RIP, Milton Friedman

A truly great man. The world is poorer (in every sense) with his passing. Russ Roberts was fortunate enough to interview him only a few months ago - his brilliance shone through even at the age of 94. From another interview in 2004: There are four ways in which you can spend money. You can spend your own money on yourself. When you do that, why then you really watch out what you’re doing, and you try to get the most for your money.


'What's sex?' - Betty Pleasantville is a favourite film of mine. Powerful on many levels, it manages to captivate the attention as well as entertain and give pause for thought. The premise is simple; David (Tobey Maguire) is given a remote control that allows him to enter the TV set and the programme of Pleasantville with his sister Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon). This mysterious start to the film is a well-trod one (Gremlins and Back to the Future being well-known previous examples), but it works without too much tedium.

Digital Sound Innovation

When I was younger, I used to spend a lot of time tinkering with digital sound: mostly MOD files, on the venerable FastTracker. The highlight was remixing a track by Jim Young - I’ve unfortunately lost my version, but here’s the original (any competent media player, such as XMMS or Winamp, should still be able to play MOD files with the right plugin). I used the sound of my CD drive opening as an ‘instrument’ (slowed down many times), and felt very silly when I came to listen it to some years later.

Illiberal Hampshire Police

Firstly we learn that owning knives in Hampshire is wrong. Or maybe it isn’t; but the police only seem interested in gathering them anyway. Then we discover that the police are targeting signs that others find offensive. I’m not convinced this is a good use of my tax money. But accordingly, I would like to politely request that Hampshire Police remove the following signs across the county, which I find offensive:

Religiously Economical or Economically Religious?

As I’ve mentioned before, I regularly listen to the Econtalk series of podcasts; along with TEDTalks, they are one of the highlights of my [vod,pod]cast week. An Econtalk podcast on the subject of religion a few weeks ago was the first I haven’t fully enjoyed. Larry Iannacone, the guest that week, outlined a theory he has spent many years developing: the amount of religious participation in a market (e.g. a country) is correlated with the amount of religious freedom permitted.

Is Second Life Able to Cross the Chasm?

Second Life is an idea I want to like. It’s not a game, and it’s not just for playing around either (despite the slightly frivolous avatars and other trivialities imported from actual games). Some of my colleagues from IBM in various R&D; labs around the world - such as the Emerging Technologies Lab here in Hursley - have been doing an admirable job of promoting Second Life as a genuine business tool (articles on Slashdot, the BBC), and I think it’s great that IBM is looking at using something so bright and fresh.

On Demand, in the Air

A recent BBC In Business episode discussed the recent innovations in the on-demand air-taxi market. One of the startups hoping to make a name for themselves in this market are DayJet, who are in the process of launching a service which allows for buying seats on charter aircraft from and to airports you nominate. The logistics are solved in real-time by an automated system, and the wider the time window you allow for your journey (which permits drop off/pick-up of other passengers), the cheaper the ticket.

Spam and OCR

It’s strange how the same techniques can be used to attack both sides of a problem. For some time now, some of the more sophisticated web spammers have been using OCR techniques to circumvent CAPTCHAs on websites in order to hijack free email accounts, submit comment spam on blogs, and similar forms of mischievousness. As the more capable e-mail spammers seem to be figuring out that anti-spam technologies are getting pretty good at filtering out the crap they send, normally using rule-based detection, Bayesian learning, or a combination of the two, a lot of spam now being sent out is image-based - and anti-spammers are now using OCR to fight back against this new tide.

Common Myths about Common Myths

A quick Google search for “common myths about” turns up ~315,000 hits. Apparently, there are a lot of myths about: Sex Atheists Copyright Science Gifted Students The Apple Mac Web Design Earthquakes West Nile Virus The last one is the most surprising. I’m not even sure what the West Nile Virus is. Perhaps that’s why there are myths about it. But at least as regards the other subjects, it seems to be a slight cheat, and writing cliché, to ‘correct’ a set of myths without demonstrating that they exist.


Ladies and Gentlemen, you may turn off your brains now. How to develop the plot of a brainless Hollywood action flick, in 11 easy steps: Demonstrate SWAT’s awesome prowess but arrogant fallibility with an opening scene that introduces handsome lead Colin Farrell. Develop some guilt and other emotion to be easily overcome later in the film, via a few heart-to-heart chats between colleagues. Demote Farrell for his cockiness in the first scene, but consign his colleague to the police bin of history.