Archive for the ‘Ideas’ Category:


The Cosmic Trigger Play

Charlie:  I’ve written myself into my screenplay

Donald: That’s kind of weird

Charlie Kaufman, Adaptation

Adapting Robert Anton Wilson’s  Cosmic Trigger was never going to be easy.  Cosmic Trigger isn’t a novel.  it doesn’t have a clear story running through it.  Rather it is the thoughts and reflections of a man who has experimented with causing intentional psychological change on himself – and how all hist past experiences – and all the past roles he played – built up into one mind blowing, conciousness expanding experience – and the ramifications it left behind.  It is both a guide to experimenting with your notions of self and a warning about what might happen should you be willing to try.

It doesn’t leap out at you and say ‘Put me on the stage’

But Director Daisy Campbell isn’t one to back down from an insane challenge.  She has directed the insanely long Warp and put on Shakespear in Pidgen.  Oh and she was conceived backstage at her father Ken Campbell’s adaptation of Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminatus! (which is a book which absolutely demands to be put on a stage… but which also suggests rather forcefully that the stage ought to be so big that if all you had was all the world, you would likely to be slightly underwhelmed…)

I’m a big Robert Anton Wilson fan.  I’ve reread Illuminatus and Cosmic Trigger many many times.  I reread both again earlier this year to make sure I was primed and ready.  And on the 22nd of November (51 years to the day since the assaination of Kennedy and a day short of being 37 years since Illuminatus! opened) I was in Liverpool to see the cosmic trigger being pulled.

 The Venue was the Camp and Furness – a warehouse converted into an impossibly cool and trendy arts venue of the sort I love but never manage to feel quite at home in (because I am neither cool nor trendy, and not especially impossible).  I was surrounded by one of my tribes – fellow oddballs ranging from teenagers through to the elderly – but quite obviously younger at heart.  People who shared my love for RAW’s take on reality.  the theatre space was makeshift, but the production values were high.  intermission comments from the surrounding throng praised the visuals used to make the sets – and the props, and costumes, while basic, were also astonishingly effective at changing a bare white room into a mutitude of locations across time and space.

Were I to find criticisms (and a fair and honest review requires that I do) I would mention the sound – which was always going to be a problem in a venue with accoustics not designed for the purpose and that much of the play was performed sitting low down on the stage – which was a slight issue in a venue with stalls which were not on a slanted floor, and because the tallest man in the universe happened to choose to sit in front of me.  But these were minor – they in no way spoiled the fun (though I did wake up the next mornind with an achins shoulder, having had to convolve myself into awkward positions to see the action!)

The play itself follows the book – divesting some of the autbiographical details of RAW’s childhood and putting some of RAWs words into the mouths of others to avoid excessive monologuing.  But I think it is fair to say it also expands upon the book.  It opens with Oliver Senton – perfectly channeling RAW – breaking down the forth wall – and that wall is never rebuilt.

When Cosmic Trigger was written its audience were presumed to have read Illuminatus.  That is less reasonable for an audience of a play decades later, and so scenes from the original Illuminatus! are interspersed to convey key events.  But these scenes break down into backstage scenes from the production – with Josh Darcy taking the role of Ken Campbell.

Darcy probably was Ken Campbell in another life (either that or he’s a remarkably talented mimic who deserves plaudits.  In any event, the voice, likeness and gait are creepily accurate)

 At this point things become dangerously close to being self-indulgant.  A play about her father’s play – not an adaptation standing on it’s own merits.  And this was the danger of the Comsic Trigger play – it has been sold on the basis of being “What Daisy Cambpell did instead of doing Illuminatus”.  And had this been the end of things, it would have been a fine enough production.  Thankfully they were just getting started.

Cosmic Trigger hinges around when after a moment of mental breakdown (or possibly supreme clarity) Robert Anton Wilson begins to believe he is receiving psychic messages from extra-terrestrials from the dog star Sirius.  As this occurs in the world of Cosmic Trigger, the fourth wall breaks down with Not just RAW but Senton (or Senton playing the Character of Senton) questioning who he is, and asking Ken Campbell for advice (which fails to arrive, since Campbell is fully aware that he is a character in Daisy Campbell’s play…  a play in which Daisy Campbell has cast an actress to play the character of herself for this very moment) – Not only has the forth wall fallen, they have moved into strange and new dimensions and found new (and quite possibly non-euclidean) walls to break down.  It’s a metaphor for the new world in RAW’s head and it works well.

But Cosmic Trigger isn’t just about what RAW learns from sirius – the tragic and hearbreakign ending revolves around what RAW learned from his daughter.  And to this the Cosmic Trigger play adds what Ken Campbell’s Daughter learned from her father about drama and heroism.

But ignoring my interpretations, what remains in crazy, forth wall breakign madness involving sirians, an accoridan playing singing Alistair Crowley, Sex, Nudity, Drugs, A giant inflatable golden apple, pantomime, a could of sence which had a rather odd (and I’ve no idea how intentional) How I Met Your Mother vibe about them, Philosophy and a musical number about Timothy Leary’s 8 Circuit model of conciousness.

I did wonder “Would this be even vaugly comrihensible to someone who had never read Cosmic Trigger?” – but thankfully I found myself sitting two seats away from someone who had neve read Cosmic Trigger, and she confirmed it was totally understandable and that she was having a blast.

I spoke to Daisy briefly the day after (and I will write more about the Cosmic Trigger Confrestival later) and all I wanted to do was thank her.  Not just for putting on a production which far exceeded my hopes, but also – as a fan of the original material –  for not fucking it up.

I think there can be no higher praise!

It’s mving to London.  Go and see it.  Highly Highly Recommended.

Classical Ideas

So, a Tory MP may or may not have called a police officer a pleb.

The reason this makes the news is not that we find the term pleb particularly offensive, but because it shows that Tory politicians are all the same – that they are bad people who believe they, the monied elite, are better than us (and by us I mean the middle class journos who are making a song and dance about this).

Except it doesn’t.  However this might fit the story we want to tell ourselves about what Conservate politicians are like (and, as a liberal, I’m pretty keen to tell myself that story from time to time), all we have is statistical evidence that maybe one member of the Conservative party has class based prejudices which show themselves in a moment of anger.  It is true that all the evidence from people talking about Andrew Mitchell suggest he isn’t the nicest guy – but sometimes people like that turn out to be particularly effective in doing certain jobs.

However, more to the point, assuming for a second that Andrew Mitchell should be sacked for having insufficient class sensitivity to call someone a pleb, then we need to ensure anyone who has ever called anyone a chav should also be sacked.  Because what pleb means to the public schoolboy, chav means to the middle classes – essentially: someone who, due to the education they received, financial situation of their parents, accent and dress, are to be despised.  And, while I’m at it, its equally bad to assume public schoolboys, even Bullingdon Club members, consider the population to be made mainly of ‘plebs’ – from my experience it is, at most, a small minority – the rest are, again, the class based imaginings of a resentful middle class.  Don’t think that the outcry over Andrew Mitchell isn’t just as much about class based resentment as any comments he may or may not have made.

But there is another element of class based resentment, which I worry is a little more insidious - in that it seems to be agreed upon by almost everyone across the political spectrum.  And because, as far as I can tell, it is not only wrong, but harmful to the quality of life of – well, almost everyone in the world.

The idea is that : There exists a class of scroungers, people who live a life of luxury without putting in a day of work in their lives.  Also, they tend to have lots of children, which in some way means they get to live an even more luxurious and more work free life.

Now, I’m not denying there are some families who live, generation to generation, on welfare.

What I am saying is that, if the life they live is the most they want, then good for them.

What I’m also saying is “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all live the life we want without having to work?  Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we, as a society, decided to make that a goal, rather than the concepts of economic growth, which often keep us trapped in lives we don’t want to lead”

I’m not, for a second, suggesting that everyone become lazy, TV watching, drones – you’re back to the class stereotypes if you even considered that.  Without a day job, I would be busily learning, writing, coding, thinking, creating – all on my own.  Some of my ideas and creations would be useful to others.  I’m sure people would take those ideas on and develop and improve them, sanding down the rough edges that I may prefer to leave unfinished.  In short, I would be providing value to society… and I think, left to their own devices, most people would.  The value might be a different sort of value from what we have grown to understand in the education to factory or office to retirement to grave treadmill – but people want to be useful, they want to both give and receive – they just need the opportunity.

Even if we had the money to fund giving everybody a state mandated living allowance – and that we could do so without weird inflationary effects – I wouldn’t suggest switching over to this new model tomorrow.  There is a need to remove (and ideally automate, rather than sending oversees) the jobs that people don’t want to do.  We’ve already started.  The servant has been replaced by the hoover and washing machine.  We should not fear the loss of jobs through automation, but we should try to make up for them, by making it increasingly possible for people to live without he need to do someone else’s work.

Right now when a job is automated, we put the spare labour back onto the job market, which lowers the amount people are paid to do similar jobs, which ultimately means we are all working harder to stay where we are.  When people predicted a three day week, they were optimistic that there wouldn’t be enough work – instead we find that every time we finish one job early, there is more work to be done  or else we will be out competed by someone who is willing to put in more effort in order to gain a rung or two ahead of you on the (material) ladder of life.  We can’t, as a society, win if we keep on going in this direction.  We are in an arms race which, at best, will lead to us burning out rather than burning brighter.

So when you hear the cries of ‘scrounger’, don’t ask ‘How can we get rid of that?” ask ‘How can we get more?  How can we raise everyone’s basic level of living so that, should I want, I too can be a scrounger?’.  It should be a goal of society for us all to be able to do exactly what we want, for us to aim for our highest potential, rather than the highest level of corporate management we can fill.

 

Rethinking Social Media : A Self-Contradictory Opinion

Stamp US 1977 2c Americana

Should the USA nationalize Facebook?  Um, no.

To be more specific, aside from it being the USA – a country which tends to believe in the market doing a better job of looking after people’s interests than the government – there are any number of reasons why you don’t want a state running a social network.  A good example would be “People from other states use it too”.

Should any other country nationalize Facebook?  Still no.  If you can explain why having a public social network is more important than good public transport, or good public healthcare, or good public education, you are a better person than me.  No wait, you are a far worse person than me, and you don’t deserve to have an opinion on anything.  Go away.

But the article makes a good point that it would be nice to have a trusted social network – one that would support people in countries where they don’t have freedom of speech.  Of course, no government would do this, because it would either involve being seen as siding with enemies of states you might want to still pretend to be friendly with, or it would involve coming up with a system which would be as useful to enemies of your own state.  The terrorists would have already won (even if all they won at was Mafia wars… which presumably some of them would be quite good at.)

However governments are not usually the protectors of free speech.  In general they tend to protect ‘the sort of speech we want, but not that other speech which tends towards the nasty and evil’.  To protect free speech, I would look instead towards various charities – the Amnestys, and EFFs and CPJs of the world.

And, in thinking of those charities, it occurs to me:

Would there not be some place in the world for a ‘free speech social network’, supported by a non-profit foundation, and presumably grants from both right on for-profit organisations and charities of the sort I’ve described before?

Here is my thinking – if I were to set up this sort of social network, it would have to have the following characteristics:

It would have to compete head to head with Facebook and Twitter and whoever else.  You want this network to be the place everyone goes to, the place everyone knows about – because you don’t just want freedom of speech for specially equipped activists, you want freedom of speech for absolutely everyone.  You want it to be easy and safe to say what you want as and when and why you want.

Because people wish to shut down free speech, and because there is no legislature that could be trusted with protecting a free speech social network, it would have to be distributed.  In saying that, I worry too much that I’m contradicting what I have previously said about social networks not needing to be distributed.  I would like, if I may, to plead a technicality:  There would be a core site for the social network (or perhaps a core site in each country).  All the sites would communicate to each other.  And all would interoperate with each other.  And, if you wanted higher levels of security still, you could run your own version of the site.  Now some of these sites may need to block particular content for legal reasons – but that wouldn’t be a problem, people could simply go to other sites (which would be well known about) hosted in other jurisdictions if they wanted that content.  So what I’m talking about here is not ‘lets build some distributed software, and try to get a network to take off based on it”, I’m talking about ‘lets build a good social networking site, and by the way, you can mirror some or all of the content, and interoperate with it in a distributed way if you want’

To achieve the goal of distribution, its going need cryptography.  Things like ‘only distribute this to my friends’ can only be done with crypto in a distributed system.  But crypto can also be used to solve other issues like ‘this proves who I am’.  The trick here would be to hide the crypto from the end user as much as possible – which is to say, they should never need to know that crypto is involved.

It should play well with TOR – some people who would want to use this network would need TOR – but the site that most people see would be hosted on the open internet, because that is the obvious place to host such things.

It would have to be free to everyone.

I’m optimistic that this could be done.  The wikimedia foundation has worked, and has managed to produce not just Wikipedia, but the software which powers it.  I see no reason why similarly generously spirited people shouldn’t get together to create the ultimate social network.  One which cares about its users, and which is free, because it is funded by people who care about freedom, not by people who care about adverts.

Will it happen?

It could.  And possibly it should. I think it might just be an idea whose time has come.

Rethinking Social Networks : How To Replace Facebook

Facebook engancha

It seems like Facebook has got sufficiently sticky that we will never be able to usurp it from its position.  Altavista felt that way once, but all it took was for a new startup to come along and do things better.  Lets say we want to usurp Facebook – how would we do it?

The first thing we have to do is make money.  Even if we want to get VCs involved, I think they would still want to see some sort of monetization plan.  I also think that, right now, app.net are right – you don’t want the money to come from adverts.  However, app.net seem to suggest the solution is charging the user a subscription.  I’m not sure about that.  If you want to create the ideal Facebook killer you want to get lots of people there – and a subscription is a gatekeeper.

I have a different idea to monetize the social network (a plan, which incidentally, encourages it to be a better platform too):  the network is funded by an app store.  This might seem odd, until you realise that almost all publishing on the network could be an app – and that only apps sold via the app store could interact with the various apis.  Apps could either be ad-supported (in which case, we would take a cut of the advertising), in-app purchase supported (in which case we would take a cut of the purchasing), or price supported (we get a cut, you get the picture).

To explain further – we would create a social network where you would get access to read anything posted to you – and perhaps to post twitter size posts to up to 100 followers.  This would suit most people.  If you want to add pictures to your post, you’ll need to buy the ‘add pictures’ app.  If you want to have more followers, or to be able to push your posts to particular people, we’ll provide apps.  Want to write longer articles?  We can provide the means.  Want to do something we can’t even think of?  We’ll make an api so that other people can do it – so long as they follow the rules of our framework (and our app store guidelines).  Want to use your phone to read – you can do it for free from our mobile site, or, if you need an app – there will be one (but it will be ad supported, to pay for the cost of development).  Want to post from your phone – that’ll be an in app purchase.

Most of these apps would be a one off purchase.  We might also charge for storage above a limit (I’ve long believed storage should usually be a one off purchase price – if you’re making people rent storage, you should probably be thinking about making people pay for something like data transmission instead).  We might charge a recurring fee for some ‘enterprise level’ features – but only to skim lots of income from big companies.  People will keep coming back.  People will want multiple accounts.  Each account will need apps.  We will keep making money – but we will be making it from our biggest fans – from the people who want to pay us.

So we have a monetization plan.  How do we get people to the new service?

The answer is:  we make it easy.

Facebook seems to provide a few services

  • Find and keep up with old friends (or at least don’t lose track of them totally)
  • Keep up with current friends, and arrange activities
  • Stay in touch with celebrities
  • Do some amount of microblogging
  • Play multiplayer games
  • Store & publish photos

My guess is we don’t want to replicate all of these – at least not to attract people.  I suggest right off that we don’t worry about the finding and keeping up with old friends aspect.  That’ll come to the new platform when enough people are there.  Celebrities will do the same.  We want to be a good platform for them to blog on, but not spend our time trying to encourage them.

The app store monetization strategy suggests games are a good thing to support.  It isn’t my interest, but it will attract people.

The other area to support strongly is microblogging and publishing of photos.  Now this is harder – why blog on a platform which no-one uses?  My answer is we make it better, and we make it easier to share.  Anyone can read things you publish to the world (and there is no reason why you can’t syndicate such content to other social network feeds, along with a linkback).  What if you just want to publish to a small group?  You could always use email to share your content.  Not just to link to our site, but to share what you are writing.  We have no need for people to come to our site – unless they want to use it to publish – so why not work on making the mailbox the hub of the social experience?  Of course, people are not going to want your tweets in tiny one line emails, so how about trying to create some sort of ‘what I’m up to’ life journal digest you can send out.  Tweets for followers, longer blogs & photo albums to email readers.

Of course, any email address we send your digest to, we remember.  If you come to our site later, and log on with that email address, it will be pre-populated with all the people who have sent you their digests.  Because each email would have to offer you the opportunity of turning the digests off, the link to do this would encourage you to log in with your email address – and show you what is available.  You might also consider allowing the links to take you directly to your own page (in the zero-login, cookie only, format I described a few days ago… this might have problems though, as I would suspect these links and emails might be very forwardable.  That said, commenting by replying to emails, facebook style, would have to be supported.

This wouldn’t be an overnight success – but it would provide a pathway to something which could grab people virally, and wouldn’t require people to use the site themselves unless they wanted to.  And to get people to want to use the site?  Well, it would simply have to be better for them to use than Facebook - and given how hard Facebook seems to be trying to drive people like me away, that can’t be too difficult.

 

Why you should develop your web app in public

For mortals – those of us not gifted with insane levels of insight about how other people work – the process of design goes something like this:

Find out about a problem

Figure out a way to solve that problem

Come up with a suggested way of solving the problem

Show the suggested solution to someone who has the problem

Listen to what they have to say about it

Change your understanding of the problem

Iterate.

 

This is true when it comes to designing the next ubercool widget, and its true when designing the stodgiest piece of business management software.  It is true when designing web apps.  Unless you have a huge usability lab and can fund focus groups, your best way of testing web app ideas is to get them out there, in front of people, and see what they think, so that you can iterate and improve the design.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and came to the conclusion that it might be a good idea to do all of your web app development in public – not just making the app available online, but also the source code.  It was an idea which gnawed away at the back of my skull, not fully formed, until I read the following article http://techblog.netflix.com/2012/07/open-source-at-netflix-by-ruslan.html and specifically the following quote:

We’ve observed that the peer pressure from “Social Coding” has driven engineers to make sure code is clean and well structured, documentation is useful and up to date.  What we’ve learned is that a component may be “Good enough for running in production, but not good enough for Github”.

I want to explore wether the benefits of opening your web app code to the world outweigh the disadvantages.

Lets start by remembering that we have had this argument before.  Back in the late nineties we were discussing wether Open Source code was the way forward.  Gradually that argument has matured, and a world without open source software would be unrecognisable – a probably significantly behind our current world.  So there is social benefit to some forms of open code – by releasing your code, and playing your part in the open source community, you are doing a good thing, and moving technology forwards.

Lets also consider that, in the case of web apps, sharing your code is not a common or usual behaviour.  There must be a reason for this (even if the reason is wrong, or out of date)  Perhaps, in looking for these reasons, we can understand why, in the net app space, people are less inclined to share.

The arguments I can think of stand as follows:

I want to get the full benefit of the code I have written.  If I were to share my code, others would be able to compete with me based on what I have written.  I might lose out to someone who hasn’t written the code.

Sharing the code, packaging and documenting the code, is too difficult or labour intensive.  It isn’t what I want to spend my time doing.

I don’t want to expose my code to the world, only the functionality, because I am scared of being judged on the basis of my code.

Opening the code might allow people to spot security holes

When writing an article such as this, it is always a worry that I am creating straw men to knock down – so I would be pleased to learn about other arguments against opening up code to the world – please mail me

The NetFlix quote adresses the argument about judgement.  By exposing your code to the world, you are forced to make the sorts of decisions about your code you would generally only make in the face of peer review.  It will lead to better, more readable, more maintainable code.  This is a good thing.  If the problem is not the quality of your code, but rather the fear of public ridicule, then I suggest that posting and being damned is absolutely the best way of getting over this.

The question of security holes is similar. We know that security by obscurity is ineffective against a dedicated attacker – all you are doing by not publishing your code is giving yourself a false sense of confidence.  By opening the code, you not only open it to potential attackers, you also open it to other people who may wish to use your code, and who may spot the flaws and help you correct them.  Open Source software has a deserved reputation for addressing security issues well – there is no reason why open web apps should not do the same.

Sharing and packaging the code is too difficult.  A while ago, I would have agreed.  But now we have github.  While github is far from perfect, all you have to do is keep a copy of your code there.  I don’t make any suggestion that you need to make your code easy for other people to use – just that you make it available.  If other people care about packaging your code, documenting it, making it nice – let them.  Thats their work, not yours.  You don’t have to become a community leader, you just have to keep on doing what you enjoy doing.

The final one of my arguments against opening your code is that you don’t want anyone else to benefit from your work.  To this I might make a few comments:

1.  You must be kidding.  Odds are your site is running on an open source language on an open source operating system.  You’re using web browsers (the majority of which are open source these days) to let people get to your site – over the internet (a technology which has had a huge amount of development form other people).  Your’re probably using open source libraries and open source databases and web servers. You are absolutely standing on the shoulders of giants.  Is you’re shitty first draft web app really that difficult to come up with, in the big scheme of things.

2. You’re not kidding?  Right, well in that case, consider that the value of a web site is more than just the value of the code.  It is also the value of the design, the graphics, the quality of the  site’s dev ops and the community which use it.  You have the opportunity to succeed in all these areas.  If you don’t win in these areas, you probably don’t deserve to win

3. Still not convinced?  Copying the first draft of a web app is cheap.  Especially since web apps don’t generally do things which are particularly complicated – the thing that gives them value is the idea, and the way it is made available to the user (the design).  Copying design and idea – then writing code to fit is a lot easier than writing the code from scratch.  Just by putting your web app out there you are making it easy to copy – especially from the big boys you are, presumably trying to disrupt.  When you introduce a new idea, the hope is you get big before Google or Facebook notice you have disrupted anything.

4. First mover advantage works.  In the open source world we don’t often see major forks of code – and when we do, it is normally because people want to do something significantly different with the code.  This is less clear in the web app space, but let me point out an example:  Wikipedia.  Right now, I can download all the data.  I can download mediawiki. I can set up my own wikipedia.  But I won’t beat wikipedia.  Because they have the community.  Because they were there first.

5. You might benefit from other people’s code.  If they are using your code, and making changes to it, then you get the benefit of those changes.  If you want to be sure of this, release your code under an affero license.  You might also benefit from someone using your code.  Lets consider Google – lets say they decide to compete with you.  Unless you’ve got the community sewn up, you’re screwed, wether they copy your code or write their own version.  However, if your code is available, why the hell wouldn’t they try to use your code, and bring you onboard – sure it might not be the megabucks you make from creating the next big web app, but its an income based on your work, your love and your passion.

I really don’t see anything except for upsides when it comes to releasing the code which runs your web app.  All you are doing is adding to the ecosystem you draw from.  And in that sense, not only is sharing your code a logical imperative, it is a moral imperative too.

(Random question:  Why can I not fork GitHub?  It really seems like the sort of thing I ought to be able to do)

Building An Idea Assembly Line

When we look at the history of technology successes, we are reminded time and time again they come from incubator areas.  Not from the artificial technology incubators that VCs might set up to house new start up companies, but from regions which are good at incubating companies.

What these regions have are some combination of:

Universities

Big Technology Companies

Research Labs

Now – the advantage of having these sorts of institutions are they put lots of bright people together, playing with technology.  And specifically, the people they put together playing, don’t have to be entrepreneurs – they are getting paid some sort of wage (good or bad) to come up with new things.

The typical VC approach is to wait until there are companies formed by the few of these people brave enough to sacrifice their working wage and go it alone.  The hope is that the best ideas have risen to the top, and have been picked up by people capable of running companies.

But, if you talk to a VC, a common issue which causes them not to back a start up, is the poor quality of the team, not the quality of the idea.  And many many companies wind up pivoting to follow a different idea from the reason they got together.  You need a combination of good ideas and good people throughout the start up’s life.  You need the idea generators to stay in the company.  And you need a strong business team to take on the best ideas.

I wonder if the solution is to come up with an artificial equivalent of the research lab in order to breed ideas, and form teams.  I call this the Idea Factory.

Imagine an office (perhaps a big, brightly coloured open plan office – or perhaps something different) where some number of bright people are employed.  Their job is to have ideas, to prototype them, and to demonstrate them to one another. They also spend some time on building reusable frameworks to make prototyping new ideas easier and easier.

The time spent on prototyping ideas should be short (perhaps measured in days), and we should be quick to drop ideas.  People should feel free to provide support to each other, in taking the ideas they like and adding to them, or improving on them.  Forking ideas, and using their own skills, or even just making suggestions for other people to fork.

Over time, teams would grow, and some ideas would rise above others.  These ideas can then be shown to the world.  At conferences.  In papers. On YouTube. Or by going live on the web.  The question becomes ‘what is the minimum needed to get this idea out there?”

And this is where the VCs come in.  VCs already know people who are good at forming businesses, people who know what to do next.  They can take a team with a good idea and match them up with the business skills they need to move one step on.

Now – the important point here is that, all the time people are working in the idea factory, they are being paid.  You want people in the factory with a range of experiences – from fresh hungry graduates, through to the world weary sorts who have seen everything and know how things really work.  So there are going to be a range of salaries. Perhaps, because the work environment is unusual, you might be able to get away with offering a lower salary then the market would usually require. The question of salaries is where the VCs take a risk – how much time and money will these people need per idea?  By the time the idea is being fitted out into a standalone start up, the risk should be much reduced, and the VCs should be happy about getting a higher rate of return.  [Also, one presumes that an idea factory would be a good source of patents, if one of the members were to be a patant lawyer]

Idea Factories might be the way to inspire entrepreneurial growth in towns currently lacking it, or for a small group of VCs to monopolise start ups (and get a better share of the equity then they might otherwise manage)

But wait – Idea Factories might not just be good for VCs.  Consider your big company – not quite a company the size of Google, but the sort of tech company which regularly takes over large convention centres to support their customer base.  These companies often need new ideas.  They could set up internal idea factories along the same lines, getting people to play with the sort of technologies they are interested in.  It would lower the risk of disruption, and – even if all the ideas came to nought – give them a way of showing they support innovation.

This is an idea which I think – based on rough estimates -  has legs and is worthy of further investigation.  Please contact me if you think you might want to play a part in bringing an Idea Factory to life – either as a venture investor, or within your company, because I would very much like to help.

Car makers heed my advice

In I Want A Different Car I said:

“If you can provide me with a way for the car to make me a coffee, so much the better. ”

Well, it looks like, yet again, captains of industry are racing to meet my every demand:

http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/07/16/the-ultimate-to-go-cup-new-car-has-espresso-maker-built-in/

(well, one demand, and not even a demand so much as a throwaway comment.  And probably not so much racing as ‘had it in the pipeline since before I wrote anything’)

Now, figure out how to fit in a desk (that doesn’t come out while I’m driving), and add a few bonus features such as ‘reliability’ and I’m yours, Fiat.

Kickstarting Commissions

Kickstarting, indie-go-going, crowd funding.  It’s the new hotness.  The next hotness will be when these sites allow people to make a commission by spreading their idea and bringing in new funders.  Suddenly there will be people falling over themselves to find the best ideas and put them i the right market place.

Thats all.  Simple idea, big promise.

I want a different car.

Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with my car… well, it might be getting on a bit, and its a Skoda, but aside from that, there is nothing wrong with it. Still, I’m beginning to think about what I want in a new car, and I’m coming to the conclusion that it doesn’t exist.

Since my readership probably consists of tens of thousands of car designers all wanting to hear what I personally want in a car I’m going to share my thoughts with them (and indeed you). My point here is that the existing ideas about cars may suit most people, but there are niches which seem untapped, and maybe it is time for a company to do to the car market what Apple have done for the tablet and mobile phone.

The main thing I want is a car that will drive itself. Big strides are being being made here from groups all around the world. I expect to see self driving cars in the near future, and hope they are given a decent chance by the press and public.  Still, they’re not going to happen by the time I replace my Skoda.

I also quite fancy an electric car. I’ve one the maths, and I reckon for my needs a reliable range of 150 miles on a cold day is the minimum I need. And it needs to keep its charge for three weeks in an airport car park. And it needs to be cheap. Not as cheap as its petrol equivalent, but not expensive. It should save me money now if I were to drive 6000 miles. Again, the market is close, but it isn’t where I need it to be next.

So, those ideas are not plausible at the moment. But the other things I want are. They just don’t exist in the market place:

I want a cheap car.  Twelve grand seems a fair top price. I’ll go higher if you can convince me there is a good reason to (the electric car and the self driving cars would both convince me to spend a few more grand).

I don’t want to have to build it myself. Or to have to pay extra for someone else to build it for me. I’m ruling out kit cars here.

I want it to be cheap to run. This means it needs to be light.

I want it to have reasonable acceleration at junctions, and when motorways slope upwards. I’ve been in underpowered cars that don’t meet these goals, but my 1.4 liter Skoda does. I’m not asking for a 12 cylinder engine or anything. I guess the torque of a decent electric motor would help here.

I don’t really care about passengers. I’m happy with it being a second car. So maybe one person could join me, but sitting behind me.  Because:

I want the driver to sit in the centre of the front of the car. No passenger on my left (or right). That way, I can take it abroad with me and still be on the right side. This idea necessitates either a flappy paddle gear change or being an automatic. I can handle both.

I don’t want built in gadgets, because I expect to buy new gadgets faster than I buy cars. So while I like the idea of in car networking features, at most they should go as far as in care WiFi routing. Give me a socket for a sim card and ideally support for inter-car mesh routing and no more.  But all the gadgets I may want are usb powered, so give me a high friction shelf, with built in grippers of varying types, and a powered USB hub. Stick some powered USB ports in the boot too. I might want to add some storage. By default, turn the USB power off when I’m not in the car.

Provide a way that I can access any in car data streams, both mechanical (if the car can tell the same things a mechanic can tell about what sensors are broken, it can tell me in a nice friendly way) and generally provided to the user (Speedo etc). Provide them by http over the wireless network, so my devices can record them. If the car has a black box recorder, I want all of that available for my devices to read. There is a lot I can do with this data, so let me at it.

I don’t need much boot space, about enough for 1 large suitcase should be fine. Maybe I could have a bit more, if I didn’t have a passenger.

Ideally let me use the car as a mobile office.  Give me a convenient desk that I can pull out when I’m not driving.  If you can provide me with a way for the car to make me a coffee, so much the better. Office style storage is more useful to me than a glove box and space for golf clubs. A built in keyboard and trackball would be really handy.

Overall, this is about redefining what a car is.  To me, a car is not a penis extension or a status symbol, it is an extension of my office, a mobile cave for me to be in. What I want is more space, more room to be me. And I don’t see the need to pay much for it – given how cheap we have managed to amek computers, why can’t we try to do the same sort of thing with the basic motor car?

Does everyone really want the four or five seat box I see outside the window? Am I really so much of a niche that I’m the only person who thinks a car could be something totally different?

 

I’ll Be Damned

I’m not a perfectionist.  Not your normal kind of perfectionist.
I know damn well I’m not perfect.
I can list all my flaws.  One after another.  Want to hear them?  You’ll be here a while.
What I can’t face is anyone else knowing that I’m not perfect.
So, keep it to yourself, would you?
What I like to do is think.
Ideas are where I live.
The real world is just a place to inspire ideas.
The real world is imperfect.
When I try to bring my ideas into the real world, the light of the real world shines on them and reveals imperfections.
Those imperfections weren’t there in my mind
Or maybe they were.  And I overlooked them.
(But that would mean I was imperfect.  So shhhhh)
I can’t bare for my ideas to be imperfect… not if anyone else is going to see them
So I destroy my creations.
Or I hide them away.  Away from the light.
More recently I just plain got good at never letting my ideas out in the first place.
In my head, they are all my babies.  And I take care of them.  They don’t need the real world.

Ideas, in my head, unexpressed, are wonderful and priceless.
To me.
To others they have no value.  They do nothing.  They don’t even exist.
And so, I guess to others I have no value either.
Since I am a combination of my ideas, and a seething mass of repressed imperfection.

This has to stop.

I have to stop fearing the imperfect.

Occasionally I look at my old ideas – ones I realised, then hid, ashamed.
Lots of them are pretty good
Not great.  But pretty good.  I like them.
Not enough to share – you understand – that time has passed.
Those ideas are old now.  They belong to another me, a me from the past.
I have new ideas.  Perfect, unsullied ideas.

So my mission is to share my ideas.

Its not a mission.  A mission is a cause you live for.
I live for the ideas.  The ideas will never die.
But my soul might.
Because if the ideas are me.  And they are.  Then to share them is to love.
I don’t love enough.
Because I don’t share enough.

When I said my ideas had value, did you think I was talking about money?

This is the plan.  The idea.  The first idea:
Make it easy to write.
Have a keyboard to hand at all times.
Forego brain numbing entertainment and embrace boredom
Boredom is a great motivator.
Encourage boredom, and you encourage creativity.
Do not fill the spaces in between.  Make them wider.  Look inside them.

The second idea is dangerous.
I do not like it.  It taunts me.
I am afraid of it.
But it has power.

“Publish before thinking.”

I publish everything now
(well, not everything.  But lots.  every day)
I do not edit.
Because editing implies I could make it perfect.  Or more perfect.  And that reminds me of the imperfections.
I spellcheck, because I like getting rid of the red lines.
I do not reread it.
I just hit publish.
And it is out there.

I do not always publish under my own name.  Because I am scared, and because names have power.
But I have shared.
I have loved.
Loved in the manner of a man who dare not approach his muse – dare not even look at her.
But loved.

And my love, out there, lasts.
My ideas stand on their own.
Imperfect.  But beautiful.

They are not all beautiful.
Some, i know, are ugly and twisted.
I will revise them, I tell myself.
But not yet.  Because there is more to share.
And in time maybe the ugliness will wear off.

I doubt the ugliness will wear off.

But I have shared.

If these ideas are worth anything to anyone, then I have done good.
If they are worthless, then I have done my best.
Because striving for perfection
Is striving to add so little
and succeeds in only adding great disappointment
When the ideas refuse to step outside.
When I keep the ideas locked inside.

No.  I have shared.
I will continue to share.
I will not edit.  Because editing stops me from sharing.
I will publish and be damned.
I will publish, and maybe the ideas, the me inside of me, will be saved.

[Note from Ben:  I wrote this.  I think its a poem.  I don’t think I started out writing a poem, but thats what it seems to have become.  It was meant to be a manifesto against keeping ideas to yourself because they are not perfect.  It seems less optimistic than it was meant to be, but I think it shows how scared I am of coming to terms with this concept - a concept which is, I am pretty sure, the right way for me to behave.  It is, nevertheless, empowering.  In its own way.  I didn’t post this right away, which makes me a fraud and a liar.  But also human, and very much me.  I will post it.  I will.  It will not be revised.]

© Ben.Cha.lmers.co.uk
CyberChimps