come across the following extract from the Vigorous Mind web site about the benefits of training your brain
This concept was amplified in a recent study by Jaeggi that was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science in 2008. Jaeggi's group concluded that it was possible to improve one’s ability to reason and solve new problems independently of previously acquired knowledge by training working memory. The study demonstrated that the extent of improvement was critically dependent on the amount of training each participant received. Therefore, more frequent or longer training resulted in greater measurable gain in functionality.

I'm increasingly adopting the approach of mind over matter because it seems to me that in my life I've achieved things first by believing in something, then envisioning it, figuring out what I'd need to achieve it and then just plain achieving it. So I've found that whatever I picture in my mind I can often make happen. A bit of a crazy notion but well you apply a healthy dose of reality you begin to realise what is meant by this. Once you do then it's very inspirational. 

You learn how to work within all the common limits and still achieve incredible things.

Mental acitvity may circumvent dementia

Mental activity may circumvent dementia has been re-produced at my new blog Cell Your Sole.

Another reason I favour sports as my vigorous activity is that sports provide a mental activity as well as physical. There's mounting evidence that our brains need as much activity as our bodies to keep them fit.

I was really impressed reading about the nun study which reported

autopsies of the brains of individuals who lived well into their nineties or older and who showed no signs of mental functional decline, revealed that most exhibited significant changes in brain structures and biological markers usually associated with Alzheimer’s disease.  In spite of those changes, they did not show any behavioral changes.  Snowden concluded that continued mental exercising allowed for the development of alternate pathways that bypassed the diseased portions of the brain and that appeared to account for their preserved mental functioning. 
Again this kind of research implies that our bodies have a highly developed capability to work around problems within themselves. All they need is the stimulation to do so. This stimulation generally comes from some kind of activity. Those that do it benefit greatly. 

Vigorous Exercise May Help Prevent Vision Loss

It's good to know that there is mounting evidence that you can maintain your eye health through regular vigorous activity. I expect it to be down to improved blood flow to everything that supports the eye and a general effect of activity encouraging the body to maintain itself. Good to know though.

Why can't we search scientific data like we search Google

I've had training in reading scientific data yet there's so much out there I just can't read it all. Wouldn't it be great if there were standards in place that made scientific data fit the digital age and made it easy to share the data.

All I want is to be able to find a bunch of data and either export it into a standardised format, xml or csv based (works in excel) then feed it into tools that can make the data come alive and allow me to search for patterns etc. Basically data mining. 

Take this piece of work on vigorous activity and it's benefits for eye health. The results sound amazing but why can't I just click a link and get the actual results in a format I can use. that's what science is about for me. Openness. Why can't just download the data run a few simple statistical tests myself and understand in greater detail exactly what the scientists have found. 

I would love to be able to upload the data into my own online application that also stores or links to all the other studies that either I've found or are part of its database. I can then combine this new knowledge with all that data that's already in there and do calculations with this vast wealth of information. 

The first thing anyone would say is that it's not that simple. The data and groups need to be carefully matched. I'd say they're right but that I do this every day for all types of data. Most data only really takes on meaning when combined with lots of other data. I and many like me have come up with many ways of standardising and comparing separate sets of data so why can't scientific data from different researchers be treated the same way. 

For me it's just about creating, implementing and enforcing standards. I also expect that these standards are already in place because this is not a new issue it's as old as science. what I don't like though is that all this information feels closed to me. We have the tools and technology to get the data in and to perform the analyses and present the results. I just don't know of a way to access all this via the web and whether anyone has even put it all together. 

If something like this was available to me then I'd be able to analyse all the information together, understand it more as a whole and see how it all works. I would also be able to see whhich of my and other peoples theories it supports and which it doesn't. Basically I think we'd all be able to learn about our bodies faster and science would progress so much faster. 

It would also help us all share this important information so that everyone can feel a part of these big debates. Not just those with the big resources. If this kind of technology were open to everyone then we'd all begin to understand more completely the answers that have been found. 

Basically it's like open source to create open science. 

Here's hoping someone puts it all together. 

update 2009 04 29 17:49
Ooh, no sooner do I ask that I find some one has already started. In truth gapminder is a site trying to put some of this in place. Just thought I'd add my two cents. Here's googles take on adding search power to public data.

Does regular exercise improve the bodies ability to heal and restore?

Just a thought but I was really active every day last week and by yesterday I felt that not only had I recovered but I'd now got so much more energy than I normally have at that time. I just kept wanting to go out and run for a couple of hourrs. Anything to be active. Even though I'd gone for a long walk in the morning.

It's one of those things that unfortunaly we can't measure outside of a laboratory but I remember feeling the same every time I've had a life with regular activity. Particularly one with regular intense activity like when I used to play tennis for 3 hours then 5 a side football for 2 hours on a saturday. Boy did that make me fit. Not just that thought I feel I just plain recovered faster. 

It's made me wonder whether our bodies ability to heal itself is something we can train in any way. Again this is probably a pip dream and I'd expect limits but I just don't know if this has been investigated in any specific way since exercise and it's effect on the body is a very neglected area of research. 

It certainly seems possible that regular exercise, particularly intense activity, will put a strain on energy systems and force them to find a way to provide energy and nutrients at rates faster than before. Just to sustain the high rates of activity. Thids can be seen in the cardiovascular, nervous and other improvements that do just that. 

This would automatically benefit the recovery process because the ability to provide energy, nutrients and other items, simply because the body can now deliver these things where they're needed faster and the body has begun to learn how to be more efficient with what it has thus the same amount of raw material will go further. In terms of rebuilding the body this would mean it gets done faster and thus recovery is sooner.  All you need is sufficient rest. 

I'm just wondering if this recovery process is true throughout the body. Maybe the improved nutrient transport systems, and better coordinated organs required to sustain intense activity  now also help provide a netter immune response and damage repair throughout the body. All because intense activity has an impact on the whole body. In active organs are required to resynthesis lactic acid to pyruvate or glycongen and return this to the working muscles thus those inactive muscles still get a work out and have to improve. the nervous system has to find ways to coordinate hundreds of individual movements whilst maintaining normal function at an enhanced rate plus coordinate extra functions such as intense sweating and heat regulation strategies. 

At the same time water levels must be maintained. Since more water is required for sweating many parts of the body may have to learn how to function with less water than usual or other processes to minimise this impact on individual cells could be developed. 

All this could simply be part of a standard plan written in our DNA developed over eons to handle the intense demands that vigorous activity provide. 

In essence I'm wondering whether the act of intense activity puts  pressure on our body to do so much at once it's main adaptation is to get better, faster and stronger at everything it normally does. 

What I've always noticed is that young people are generally very active and older people are much less so. The older people have more health problems than the younger and many appear to be releated to inactivity. 

As younger people are becoming less active on a regular basis they also seem to be developing many illnesses that we exclusive to older people. This seems like a trend. 

This describes populations which means there is plenty of individual variation and that is what interests me. I see little correlation in those who are healthy and active in later life and their food and drink. I've seen plenty who regularly drink to excess and eat all the 'wrong' things. Working in a gym you see this. I've seen very few that are inactive. Particularly the older people get the more activity itself seems to help the human body keep itself maintained. My theory is that it's the stimulus. vigorous exercise (I mean vigorous in relation to the individual) particularly, for the body to repair itself and maintain the ability to repair itself. 

At the minutest level I expect that regular activity encourages your body to protect its DNA blueprint so it keeps a reliable record of how to fix itself.

This article is now published as Does regular exercise improve the bodies ability to heal and restore?

Could we control our games consoles with a mobile phone?

I'm waiting for the day that we control our games consoles with our mobile phones. You laugh now but with blue tooth becoming standard in all phones and accelerometers being pioneered by apple in their iphone and copied by everyone else it seems that very soon many people will have phones that can rival the console controllers.

Given the rising cost of controllers, particularly when you need multiples to have friends round I wonder when this price point urges someone to write a little app that gets your phone working with your console and thus saving you lots of money. Sure the Nintendo WII also needs an infrared sensor but that could be provided as a cheap add for phones that don't have one. Either way you could pay £10 for a better infra red received than is in the wii mote and save the rest of the money to get a better phone in time, or more games. 

Wednesday 28th April
Well this isn't a wii controller but check out

He didn't actually show the controller working, probably doesn't cos the wire isn't connected, but the idea is there. I wonder if anyone has taken this further?

Inventors develop transistor to change color of any surface, your face notwithstanding

The area of electronic displays (TV and phone screens etc) just got a whole lot more exciting with the invention of transistors that can change to any colour.

Lymph, cholesterol and heart disease: How they could be related

I just came across a little nugget that might be useful in the long term. It's that a form of cholesterol produced by digesting fat called 'chylomicrons' are transported to the blood stream via the lymphatic system.

This could be important for several reasons, mainly that it shows a link between cholesterol and the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system has a large role in our immune response and so it could be possible that the build up of fatty deposits that are linked to high levels of cholesterol could in some way be related to disease and illness. 

It's a tenuous link at this point as I can't see any direct reason these could be related. One possiblity is that eating high fat foods could lead to high levels of chylomicrons in the lymphatic system. Creating a blockage like a traffic jam. This in itself could then obviously lead to build up of fatty plaques in the blood stream but I've heard evidence that high fat intakes are not directly related to high cholesterol levels and plaque build up. 

I could envisage that any extra traffic through the lymph system would make it harder for the immune system to do its job. There would be more items floating around to monitor and protect and dangerous items that cause disease could use these extra items to hide behind or within. So the chylomicrons could be vessels which transport viruses and bacteria around the body. This would atleast explain why cholesterol is linked to the damage caused. It would also explain why the body hasn't simply repaired the damage that the fatty plaques are attached to. 

It could be that viruses or bacteria are attacking the area and causing the damage in the first place. They could be using the fat and cholesterol to transport them to sites where they can attack the circulatory system whilst also using them for fuel and maybe even to 'hide' behind. If so then it's only natural the two would be found at the same spot. If this is the case it would also explain why the immune system hasn't repaired the initial damage in the first place. It does seem unlikely that our bodies would allow such damage to go unrepaired on a regular basis. Otherwise it doesn't seem possible that we could survive as long as we do or put our bodies through the rigours that we do. 

Getting back to lymph. All this extra traffic could actually cause blockages in lymph organs and nodes and prevent the immune system protecting entire parts of the body. This would certainly leave us prone to infections in those parts and could explain why cancers and other illnesses gain a hold there. All because in essence we're producing too many chylomicrons or other items that block up the lymph system. 

I say 'other' items because I read about the chylomicrons and their link to the lymph system but plenty of other susbtances could be transported through it and have a similar impact. All a virus or bacteria needs is a way to hide itself, transport and feed itself. it's not just chylomicrons with their rich fat reserves that would provide this.

So I feel the increasing understanding of the lymph system could yield some interesting and important discoveries in time to come. 

It would also explain why the body hasn't simply repaired the damage that the fatty plaques are attached to.

Learn more about preventing obesityinsulin resistanceheart disease and Diabetesdementia and alzheimers and even Cancer through exercise

Friday, 24 April 2009

Learn by training your brain to use all the information it can get

There is more information for us all to learn than ever before to get the best out of life. This leads me to the question of how to deal with it all. Breaking it down it's a challenge of how to get information in in the first place and how to be efficient with the that information.

First off the way we're built. Are we making best of this when designing teaching materials and going about learning. This is a question about making media that's tuned to both our abilities and needs and to maximise the information that's passed with every minute that we spend learning. 

What I mean by this is that media gets into our brains via our five senses. 
  1. Visual, 
  2. Auditory, 
  3. Touch, 
  4. Smell, 
  5. taste
Most media is designed around visual and auditory senses. That's fair because we don't normally smell or taste books, computers or whatever we want to learn. Sometimes we do but normally the first 3 senses are used the most. 

When it comes to getting a lot of information in quickly the questions I ask are how much data flow can our brains actually handle?
I don't have the answer but as  human I've found that I can train my brain to be able to handle more information and without training it gets lazy and can't handle as much.  Much like training our bodies physically I find I can train it mentally. The best training is just doing things I find difficult. With perseverance and time my brain grows fitter. The limit to this I don't think I've found. 

If you accept this, and also accept that our brains, much like our bodies are pretty darn good at adapting to the challenges you throw at them so it's best just to figure out what challenges you want to be good at, then it frees you to then say there is no known limit but in either case it's a lot greater than we're al used to reaching. 

I consider this just to consider the actual amount of info the brain can handle. If it has the capacity to handle as much as the sense organs can throw at it then the limit may come from how much the sense organ can both collect, encode and transmit to the brain along nerves. 

Again I don't know the latest rese4arch in this area but what I do find in practice is that our nervous system and sense organs are also exceptionally advanced in their ability to turn a huge amount of information into the small amounts it really needs. It can crunch a huge amount of info and either squeeze it into small bits it can easily transfer or it is capable of buffer the info and storing it for analysis later in the unconscious and during sleep. 

This isn't just hypothetical, there's mounting evidence of this ability and many more. Again the point being that we, as humans, are exceptionaly well developed at adjusting to any challenge presented so this leads to the idea that teaching materials and processes should be designed specifically to build up the learners ability to use as much information as possible. 

In practicality I see this as good instructional design. I like reading but it's very hard to get a lot of information across using just your eyes. I like the idea that a picture paints a thousand words and like to use a lot of visual aids. Taking it further though I believe the best solution will use, particularly, visual, auditory and touch (kinaeshetic) information. 

That's very much why I like the web as a teaching tool because it's so easy to find good materials that reach all these sense well. It's also why I'm a very practical teacher and learner. I don't like to just tell people what to do. I prefer to let them explore the very thing they're learning. I'll watch and follow what they are doing any way can to offer advice and feedback but I prefer to support rather than specifically instruct. 

With real beginners you've got to instruct at first but quickly I move to supporting their learning in the field. Initally with lots of safety precuations and limits in place. As they get better I just remove the limits and teach them how to perform with out the saffety limits. Basically teach them how, when and why to apply the breaks themselves. 

I find this is the fastest way of teaching and learning because it uses the senses we have to the fullest. It also gets learners used to dealing with this mutltitude of information quickly and all at once in a safe setting. This kind of stimulus encourages the brain to adapt and build itself up so it can handle these requirements. Thus we're training the brain as efficiently as we can and being very clear throughout the challenges it needs to adapt to. 

As a side note, as I've jst broached this point, I've noticed more than once that our skill level and ability to learn seems to be markedly related to our brains ability to handle the information it's recieving and the speed it's coming in. Much like fit people can pick up sports faster than those less fit. I find those with fit brains, that have well developed capacity to handle this information, are good at the mental challenges whether they are sport related or otherwise. 

So to sum things up I feel that succeeding in this life with the need to handle more and more information is best dealt with by training our brains. The best way to train our brains is to over load them much life you would training your body for sport. Overloading them requires flooding them with information, a key part of this is flooding the senses which then flood the brain with information. Thus the brain adapts by learning what information to pay attention to and what to ignore. It also improves the systems involves making them faster, and more efficient and better ablke to deal with all the information they need to deal with. Essentially providing a training effect for the brain. 

so when we design media for learners to use it really helps if we think about how to get a lot of information into the content we provide and how we make this appropriate to the task and learner.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

TED Talks Dr. Dean Ornish: Your genes are not your fate

This talk is a god send for me because it links genetics, what we're born with, to lifestyle, what we do with what we've got, and makes some positive points. I like to push the idea of having fun while being healthy. The idea that we all enjoying doing healthy things we just don't all know what healthy things we enjoy yet.

Well this talk goes into what can happen if we do find out what makes us healthy and leaves you with the feeling that you have control over these life problems and a little belief that you can do something about it. 

TED Talks Bonnie Bassler: Discovering bacteria's amazing communication system

This post is just to record the fantastic insights presented by Bonnie Bassler. She explains that bacteria do actually communicate within themselves and they are regularly use this to help and hinder us as we go about our lives.

Bacteria can cause disease by launching a coordinated attack on our bodily systems. They do this by waiting until there are enough of them and then launching the attack due to a chemical command. 

We have our own set of bacteria that help us fight and they use the same kind of message to coordinate their defence. 

This talk will give you a different view on how our bodies work and how to get the best out of them.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Ted Talks: JoAnn Kuchera-Morin: Tour the AlloSphere, a stunning new way to see scientific data

I say it a lot but, 'Oh my god'. I've just literally seen through a living brain and seen art and computer visualiations combine for the purpose of understanding our world better.

This talk by Jo Ann Kuchera bringing to together art, science and engineering is just mind blowing.

Music on the web: Is there a win win situation?

I just heard about the online music station spotify. Sounds like a great solution free access to music that's tailored to your tastes. I used Pandora until it became restricted in the UK and loved it.
some one mentioned this is a beter way of listening than owning hundreds of 99p records. 

While internet availability is restricted to certain areas I think we need offline portable stores of music. As this changes I think that view is correct. We'll start wondering why we can't just listen to the music we want and let the payment get dealt with elsewhere. 

Then it occurred to me, someone's probably already figured this out but I thought what the heck why not put it down anyway. There are already models in place to allocate revenue to artist according to airplay. Delivering music tailored to each individual actually seems relatively easy. Delivered electronically it's easy to track what each individual listens to. Figuring out the costs etc should be simple as long as basic formulas were provided and agreed by the labels responsible for the music. 

It occurred to me  that the labels could provide a licence or similar to relevant online music providers. This licence allows the providers access to the labels tracks. In turn the provider records what each individual listens to. The labels and providers figure out charges and payment, it's all electronic and so should be relatively easy to figure out. Either using a similar model to the airplay licences already in place or taking advantage of the latest technology and calculating costs to the minute detail. 

The individual user could then either pay through a regular or one off fee or something or listen free with the cost covered by adverts.

This follows the trend we're seeing in most areas of online life and provides a way both for labels and artists to get paid and for providers to get access to a lot of quality music. 

The way I'd implement this is through basic API's and shared standards. But then I'm a programmer so that's how I talk. From a business point of view I'd want a simple billing and provisioning service that makes it easy for providers to sign up. Making it easy for a market to appear and multiple providers to enter.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Ted Talks Gregory Stock: How biotech will drive our evolution

Just plain amazing. Putting so many of the current developments together and putting it into the here and now and the future.

In this prophetic 2003 talk -- just days before Dolly the sheep was stuffed -- biotech ethicist Gregory Stock looked forward to new, more meaningful (and controversial) technologies, like customizable babies, whose adoption might drive human evolution.

Want things to scale? Get the basics right.

The point here is that doing things on a big scale often requires doing things well on a small one.

Example: I built a software framework in a previous role. As it matured finished I could create brand new solutions six times faster than before with the same quality and care. In fact they were better in all areas.

Reason: Lots of the trivial day to day things had been taken care of.
Result: I had more time to focus on the wider picture of how it all came together leading to a better coordinated product.

Detailed example: Handling data.
I made it easy to handle different common data formats in the same way. So I could use database, xml, and csv info in exactly the same way. I could read an excel document into the database and then share this with another application via xml with ease. As this process matured I also dealt with the many performance, security and compatibility issues common to this approach.

Main benefit:
The main benefit was that all this work was available to subsequent applications built with this framework. I also found it relatively simple to transfer this work to other frameworks and even languages.

Lesson learned:
The point being I just made the simple mundane common tasks easy to do. That left me to focus on all the complex less common tasks and ensure they're done as well.

Google Latitude Stunt

LOL. this is a great stunt. Basically an add for google so sorry if that frustrates you but I love ingenious ads. Just wanted to share it with others cos this made me laugh.

It also excites me about what is to come with gadgets and the web

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Google vs Apple: is history repeating itself

I just found out that the mac came before windows. I've heard it before but I got confused and couldn't remember which came first. Any way this related article implies that history is repeating itself. Apple was a closed system, microsoft copied many of its ideas and made it open. Google could be said to be doing the same with its gphone and android.
So will we have the same problems? Possibly. right now the future's positive because there are many tools available today that weren't available 30 years ago in software development. I'm talking particularly in the area of testing. Also much experience is in place and I feel much of it is being headed. Mainly because the concept of software and hardware is now relatively old and there are many examples of good and bad practice to learn from that weren't in place years ago. 
So I feel that while Google is like microsoft in its openness it's not like them in its approach to quality.  Sure their apps don't look as swanky as apples but their ability to identify, respond and fix flaws in their software appears good. Whether they can maintain this as they are their product base grow is yet to be seen. It's generally when companies grow that quality becomes diminished.  But so far I feel they've succeeded. 
Also since for most of their apps there's no cost of use, for example android is free, it implies that it is not to be compared with those you pay for. i.e. it could still be in beta. for some that's a terrible idea, for me it's fine. I'd rather be consistently told, or have it implied, that they application or operating system still has a few bugs, then I can take precautions, than be told everything is perfect and discover them myself. 
I'm a developer myself. I provide solutions to others. Anyone who does that learns that perfection is a dream. So most things have bugs. The trick is fixing the critical first leaving the trivial to when you have time. Getting good at this is key. 
Aple like to have everything close so there's less to manage. I don't blame them but I also get frustrated because that is a slow way of doing things. it implies you're not great at fixing things. You're only good at dealing with one thing at a time. So Apple do well but only within the limits they set themselves. They don't really strive to push those limits much wider than they're used to dealing with. 
That probably sounds harsh because their innovations, particularly the iPhone, have set the bar for others to follow. What I'm saying is that's why I could never see myself owning an iphone for very long. Mainly because their approach is about restriction. about controlling every part of it. I'm not comfortable with that because if I know a better way of doing things or trust someone elses application to do a better job then I want to use it. I don't want some one else telling me what I can and can't use. Sure there are security and virus risks but many people run windows very securely and it never fails. That's because they bother to learn how it works. The same goes for android, I hope. 
So I like what Google do because they're like a rebellious teenager that's breaking free from parental control. They're saying sure there's a reason for being conservative and cautious but if you go about things in a balanced way then you can do things quickly and do things well. You can have your cake and eat it. 
We'll just see in time whether they can pull it off. 
20090417 08:29
Just felt like adding a couple of things. 
Looking further into Android at thier product ideas site has reminded me of the fresh approach Google take to working with customers. They invite them in. If they had a store it feels like they have lots of well trained people all over the store ready to help that actually want to help you when you approach them. Yet they don't force themselves on you. They just where t shirts that say something like 'need help, just ask'.
Already I can see regularly updated content from google that's created directly from real user feedback. I get to experience the amazon and ebay approach of being able to see what other people think and get the wisdom of crowds. More than that though I can even suggest new ideas and other people can rate them.
I like this because it feels like an approach where I have more say. It's more like I'm considered right throughout the process of delivery. Google aren't the first company to do this but they're one of the largest and there aren't many, if any, that can do it at this scale. 
I also like googles approach to standards. I feel they embrace standards and are good at working to establish standards across markets. This helps the whole of the market. We all remember the browser wars. Well when I looked into searching engine marketing and since when I looked into google chrome I found that standards were at the heart. 
Again when I look at Android I find that they've picked, arguably, the best components from each area
  • Operating System: Linux
  • Programming language: Java
and thus built on standards. To be fair they've also adjusted them so they are no longer linux or java but then that matches how I work. Pick good free, open tools and make them better. When I listened to the google talks on android


I left with the impression that they've taken the best free and open components they could find and improved them. Listening to the improvements they've made they seem to be things that have been needed for a long time. Aggressive memory and power management. For example why can't you leave your laptop on all day? With their aggressive approach to preserving battery life you will be able to and it will come back to life in an instant.
yep I know android starts off on phones but there will be a version that works on laptops. I feel this means android will be the first truly device independent operating system. The advantage being that you won't have to care what device you use any more. You can just choose what fits your needs to get the job done. Your devices will fit round you, not the other way around. 
That's what I feel Google and others like them, not sure it's the web 2.0 movement cos it's been around before that, they fit their solutions to me not the other way around. Sure they can only adjust so far. That's life but they're actively trying to work with me. They don't expect me to bend over backwards to work with them. I'm sorry buit that's how I feel about both Microsoft and Apple. There's much less choice in both and they've never asked me my opinion, let alone used it to improve their products. Now there's an idea.
Edit 25 th August 2010
So I find I'm not the only person with this view. In the article Apple: Short Term Winner, Long Term Loser Fabrice Grinda goes into a lot more detail. At then end he makes the same basic point. Apple have a similar strategy now to that which they had back in the 80's. He predicts it's likely to see them get the same results too. 

‘Radical Openness’ on the Google Phone — at Least for Now

I'm considering getting a gphone. I just read an illuminating article about Googles approach to entering the phone market. I like it because it first in with some of the articles I've put on my blog.

Why should google attack apple. Why can't they both try and create a big market that they can both live in. It's all about creating a large internet and media market that customers can take with them rather than be tied down. Both are experts in these fields. 

That works for now and this article explains some basics how that approach is Google idea. It's why I like what they do at the moment. Sure they're just trying to get people using the webin any way they can. That's what makes them money. But they're not trying to lock any one in, for now anyway, so it creates a wider market for other competitors to join and more choice for us the consumers and developers. 

A shopping experience built around me. Wouldn't that be fun!!

Wouldn't it be cool if you could talk more directly to the people who provide your food. Like web 2.0. If it was easy to request certain types of food 2 be available at certain stores. Done properly you could get more of what you want at one store and the store gets less waste. E.g. I just had a banana cake made with banana puree. Real fruit not fruit flavoured. I look for things like this normal fun stuff that's real too. I don't mind paying extra for it as long as it's not too much.

Yet I don't think many stores are interested in listening. This is like market research driven by the customer not the business. I don't think it's difficult to do either just extra options when you view items on their sites. Want more of this? Make a suggestion etc.

Just involve me more in my store help me get what I want and live the life I want. Also make it easier to use phones and laptops in store. So I can check web and store
favourites etc. Also make it easier to plan shopping before and use these plans in

DNA our blueprint: Is there a natural way to protect it and improve our quality of life?

What i'm reading now, implies that a key factor in aging is in fact disease particularly viruses. The main reason, I feel, is because viruses have the ability to change our DNA.

It's logical to assume that when we're young we're well equipped to fix ourselves because our DNA is accurate. Viruses by definition change our DNA and the longer we've been around the more chance they've had to stop our DNA working properly.

I could argue that the main causes of death outside accidents are all related to organ failure of some kind or the failure to maintain the body effectively. From what I've read it seems entirely plausible that all this could simply be explained thus. The body cannot fix itself properly because its blue print, DNA, has been corrupted by too many viruses.

This implies that our resistance to disease, particularly viruses, is key. I always try to fine a natural answer and this time it's with the thymus gland. I recently renewed my knowledge on it. I always knew that it's the largest organ in the body when we're born, but shrinks to the size of a pea when we're much older. It's one of the main organs of our immune response. T cells come from the thymus. B cells from
bone marrow. the thymus is proportionately large when we're young because we have no natural defence. The thymus builds it. I haven't yet found out whether the thymus shrinks through lack of use or through pre programmed need or some other reason.

I can't help wondering whether many diseases of older age could ultimately be related to ineffective, or insufficient, protection from killer T cells. If so do the lifestyles we lead, particularly as children. Make the best use of this natural defence?

The immune system in more detail by

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Can we predict calorie consumption so accurately? and could this partly explain yo yo dieting?

I've got two questions in my mind that I've wondered about for years.  Do we really burn calories as predictably as scientist say we do? and if not, could this explain why you you dieting actually encourages us to put on weight in the long term even though we may be eating less than before?

How could they be linked? Well yo you dieting often leadds to losing muscle mass. This is a key part of metabolism thus it's possible to eat the less than you did before and still put on weight. But is that the only explanation? if our bodies have the capacity to become more efficient and utilising energy then people could be assuming they're in calorie deficit when they aren't. There could alsobe other things to consider if calorie consumption is not as predictable as we're told. 

So why do I question what we're told as fact?
Mainly because I don't remember any one actually putting a full solid argument in front of me. I feel it's rather assumed and everyone is focusing they're attention on what they think is the real place where improvements will come. 

I could go into a real technical debate examining the krebs cycle and looking at actin myosin coupling to see where energy wastage could be adjusted.  I don't want to here, mainly because I covered these topics a long time ago at uni and need to re investigate for that kind of debate. I just have this lingering feeling that it's not quite complete. 

The wider reasons I feel it's possible is because it's recognised that humans are extremely wasteful of energy. You can tell this just by realising that wqith every muscle movement we generate heat. This means energy for movement is going into heat not just into movement. Thus we're wasteful. I forget the percentages but I believe it was in the region of 40% emitted as heat. That's highly wasteful. 

The same goes for digesting food. We expend energy to digest food. Some of it escapes as heat. Again that's wasteful. This is happening all the time. Yet evolution isn't generally that stupid. there are plenty of examples of animals that are wasteful during period of feast and efficient in periods of famine. This has been shown with vitamins and minerals in rats and other animals so why wouldn't it be true for energy. Take this further, this is the greatest feast man kind has ever known. There's more food available to us than ever. Particularly high fat stuff which we know has the most calories. So isn't it possible that our bodies just don't need to be efficient at the moment?

Is it possible that our muscles have ways of working which generate less heat and thus save energy. Is it possible that certain bodily functions are curtailed when there isn't so much fuel around. 

Just thought I'd pose the question. If there is sufficient reasearch to prove that energy consupmtion is predictable. That every inch of muscle always requires exactly the same energy for the same work then fine. That all mitochondria are exactly equal in energy intake and output. I'd like to see it though and see what debate there's been. 

I'd also like to know how to measure changes in calorie consumption as changes in technique occur as people learn, get injured, or change their muscle mass or improve fitness. This all has an impact in how efficient we are and thus how many calories we need. 

As for Yo Yo dieting. I'm really asking whether it's possible that our bodies could actually become a lot more efficient than we're told they are. If they can then the processes involved need to be understood by any one trying to lose weight because if you teach your body to be much more efficient then you're going to have to do a lot of exercise and eat next to nothing in order to lose weight.