The LBC topic this week is online shopping, and this isn't about online shopping, but metamathematical analysis and predications to the London riots and looting which took place in 2011.

Hannah Fry from UCL has a nice video for the analysis. It seems that, yes the riots could be predicted, how the riot would spread, but not the spark to set things off.
It turns out that the distribution of rioters travelling to the riots match the distribution of shoppers travelling (or rather retail spending flows).

And as for the five finger discount, or "shopping with violence", matches shopping analysis and also the predator-prey model.

Looking at mobile phone analysis (memo, turn your phone in the airplane mode, or off before rioting), the spread of the "idea to riot" follows the contagion model, and the spark zones matches the recent budget cuts.

Which means I need to look at the new austerity measures a lot more closely…

11 Dec 2012

Stars in the sky

Author: will | Filed under: Links, music, podcast, science

Patrick Moore wasn’t just a man, but an institution. For a few generations in the UK an Ireland, if you was “astronomer” its his face and voice that come to mind.

Odd, eccentric, passionate about science and extremely fun to listen to. He quite simply made science interesting. Being an amateur might have helped. All his doctorates were honorary, but deserved.

Sir Patrick Alfred Caldwell-Moore, CBE, FRS, FRAS died on the December 9 2012.

Thanks to the RTÉ documentary on One podcast, I heard the music he wrote for the first time. And its a great insight in to the man. RTÉ have a habit of removing their podcasts after two weeks, so results will vary.

Embedded Link

DocArchive: Stargazers
Patrick Moore boasted to friends that he was the only man to interview Orville Wright, Neil Armstrong and Yuri Gagarin but to his fans he was much more than a broadcaster. (Broadcast 2001)

Its just a sim (for now) but NASA have released a downloadable XBox 360 Kinect game where you can control the Curiosity Rover on the surface of Mars by waving your hands around.

OK its a bit more than that, and the reason its a sim is due to the time delay in signals between the Earth and Mars, but… I want to make a Kinect controlled Parrot drone or RC car now.

Embedded Link

Kinect: Mars Rover Landing
On August 6th the Curiosity Rover will set down and begin it’s exploration of the the fourth planet from the Sun. Why wait though! Try and control NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity yourself with this official NASA KINECT game that is now available in Kinect Fun Labs?
It’s a free download that should keep you occupied until the real thing happens in a few weeks.

More details on the game and your mission are it over at NASA

The internet is based on unintended and uncertain consequences. And that’s in its design.

Now I’m not talking about how the web escaped from the really useful tool in CERN. I’m not talking about how the parent of the internet, ARPANET is a direct consequence of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.* (Mainly because it isn’t++.)

The internet, or rather the Internet Protocol on which the internet runs is based on three concepts:
1) Packet routing; moving small chunks of information around at a time
2) Protocol hierarchy; a careful and clear organization to the structure of the data that moves across the Internet (mostly through Babushka doll like wrappers)
3) Best effort is good enough, which means living with unintended consequences.

At the time, best effort was the exact opposite of how things were done. The network of computers at the time was based on point-to-point circuit-based communications. That meant a dedicated (if sometimes temporary) “physical” connection 100% of the time while connected. This is very similar to the old telephone system, there had to be an actual phone to phone connection for the length of the call. There may be an uplink and downlink satellite connection (or more) along the way, but it was a dedicated connection, and there were a few colleges that have dedicated pipes between them. This dedicated connection granted one thing; 100% guaranteed transfer of data.

There were no packets, routing information wasn’t needed once the connection was established, and every bit was acknowledged since the dedicated connection meant no congestion.

But it was very, very expensive. You needed to have enough modems (remember them) for every call you expected to need at any one time. TCP/IP meant connections could be shared, as the data was split up and routed through, so you needed fewer modems, or routers.

Other network protocols have packets and embedded routing, but best effort is the scary part, because its designed imperfection.

Best effort means firing off the packets dressed in their routing best, and not keeping an eye on them. It means the receiver of the information does not send an acknowledgement for each packet. This actually makes sense, because data is bursty.

While there is data flowing somewhere on the net, some routers are quieter than others, and sometimes a router gets more packets in than its able to send out. So rather than trying to carefully account for every packet (and risk end up exceeding the capacity of the router) it simply drops them. The packets are deleted. Parts of thoughts and dreams vanish. Designed imperfection.

It just drops them, and doesn’t tell anyone (after all if its getting more packets than it can send out, why send out more packets as its already exceeded its limits).

Just remember that this the the technology you are using right now, so you know it works.

So lets say that the middle of a file gets dropped, how come you get the file in the end? Well that’s not something the Internet Protocol worries about. The fixer is part of the TCP, Transmission Control Protocol. TCP rearranges out of order packets, handles duplicates and requests missing packets if they don’t show up after an allotted time. Its part of the Protocol Hierarchy of the three structures of the net, in this case, it repairs damage caused by using the Internet Protocol. It is also why TCP/IP is rarely separated.

So the Internet Protocol looks like a rickety mess which might have the unintended consequence of loosing half your data, but its what we use. And if you can read this… its working.

This is a Loose Bloggers Consortium post on the theme of “Unforeseen Circumstances”; chosen by Gaelikaa. To find out that the others in the consortium think, check out, in alphabetical order: Akanksha (Anki), Anu, Ashok, Conrad, Delirious, Gaelikaa, GrannymarMagpie 11, Maria Silver Fox, Padmum, Noor, Rohit and the GOM of LBC, Ramana Sir.

Thanks to Steve Gibson for the IP description.

* OK, the First World War didn’t necessarily have its root in the assassination, but the First World War begot the defeat of Germany which lead to the Deutsch-mark devaluing and hyperinflation which begot the circumstances for World War 2, which lead to the USA and Russia becoming superpowers, which begot a lot of German scientists working for them, which begot the Space Race and the Cold War and nuclear proliferation which lead to ARPANET that became the internet. Greatly simplified, but a seeming unintended result during these wars, right? Actually no.

++ The legend that the ARPANET was designed to survive a nuclear war is actually false. After it was up and running it was confirmed that the routing mechanism would allow for such a consequence, but it was really created to save money and allow easier access for academics. The legend persists however because of that unforeseen circumstance during its design.

I’m sort of on an education buzz a the moment (as I try to inhale manuals again, mashup camp has me hitting the books) which following the Science Week posts make sense. So congratulations Kevin Breathnach, Brian from, Pedro Monscooch, Poetbloggs and Johnny Keyes who won.

However things haven’t completely stalled on that front. Sinead Cochrane asked what changes would you make to an existing piece of technology? and yes, I do want to see my suggestion made (flashing gnomes are optional).

Of course, combining things would improve an existing technology, so the after effects of the first European Mashup Camp will effect my thinking as well as meeting interesting people and presenters. Also being surprised by some large companies joining the fray.

And speaking of large companies, David Berlind (who set up Mashup Camp) has an interesting wrinkle against the existence of the Kindle, a kind of Fahrenheit 1981.4. Sounds far fetched, well I know one Apple advocate who has turned anti-Apple due to the DRM and legal disputes with iTunes so she can’t get music she paid for back. Scary how knowledge could be destroyed.

Going back to education when Adam Beecher posted the the Impotence of Proofreading by Taylor Mali I did a looking searching.

Mali created a poem about what teachers do. About how they inspire and alter the way you think (spot the trend here). Of course, he got something wrong. The video is not what teachers make… its what GOOD teachers make.

and if you’re still looking, go see how teenagers talk and should be talking also by Mali.

take care,

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17 Nov 2007

best invention in 2007

Author: will | Filed under: 2007, best invention, science

Today’s Science Week question is “In your opinion what was the best invention in 2007″.

I’ve been looking in to this, partly to see what exactly was invented in 2007. The US Patent search revealed a few things ( like this completely not work safe item), ah. No.

With 20/20 hindsight we might declare Bruce Crower’s improved engine design the eventual winner. Or given the popularity of Lego as the best invention of people’s childhood the LEGO® MINDSTORMS® NXT software as the best.

Given my data loss, I’m tempted to award the linkable USB hard disk as the winner, but no.

As Conor asked “How many people are going to plump for the jesusphone in their posts?” Well no. The iPhone simply has one of the best user interfaces on a touch screen created. However the phone itself , without Bluetooth, may make it illegal to use on the Irish roads (I remember that a wired earpiede is not permitted), so it looses out for legal reasons. But Nokia went one better, and offered something that should be in the next iPhone… touch feedback’ touchscreen as reported by Red Ferret.

So there you go, a tiny touch that lets you know you’ve made a tiny touch.

take care,

tags :
Science Week, best invention, 2007

14 Nov 2007

What I want

Author: will | Filed under: data, information loss, invention, science, what if

Well you can never be too rich or have too much data? And today’s Science Week question is What invention do you want to see most in the future? I’m sure that there will be flights of fancy, but I want something very simple to make… I might even make one myself.

Oddly enough, what I want is something which could be made today. Findable data. Physically findable data.

Back when I was a kid, there was a tacky toy keyring thing which beeped when you whistled. Its one of those things which seem like a good idea but no one ever really praised it.

Nowadays we have USB memory sticks which hold most of our data.

And I’ve lost 2 in the past few days.

Can someone combine these two things and make a whistle and beep USB memory stick?

And if someone finds a USB stick with my CV and interesting pictures from Mash-up camp… Contact me.


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What was the favourite invention from your childhood? asks Mr Mulley… and I’m going to be a little strict and look at things released during my life time…

Why lifetime and not childhood… well… I haven’t grown up yet. I’ve grown out, and gotten older but as anyone who has seen me in Smyths will attest, I’ve not grown up. So I suppose my first favourite is a 1984 invention : “Transformers
yup these

(an image blatantly stolen from Ben’s World of Transformers)

What can I say, its my not so secret shame. The fact that I’m still collecting the toys shows that it’ having an ongoing impact on my life.

Why? Well it’s not the two toys in one. Partly I think it’s the most extreme form of anthropomorphism you can get. Not only are you putting human emotions on to an inanimate object, you’re making it take on humanoid characteristics too. It’s also less damaging than dressing up your pet.

It also is the aspect that things aren’t always as they seem. It changes the way you view the world. Twist it a little bit and… It could be a government conspiracy or (flip body around, open doors, lower head from backside, push along brass neck, unfold arms, unclench grubby little fists, detach brown envelope) incompetence on a grand scale.

However if I was going to pick a proper technoligical invention… it’s this

O.K. Its actually another image stolen off Ben from this review but I’m talking about Mobile Phones

I know what you’re thinking (other than “Will you’re an idiot”) which is everyone and their mother has one (even if it did take me three weeks to teach her to text so she could vote for that “nice boy” on “Strictly Come Dancing”), but the mobile phone has changed how people act with each other.

But what other device has caused such a social change?

Once people made exact appointments. Meet you under Eason’s clock at 3pm on Friday. And at 4pm, still waiting, you felt very stood up. Now people make rough appointments, aproxi-meetings, and put in a call to the other’s mobile to rearrange the meeting at the cinema directly due to traffic.

Once people used phone booths and pay phones.

I remember the “push button A” pay telephones (always press button B on a free phone to see if any change comes out. It’s the old version of checking the base of the automatic cash registers in Tesco’s). I remember those weird plastic bubbles next to the phones so that the caller could have privacy.
But that privacy is a long abandoned thing. I now know the intimate details of the recent gynaecological exam thanks to a mobile phone call on the bus.

And once we needed to wait for the results of a meeting or conference to be published. (Or passed notes in class) Now text updates can be shipped online while the meeting is still on (and notes are texted between schools).

It can also save your life. No hunting for a phone after an accident… now you hunt for a signal. And in large scale disaster, there have been cell broadcast SMS and tweets to help save lives.

That little handy computer in your pocket has changed the social interaction of not just a nation, but a huge chunk of the world. (It also looks a little like a Wii controller, hint, hint)

take care,
(and set it to vibrate during a solemn occasion, like a tribunal)

Now, who is going to be first to suggest “mash-ups”?

And I’ll get around to updating the above photos with my own transformer shots… sorry Ben. I DO know better.

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1 Nov 2007

which explains the healthy glow

Author: will | Filed under: Lucy Hawking, overheard, science

…”the death of a star and how that throws elements out in to space, and how those elements are the same ones that you and I are made of. So we are all the children of stars.”…” Or there is another less poetic romantic way of putting it, you could say we are all made of nuclear waste. Kind of depends on how you are feeling that day”.

— Lucy Hawking on Guardian Science Weekly

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7 Sep 2007

Bringing up nerdy

Author: will | Filed under: edgecast, Intruders TV, Irish, mathematics, science, television

The leaving certificate results came out with a crisis. Too many people are not choosing honours maths.
The CAO / CAS results came out with a crisis. Too few people are choosing science and engineering courses.

If only we could make science sexy…

Well, we can’t. We can however make science a little more accessible. When I was young, computers were these strange untouchable standalone machines. Now… well the playstation generation is all grown up. No,it’s the Wii ones I’m wondering about. The intrigue of the machines has gone. The stories of new inventions are laid out in the papers.

That go unread by the target… kids.

Which is why I’m glad to hear that Tomorrow’s World is coming back to the BBC. The programme showcased pioneering science as well as inventions that never came into commercial use. It was a Top Gear for science, full of cool stuff and the vaguely silly.

However I think it inspired techie people in these islands. And I’m wondering if Irish TV (yes, sorry mass market and all that) should be showing more of this type of thing.

For example, ready to roll and already broadcasting is The Lab with Leo LaPorte (responsible for so many good (sometimes) tech podcasts) and the Labrats spinoff.

And for all thing Irish, I’ve already mentioned Intruders TV Ireland brought to us by Edgecast Media. Expand these interviews (or include them in a larger tech themed regular night and…

Would that help increase the size tech generation?

Just wondering,

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