Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Never go back...

Did I hear that right? That Britain's answer to the impending 'Energy Gap' is to return to the Sixties and the era of power that was going to be so cheap that it wouldn't be worth metering.

When is it ever right to go back to a technology that has been totally discredited - with the longest lasting pollution of all the power generation methods that have been used over the years. It's like re-introducing CFCs if we get an aerosol deficit. Are we so devoid of ideas now that we have to re-invent the wheel.

OK, so I advocate building on, rather than destroying ideas, but is difficult to see where this one is headed. The basic ingredients of nuclear power are always going to end up with hazardous waste of the most extreme kind. There are two types of pollution: those that you can see, and those that you cannot. They are both bad. Little did we know that burning fossil fuels creates both kinds, and it is the invisible one that is the longest lasting: CO2.

France, one of the biggest fans of nuke power is experimenting with a large hole in the ground to bury the waste. Understandably the locals are objecting. Wouldn't you.

Read the Energy Blog for alternatives please Tony.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Brass Monkeys Posted by Picasa

Saturday, November 19, 2005


I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Allowing others to build on your own ideas, benefits everyone in the end.

Andrew Brown in today's Guardian has written a very similar critique on the ownership of ideas. Having an idea is one thing, having a good idea is a hundred times better, but exploiting your interpretation of that idea is the notion that needs to be protected, not the idea itself.

No two people will ever read something and have the same reaction to it, or an identical view of it. If you put your idea in the public domain, but make something useful or saleable out of it, then you have a right to ensure that no one duplicates the item that you have created from the idea. The idea itself, can be used to spawn other ideas, and that is best done by the power of collective intelligence, not a single owner.

So this writer advocates that only the concrete instance of an idea should be able to be protected by the law of copyright, not the idea itself. This is not to say that you should not necessarily profit from the use made by others of your intellectual property. If, in using your idea, someone uses your physical instance of it, or a copy, then you should be able to receive a fee, like a type of value-added tax.

People should be able to make money on the difference between their output ideas and their input ideas, just as a company is taxed on the difference between the value for which they sell an object and the value for which they bought the raw materials.

Ideas are the raw materials of the information age, so don't keep them to yourself - trade them.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Oxford Calling

It was the quinessential Oxford experience: an meal at Browns - that iconic restaurant, followed by a visit to the New Theatre, for the English National Ballet production of Sleeping Beauty.

My visits to Browns have been few, with many years between, but each visit has been a truly happy one. It simply breathes life at most times of the day and our ballet trip necessitated an early meal, when most restaurants would be soulless and dull. Browns, though, was buzzing with people at 5pm on an autumn Saturday.

The great thing about this place, is that it does un-pretentious food well. I had the beef pie in Guinness and this came with browned puff pastry topping and creamy mash. This is standard pub fare, but better executed than in most alehouses, with a dark, rich gravy enveloping the pie contents.

The family ate well too, with the youngest opting for sausage and mash, which featured bangers that were un-exotic and tailored to a young palate. The eldest had the burger-with-the-works and this came on a ciabatta roll to give it some distinctiveness. My wife chose the Fisherman's pie, which had a good balance of fresh fish and seafood under the mash.

Being a bistro, the service was quick and attentive, and we were easily able to round off our meal with dessert, and hot-foot to the nearby theatre, through the baroque architecture of Oxford.

The New Theatre is anything but - having been the Apollo previously - and was confusingly laid out and cramped as only an older theatre can be. Admittedly we were in the cheap seats in the vertiginous balcony, which people in the row behind compared with the Bernabeu in Madrid. Once we had recovered our composure, we were treated to a brilliantly coloured production of the traditional ballet, Sleeping Beauty, with music by Tchaikovsky.

The production was a re-designed version of the American Ballet Theatre production, re-using the original costumes. These were truly magnificent, especially in the finale, with more gold than the Bank of England. The lead character, Princess Aurora, was danced by Daria Klimentova, and she displayed the true height of her powers in the scene where she is courted by four suitors. In this breathtaking scene, she is wheeled round by each man in turn, for one complete slow revolution, with her on one point, with her leg extended away from her out-stretched hand. In between each revolution, she has to let go, maintain her balance and grasp the next hand. In all she stays on the one point for what seems like an agonising amount of time, but she carried this off with superb grace and elegance.

The story of Sleeping Beauty is a traditional Labour story of ruler brings in nanny-state laws against pricked fingers and the causes of pricked fingers - in this case needles. He does this in vain attempt to stop only child Princess Aurora from dying in manner foretold at her christening by old hag called Carrebosse. Lucky for them they are 'away with the fairies' and the lilac fairy is able to water this punishment down to a mere one-hundred year nap for all concerned.

Equally lucky for Aurora, the lilac fairy has a good memory and finds suitably able Prince Desire, danced by a slightly hesitant on first arrival Dmitri Gruzdyev. The fairy shows the prince a vision of Aurora, and confusingly he dances with her while she is still asleep - a dream sequence as we say in the trade. He is entranced enough to hack his way through the forest with which the fairy thoughtfully surrounded the castle.

You know the ending - Prince kisses Aurora and wakes up whole entourage despite efforts of fairy-gone-bad Carrebosse. This is cue for big wedding scene with interlopers from other fairy tales.

A magical evening finishes as we wend our way through good natured Saturday binge-drinkers to the car.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Lessig is More

Culture is remix. Knowledge is remix. Politics is remix. Everyone in the life of
producing and creating engages in this practice of remix. Companies do it.
Politicians do it... We all do it. This is what life is in the expression of
creativity. Remix is how we live.

This is what Lawrence Lessig, the pioneer of the Creative Commons limited copyrighting system, has said. It brings together ideas from the world of Web 2.0 to Dance music, another of my favourite subjects.

In Dance music, the sample is king and the records and CDs of the past provide fodder for today. No longer constrained by 'the cover version', producers can take a snippet of someone else's work and turn it into something new, the remix. With the proper licensing, and respect paid to the original work, the creative process has built upon and not stolen the creators intellectual property. Less maybe more, but more built upon less can be even more (if you get my drift).

And so it seems to be in the world of Web 2.0 where content is recycled many times by aggregation or services adding value to the services created by others. When a PC is built, the manufacturers don't build all of the components themselves. They are happy to buy in commodity chips and boards. Their intellectual property is in the unique way they have assembled the parts and added their own 'je ne sais quoi'. For many years the software industry has been attempting the same - allowing people to use libraries of code in the run-time of other programs.

The new idiom of a service running on the internet and accessible by http makes that component very accessible, and with a standard interface that any competent programmer can use. If companies make money out of their unique combinations of such services, and allow others to use the component services that they have created then this can push the rate of advance up to exponential levels.

Keeping information private, which companies spend millions doing every year, may before long be seen as pointless and holding back the tide of human endeavour.

Charge for only what you sell, and put the rest of your material in the public domain, should be the philosophy of the new media. The truly creative will get back more than they put in to this democratic exchange. It's a very New Labour economy.

Publish and be damned.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Beginning of the End?

Tony Blair has suffered his first defeat in the Commons. Is this the beginning of the end for this great leader?

He has always stood up for what he believes in; what he believes is right. He has had the necessary powers of persuasion to push through ideas that may have been unpalatable to many in the Labour party. I don't think that he has been on some crazy ego-fuelled power trip, but that he has been a true leader.

Leaders have to take unpopular decisions, as part of some greater plan to improve the way we all go about our daily grind. Leaders do have to listen though, or else they seem out of touch with the people they represent. Getting the balance right between driving through the leader's vision and echoing the mood of the government, of the party is no mean feat.

Tony Blair has managed to stay on the tight-rope since 1997, keeping his footing. He is wobbling, but can he regain his composure, or will he descend into the safety-net of the back-benches, seeing out this last term? If Tony Blair does what he promised to do when he took office with his sharply reduced majority, listen to those around him, I really believe he can stay on and finish the job.

If he doesn't then Gordon is on the bench, awaiting the call to come onto the field and play the striker's role. Gordon Brown has been the most successful Chancellor in recent memory, with his vice-like grip on the nation's finances, and the independent Bank of England right where he wants it - carrying out his interest rate policy with ruthless efficiency. But is he really the man for the top job, does he have the charisma, the connections with the people, the country at large. I fear not. It is a tough substitution to make.

Labour government - keep me smiling - whatever you do: get that fourth term.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Porthcawl "Coast" - yes it's a restaurant

Decent food is hard to find in Porthcawl - where we visited last week, but we were impressed with the cuisine in "Coast" a sleek and modern restaurant in the town.

Porthcawl is a big tourist destination in South Wales, but on a blustery, rainy Friday lunchtime in late October it is not exactly rammed with people, and neither was the restaurant. This isn't usually much of a good omen, but after ordering in their rather too spacious bar area at the front, we were led to our table and served with our choices.

I had picked the smoked mackerel - which was beautifully presented, perched (no pun intended) on the garlic mash and surrounded by a poached egg, dill and hollandaise sauce. It was a sort of brunch like dish, but was very tasty. It would great for a hangover, but I didn't have one, so even better. My wife had the Chicken and Leek pie, which is a great pub favourite and the children had pitta pizza and lasagne. Of these the only real disappointment was the lasagne, which was a strangely constructed, and seemingly devoid of its customary white sauce. Our host had the Vegetable Soup, which was comfort food for the rainy season.

So, all in all we had a decently cooked set of restaurant and pub classics, in a contemporary setting. That beats most of the competition in the local area.

Saturday was the Cowbridge food festival: our cup runneth over - watch this plate.