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Linked consequences…

Really interesting article on Reuters explains that the rise of Amazon and other eCommerce startups has led to a commercial property boom as everyone needs more space for workers and storage – despite being a really small percentage of Indian retail at the moment.

It also has a stunningly bad, possibly machine generated, picture caption…

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Could RSS be poised for a ‘comeback’?

Really Simple Syndication (RSS) has succeeded as a ‘behind the scenes’ way for information to pass between websites, applications and databases. But it largely failed as a front-facing consumer technology for anyone who wasn’t a technology/information nerd and didn’t manage to find a decent alternative after Google Reader was closed.

But I think it could be due for a comeback on the consumer side. Think about the amount of people who have become familiar with the Facebook newsfeed, the stream of Twitter updates, and similar functionality on many other sites (LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest etc, etc). We’re all sat in a stream or river of information (a la Dave Winer’s River of News)

Stream of Information

The information stream is overflowing with content

More content is being created and published today than anyone can hope to consume. So generally we filter by following people we know (Family, Friends, Colleagues), or people/services that cater to our interests.

But to keep us calm and happy using their service, increasingly social networks want to filter the information by their own metrics. The idea is that we see what is most important to us, and the social network can then explain to advertisers how to best reach us. That means that we don’t see everything, even from the people we’ve purposefully chosen to follow (Facebook’s Edge Rank, refusal to let anyone set ‘Most Recent’ as the default for their newsfeed and lowering of organic reach for business pages are perfect examples).

To some extent it’s well-meaning. Trying to consume every piece of information published in even a small network takes a large amount of time and cognitive resource.

But it’s well-meaning in the same way as it would be to have your parents choose all your entertainment for you.

No context-engine is doing a good enough job. And at the same time, a lot of the things you’ve chosen to hear about are falling by the wayside.

Maybe RSS was just too early for consumer adoption in the past – and now that larger numbers of us are accustomed to newsfeeds, streams and being able to set up a feed of RSS streams. And can now see a greater benefit to seeing everything published by the people or organisations we want, rather than what an algorithm at a very early stage of evolution wants us to see?

What it needs is a simple sell.

I envision an RSS service which allows me to quickly log in, most likely with Facebook etc, and gives me a central news feed made up of sources which I can then select/deselect within the website. No running around the web to add sources as the default, and make it somewhat pretty, in the style of a social network.

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Worn out on wearables already?

The idea of wearables is great, but the reality is somewhat different. If you’re not already interested in becoming healthy and more active, do you really care about how many steps or miles you’ve taken today?

According to a U.S survey of 3,400 consumers, 85% aren’t ‘in the market for a fitness band’, as reported by Fortune.

Wearable Technology

And then there is Google Glass. Today the BBC led the news that the current version of Glass will be ditched for the time being, along with the Explorer programme for software developers.

All of that comes after famous VC Fred Wilson predicted for 2015:

Another market where the reality will not live up to the hype is wearables. The Apple Watch will not be the homerun product that iPod, iPhone, and iPad have been. Not everyone will want to wear a computer on their wrist. Eventually, this market will be realized as the personal mesh/personal cloud, but the focus on wearables will be a bit of a headfake and take up a lot of time, energy, and money in 2015 with not a lot of results.

 

The problem isn’t that the technology is still fairly early. Or the fact it makes you potentially look like a wally and can get you attacked, or at least banned from some pubs and cafes.

The problem is the need.

Most of the use cases for wearables are currently niche areas, which can be fulfilled at a lower cost by mobile phones or a pencil and paper.

And taking a photo, or accessing an augmented reality application (Assuming there’s one that provides enough use to be worthwhile) is also socially acceptable on your phone. Who looks twice at someone with their face glued to their phone?

If you’re an athlete, or have a medical condition, then wearables make sense. In some cases, they could be a lifesaver. But for the rest of us, it’s still easier to just walk for 15 minutes, and cut down on cakes rather than spend £100 on a device to tell us.

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Thom Yorke + Bittorrent = $26 million?

Turns out 4.4 million Bittorrent downloads between the end of September 2014 and the end of the year can be pretty profitable – with a 90-10% split of revenue in favour of the artist.

Only flaw is that there’s no breakdown between free and paid downloads, so $26 million is the potential maximum, and the potential minimum could be $0. Matthew Ingram quotes a 50% payment rate for a figure of $20 million, which seems potentially a little high, although hardcore fans tend to convert better than random strangers. Still, shows experimentation can be profitable if you have a big enough following. (Source: GigaOm)

 

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Privacy protection in your denim jeans?

It was almost inevitable, but it’s still interesting to follow the launch of the first pair of denim jeans I’ve seen with RFID protection built-in.

Currently available for crowdfunding by Betabrand and Norton (the security/anti-virus company), they have pockets at the front and back made from a special ‘RFID-blocking fabric’.

The idea of blocking potential identity theft around RFID/NFC chips isn’t particularly new, and there have been plenty of DIY examples of wallets etc with that protection in mind. And various commercial versions. But it’s interesting to see a reasonably mainstream clothing business start to champion the idea of a Faraday pouch next to your posing pouch.

Having worn Kevlar-lined jeans for years for riding motorcycles, the idea of adding protective functionality isn’t so strange, and the designs look OK, so it’ll just depend on how comfortable and effective the fabric is for both wearability and security. Plus they’re slim fit, so presumably designed for the younger hipster than the middle-aged. But that doesn’t stop me considering a pair, particularly as every bank and credit card operator I use is encouraging cardless payment as much as possible. I just hope they go for boot cut and darker denim to meet future demand!

The most-likely legally required disclaimer on the product page does make me chuckle: ‘No RFID-blocking fabric can block all frequencies with 100% certainty, and even the most effective RFID-blocking materials can fail because of wear and tear and/or user error.’

Try not to fit both legs in the same hole or rub your bottom against too many abrasive surfaces, I guess.

(H/T Souce BlogsRelease)

 

 

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My 5 all-time favourite graphic novels (this week)

I happened to catch a list of ‘5 must-read graphic novels‘ on the Guardian website. As I’ve got older, I’ve finally been able to accept that all lists are essentially subjective, and to not get upset when one of my favourites gets omitted. But this list is more subject to change than most as there are still a huge amount of comics I haven’t got to reading yet…

David Barnett at the Guardian went with:

  • The Wicked + The Divine (Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie)
  • Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi)
  • Sandman (Neil Gaiman)
  • Watchmen (Alan Moore)
  • Captain Marvel (Kelly Sue De Connick)
  • Plus mentions of The Invisibles, and The Dark Knight Returns.

So in terms of the graphic novels which changed my life:

 

V for Vendetta: Amazon

Many years ago my uncle kindly gave me his comic collection, including a number of the British title Warrior. Like 2000AD it contained a number of different storylines, and V for Vendetta was an obvious standout due to the tone and subject. Since then it’s obviously been the subject of a film and an accompanying re-release. The addition of colour in the new editions doesn’t necessarily improve things – the stark beauty of what David Lloyd originally drew possibly worked better in black and white. But before Watchmen, From Hell, or Batman: The Killing Joke, this was my first encounter with the work of Alan Moore, and one of the first times I’d read something which tackled an adult theme.

 

The Death of Captain Marvel: Amazon

This was in the same comic collection donated to me. I’d never really been familiar with Captain Marvel, but that didn’t change the impact of a wonderfully written story and one which broke with the comic tradition of having a big battle and a happy ending.

It’s handled with a reasonably light touch, and the fact that assembled Marvel superheroes are in attendance to only feel the helplessness anyone encounters with the illness of a friend or loved one probably helped me cope with the same emotions when I went through similar circumstances in real life. And it also goes back to a time when I thought death in a comic book was more meaningful, before a wave of reincarnations established it more as a marketing gimmick.

 

Wolverine: Amazon

This graphic novel collects issues #1-4 of the Wolverine series which launched in 1982. What’s interesting to me is how one-dimensional Wolverine had been up to this point – this series really defined him in terms of a ‘failed samurai’ who aims to live as an honourable warrior within a code he’d set himself, but finds himself regularly failing due to circumstances.

It just about edges out The Longbow Hunter in my list, which similarly re-invented Green Arrow and Oliver Queen into my favourite superhero due to the more self-contained nature of the storyline, and the impact it had on me with my ongoing interest in Japanese and samurai culture.

 

Transmetropolitan:  Amazon

I actually got around to reading Transmetropolitan fairly recently, and I wish I’d discovered it earlier. The black humour and love/hate that journalist Spider Jerusalem has for the dystopian future city which fuels his muse is a fine inspiration for any writer. It’s easy to summarise it as ‘Hunter S Thompson meets William Gibson cyberpunk’ or something similar, but that means you’ve missed the fact that Spider doesn’t just blindly hate people and his surroundings – he’s caught between needing them and wanting to do what’s right to help them, and the fact humanity often disappoints him on an individual and group level.

 

Phonogram: Amazon

The most personally subjective choice in the list, but I make no apologies for picking the Kieron Gillen and Jame Mckelvie title which could have been written personally for me. It’s a modern fantasy in which music powers magic, and the music in this particular case is 90’s era Britpop, which fueled my teenage years. If you were caught up in a passion for the likes of Blur, Oasis, The Manics, Kenickie etc, then you’ll feel instantly at home, particularly with the digs at the likes of Shed Seven.

The fact that the magic element also gives it a compelling storyline makes it work as a narrative as well as a reminiscence of the last time I can remember one pop culture dominating my life, and the nation to the point of making national news. Given the way the internet encourages deep interest in niches, it’s probably the last time it’ll happen in the UK for a long while, as there really isn’t a mainstream anymore, and the main media channels are no longer the arbiters of interest they once were.

 

So that’s the list. Others which almost made it include Preacher, Watchmen, a handful of Batman graphic novels (The Dark Knight, The Killed Joke etc), Persepolis, Sandman, and most of the other titles which have widespread awareness and acclaim.

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10 Albums which changed my life…

I was recently tagged in one of those ‘List 10 seminal albums which changed your life’ memes on Facebook. Instead of just replying on a social network which may or may not exist in the future, and just giving them more content to memorise, I figured I’d go into a little more detail here.

These aren’t all my favourite albums. Or those that contain my favourite singles of all time. Or what Last.fm tells me I’ve listened to the most since 2007. But they’re what I believe had the biggest impact on me, blurred by the mists of time.

 

Otis Redding: ‘Otis Blue’ (Spotify) (Amazon)

My dad was a bit of a DJ and soul fan in his youth, so I associate classic soul with vinyl being carefully placed on his Sony record player. It was an early link between us, particularly as we both favoured the rawer sounds of Stax Atlantic over the superficial gloss of most Motown. And it’s a link that has lasted almost 40 years. I could have chosen Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett, Eddie Floyd, Sam Cooke etc, but Otis Blue is probably the album that stands out most for me, because it’s Otis Redding, it’s got a range of styles and covers as well as original songs, and it’s got ‘Change Gonna Come’ and ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long’ rather than ‘Sitting on the Dock of the Bay.

 

Suzanne Vega ‘Suzanne Vega’ (Spotify) (Amazon)

As a child, I was fascinated by ‘Marlene on the Wall’ without having a clue what the lyrics meant. As I got older, ‘The Queen and The Soldier’ remains one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs above the tragedy of love that I’ve heard. And it also opened my eyes and ears to the beauty of one person and a guitar, as well as sparking a love affair which is rekindled every time I hear a female singer/songwriter. In an alternate reality, a 20-something me is a struggling novelist in a New York loft with a beautiful songwriter girlfriend…

 

Metallica ‘Kill ‘Em All’ (Spotify) (Amazon)

I was 9 or 10 when Top of the Pops played the video of ‘One’ by Metallica. Four guys in a circle in a warehouse playing music with the weight of concrete, combined with a subject and lyrics which probably led to my interest in history and war poets. After a weekend of headbanging around the living room, I went out and ended up with their first album instead, which was fortunate in terms of chronology, and also contained some of the loudest, most enthusiastic thrash metal ever. Thus began my years of leather jackets, blank jeans, long hair and playing guitar.

 

Pantera ‘Cowboys From Hell’ (Spotify) (Amazon)

I bought this album on the first day a school friend took me into the local town centre to meet a group of metal fans who hung around together. It marked the first time I’d gone and joined a load of people by choice, my first real encounter with underage drinking, and my first real kiss with a teenage girlfriend, who left her mark by sitting on my then brand-new CD and cracking the case. The romance lasted a couple of weeks, my drinking became legal and virtually non-existent, but the album is still great. And now gets requested by my young son for Cowboys From Hell…

 

The Lemonheads ‘It’s a Shame About Ray’ (Spotify) (Amazon)

Just a brilliant album with no filler in 33 minutes which was learned by heart, sung in it’s entirety with my best friend at school as we’d walk home, and inspired various attempts at school bands which were great fun even if it didn’t lead to stardom. Led to going to gigs, discovering the earlier, punkier records, and eventually getting to interview founding and departed member Ben Deily, whose current band ‘Varsity Drag’ is also highly recommended.

 

Singles (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (Spotify) (Amazon)

Not just an album with Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, Mother Love Bone, Screaming Trees, The Smashing Pumpkins, Mudhoney and Hendrix, but also some of their best songs (State of Love and Trust, Nearly Lost You and Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns). I’d heard most of them before on their own records (Ten, Nevermind, Siamese Dreams all could have made this list), but this album led to discovering The Replacements via Paul Westerberg, living near to Seattle for a year, and visiting the cinema which first opened the film. And swapping leather jackets for plaid shirts occasionally. Without this album, I might not have lived in America, met my now ex-girlfriend, and become a father to a wonderful son who loves some of the songs on the soundtrack.

 

The Charlatans ‘Up To Our Hips’ (Spotify) (Amazon)

The constant companion to my cousin on a family trip to Centre Parcs, only alternated with Credit to the Nation on the stereo. I’d fight for it against all the later albums, or anything by The Stone Roses or Oasis. It’s the organ playing by the late Rob Collins that does it. And the memory of causing all kinds of carnage on that holiday.

 

Kenickie ‘At The Club’ (Spotify) (Amazon)

Another compact slice of heaven, in this case pop-punk. At the age of 19/20 in the South East, the combination of the music, the Northern accents and the accompanying first year of student life up North were a potent combination. Ash were also my age, but could never really be described as glamorous – Kenickie could.

 

Max Richter ‘Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi, The Four Seasons’ (Spotify) (Amazon)

In 2012 I wasn’t just trying to run a business on my own. For various reasons, it was also the year that I separated from my partner of more than 12 years, which meant leaving my young son in the family home to set up alone. So although my ex and I remained on good terms, I was left with a massive void throughout every waking hour.

I have no idea how I originally came to hear this album, or why as a non-classical music buff it’s become a regular companion to my day, but the mix of familiarity with one of the most famous pieces of classical music, along with the new twists and turns as it’s been re-assembled and composed definitely helped me to get through the last couple of years sat at a small desk in the corner of a largely empty room.

 

The Tallest Man on Earth ‘Shallow Grave’ (Spotify) (Amazon)

Proof that Suzanne Vega left a love of folk, along with the Irish influence of my family (e.g. Christy Moore), and the Swedish influence of my ex (Although actually her tastes were more mainstream pop, and I’ve been discovering Swedish and Scandinavian folk, punk etc due to the love she left me with for Swedish culture).

I still love unusual voices which carry emotion, rather than polished, professional and dull performances. And the whole album is pretty good, although The Gardener is the clear standout track. But really it’s a symbolic choice to cover all the new music I’ve heard over the last couple of years, and all the new music I intend to discover in the future, as I’m confident there will be a lot more defining moments and albums around. That’s what I intend anyway…..

 

Well, that’s how to turn a 5 minute Facebook meme into a 1200 word biography. So many songs and bands ended up being left out because although they made great music, they just didn’t happen to coincide with something happening or changing. I could have probably added in Guns n Roses ‘Appetite for Destruction’ or Skid Row’s ‘Skid Row’ as they accompanied my arrival at grammar school, my first guitar lessons and becoming a more rebellious teen. Or the likes of Therapy?, The Manic Street Preachers, Oasis, Blur etc for accompanying my teenage nights out and infatuations. But I did avoid the temptation to retro-fit perceived ‘classics’ in there.

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This is cool – Robotic Jumper Making Loom

As with previous 3D printing technology I’ve mentioned, what makes this interesting is the price. OpenKnit is an open-source automated loom which can apparently be built for around £430, and makes you a new jumper in an hour.

There’s more details on Wired, and it still requires some human intervention, but we’re rapidly reaching the point where home fabrication could actually make sense in terms of costs as well as the fun of building something yourself and creating cool things – £430 plus raw materials is a fair amount, but considering the cost of clothing you’d soon recoup that type of investment if you’ve got a family to clothe.

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Technology, regulations and innovations

Google has just released a video revealing their work on a drone delivery system, named Project Wing, which has been undergoing testing in Australia.

What struck me was that obviously Australia makes sense in terms of a testbed for large distances and potentially isolated customers, but also perhaps somewhere which isn’t tightening up regulations on drone flights as quickly as in the U.S and UK.

After all, in the U.S, the FAA has already banned the use of drones to deliver packages.

Meanwhile it’s likely Amazon will start actually delivering products via drones in India in the near future, according to reports.

Obviously there are safety implications in drone flights, along with other potential problems and hazards to overcome. But it seems that the response in the UK and U.S is rapidly becoming one in which governments and law enforcement agencies are undoubtedly increasing their drone usage all the time, but private companies and individuals are going to find themselves more and more restricted in what they can do.

That’s not only got implications for the innovation possible by those private concerns, but also how that feeds into advancements which governments might want to utilise. If India leads the way in drone deliveries, it’s going to lead the way in drone technology too.

In the meantime, I’ll be left waiting for a service which can deliver grilled steak tacos to my house every day for lunch.

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Absolutely essential viewing: The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz

I finally got around to watching the documentary, “The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz’. It’s simply essential for anyone who cares about technology, the internet, access to information and the society of the future to watch. And it’s available to view for free on Youtube and other sites (embed below).

All the more tragic and inspiring to think of what he might have continued to achieve. And how the things he fought for are still so important to fight for now and in the future.