Crowdfunding again: a personal request

Readers will remember I’ve blogged in the past about crowdfunding with the headline “Not just for geeks”. I’ve contributed myself to a couple of things: a board game based on the history of Oxford, and an early music opera (La Liberazione de Ruggiero …) which was triumphantly presented recently at this year’s Brighton Early Music Festival to stunning reviews.

Now a new one, and this time I’m asking for your help. Since I did my own university research, decades ago now, the funding system has changed out of recognition and it can be near impossible to find a scholarship or a fellowship or simply money to fund the laboratory costs of worthwhile research. Not least because the utilitarian view of science prevails in the public purse and there’s a strong bias away from primary research. If there isn’t a directly marketable product at the end of the process ( what was called near-market work when I was involved in European Community IT projects), forget it!

In medical research, there is arguably no more important issue than the increasing prevalence of obesity and its frequent consequence, diabetes. It isn’t just a lifestyle issue, though in some cases it can be. Prevention and control currently rest on expensive drug treatments or highly invasive surgical intervention. But the body may have its own mechanism built in, if we can figure out how to activate it.

This is where I run off the end of my understanding as a non-medic (albeit one who worked in pharmaceuticals for many years). We have two kinds of fat: white fat stores energy, but brown fat consumes it. If the brown fat mechanisms can be successfully activated, a new and effective treatment is on the cards. But this is primary research, not near-market work.

My son James Law, who is a senior Registrar in the Nottingham NHS and a member of staff at Nottingham University, working in the Queen’s Medical Centre, is undertaking research in this area. He needs your involvement through crowdfunding. Please visit the link to his own pages, and help if you can.

Links:
• Crowdfunding: not just for geeks. Help Free Ruggiero. ITasITis, 21 Nov 2014
• Ruggiero reviews: see Brighton Early Music on Facebook
• Click here to participate: Activating brown fat to improve diabetes and obesity, James Law & Michael Symonds, on experiment.com

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Location services move indoors: Apple’s iBeacon

An incidental headline in Outsell’s information market monitoring email brought my attention to Apple’s new iBeacon technology, announced last year.

We’ve long been used to the idea that the smart devices we carry around with us might/can detect nearby things of interest: for example, alerting us to an offer from a store nearby. Location services, based on GPS, on your current WiFi connection, or on triangulation from your mobile signal, do this. So can active RFID.

But indoor location is difficult. Current technology is an updated version of the old nautical dead reckoning. It notes where you are when you lose your accurate GPS/cellular/WiFi positioning, and uses motion sensors to track.

iBeacon is different. It’s a nearer-proximity application and is based on Bluetooth detection of your smartphone. Apple says: Instead of using latitude and longitude to define the location, iBeacon uses a Bluetooth low energy signal, which iOS devices detect. So you need Bluetooth turned on as well as having an appropriate app loaded. This leaves you a modicum of control, I guess.

What alerted me was Outsell’s note that London-based online community specialist Verve has added Apple’s iBeacon technology to its Community Panel app, allowing it to track individual members as they travel into and around stores fitted with the iBeacon device. The report, from “MrWeb”, is firmly in the market research space. This is very much a retailer’s app; it tracks the device in detail through a store, identifying where the user spends time – and how long they stay there – and possibly triggering instant marketing surveys on that basis.

Verve is a newish (2008) company. They describe themselves as “The community panel for research”. Their business is the creation of community panels, acting as consultants to companies needing consumer-focussed research. There’s no  indication, therefore, of what incentives are offered to users to join panels; but one might assume instant offers would be the least of it. There is some client information in their “About Us” section (but one client is T-Mobile, which hasn’t existed independently since around the time Verve were formed, so one wonders …).

Apple’s developer website suggest a range of applications:

From welcoming people as they arrive at a sporting event to providing information about a nearby museum exhibit, iBeacon opens a new world of possibilities for location awareness, and countless opportunities for interactivity between iOS devices and iBeacon hardware

A link will take you through to a video from the 2014 WorldWide Developers Forum. This is awkward to get at: unless you’re using Safari on a recent MacOS you will need to download the file to play it. But it’s worth it; it takes you on a journey from existing RF triangulation, adding motion sensors when indoors and out of effective range, to the new beacon-based technology. And on the way it suggests more user-oriented applications, such as finding your way roung Heathrow Airport; or through an unfamiliar hospital on a family visit. Watch about the first 15 minutes, before it routes to coding stuff for developers.

Technically, interesting; a new twist on location services. Practically useful; but watch out (as always) for what it may do to your privacy. As they say: enjoy!

Links:
• iOS: understanding iBeacon, Apple
• iBeacon for Developers, Apple Developer website
• Verve Adds iBeacon Tech to Panel App, Mr Web Daily Rresearch News Online, 5 Mar 2015
• Verve: community panel research
Taking Core Location Indoors, Nav Patel, Apple WWDC, June 2014. Page down to find the expanded link

Turing Lecture 2015: The Internet Paradox (links updated)

Following a move, I’m no longer close enough to London to easily attend the BCS and IET’s prestige Turing lecture in person. So this year, for the first time, I will be attending online.

Robert Pepper is VP Global Technology Policy at Cisco. His topic: The Internet Paradox: How bottom-up beat(s) command and control. The publicity promises “a lively discussion on how the dynamics of technology policy and largely obscure decisions significantly shaped the Internet as the bottom-up driver of innovation we know today … Dr. Pepper will cover the next market transition to the Internet of Everything and the interplay between policy and technology and highlighting early indicators of what the future may hold for the Internet.

I’m expecting a good objective discussion. As I learned many years ago, listening to Peter Cochrane when he was head of BT’s research centre, those who provide technical infrastructure don’t have a reason to hype up the different services which will run on it. Quite the opposite: they need to assess investment to satisfy demand, but not exceed it. Let’s see what we see. I’ll update this blog as we go, and probably abbreviate it tomorrow.

Starting on time: Liz Bacon, BCS President, is on stage. An unexpected extra: Daniel Turing, Alan Turing’s nephew, is introducing the Turing Trust with a mention of The Imitation Game, the Turing film, and of The BCS’s role in rebuilding Turing’s codebreaking machine (“the bomb”). The Trust recycles first-used computers to less well off countries. In our move last year, I passed quite a lot of old equipment to Recycle-IT who ethically re-use or dispose of un-reusable kit.

Now the main speaker (bio online). He describes himself as a “recovering regulator”; regulation is the intersection of policy and technology. Big iron to nano-compute, and we haven’t even seen the Apple Watch yet! This (and the cost/power changes) drives decentralisation of computing. Alongside, 1969: 4 “internet” locations (packet switched) on the west coast. By 1973, extended outside continental USA (London, Hawaii). 1993: global.

1994-5 the US Government outsourced (privatised) the network. NSF had been created. Restrictions were dropped to permit commercial use; and other governance was created. In the diagram, the biggest nodes (most traffic) are Google and Facebook; but China is coming up fast!

An alternative view: in stages. 1: connectivity (email, search). 2: networked economy; 3, Immersive. 99% of the world, though, is still unconnected. 1000 devices with IP addresses in 1984; forecast 20 bn by 2020. 50bn if you include non-IP such as RFID chips. Internet of Everything will encompass people, processes, data and things. Such as, by 2018, four IP modules on each of 256million connected cars. Such as, sensor clothing for athletes. I have a 1986 news clip from MIT Media Lab about the prototypes for exactly this. The quote was: “Your shoes may know more about you than your doctor does“.

Things create data which, through process, can positively affect people. But only 0.5% of data is being analysed for insights! There’s an example from nutrition. Take a photo of a product in the supermarket, and see if it’s appropriate (for example, no alcohol with your prescription). Or the “Proteus pill” to help with older people’s medication, which the FDA has already approved. Or the Uber cab app.

So that’s the technology. Now, on to policy and governance.

Internet governance developed bottom-up and is not centralised; it’s a multi-stakeholder global ecosystem of private, governments (lots of them!) and intergovernmental, providers, researchers, academics and others. There’s a diagram of those actually involved, which will be quite useful when I can retrieve it readably. First RFC was from ARPAnet in 1969. The first IETF met in 1986. ITU’s World Conference in 2012 saw proposals from some member states to regulate the Internet, and these were rejected. In 2014 the (US Dept of Commerce) proposal is to transition IANA to become a multi-stakeholder global body, so that the US finally cedes control of the network it inaugurated.

Now: as many of us know, the international standards process we currently have is done by consensus and can take years. Contrariwise, the IETF works by “Rough consensus and run code” (everlasting beta). Much faster. Based on RFCs that come in, and with a combination of online and face-to-face meetings. There are NO VOTES (Quakerism works in a similar way); “rough consensus” in IETF is assessed by hum!

Robert shows a slide of a “Technology Hourglass” (citing Steve Deering, 2001; Deering is also a Cisco person. I can’t find the actual reference). IP, at the centre, is in essence the controlling/enabling standard. Above (applications) and below (infrastructure) there can be innovation and differentiation. (My comment: in the same way, both 19th century rolling stock and modern trains can run on today’s network.) The suggestion: it’s a martini glass because at the top there’s a party going on!

There’s no need to ask permission to innovate! This is the Common Law approach: you can do anything that’s not prohibited. The UK has almost 1.5 million people working in this area. They are here because of Common Law: European countries have the reverse (you need permission). The information economy now dominates the previous waves of service, industry and agriculture.

Internet is a General Purpose Technology, like printing and transport and the telephone. Other things are built on it. Increasing broadband provision links to growth: this is not correlational, it is causal. Digital-technology innovation drives GDP growth in mature economies (McKinsey); the impact is on traditional sectors enabled by the digital.

Third: the paradox. There’s decentralisation of compute, to individuals, to nanodevices, and to stakeholders. But right now, governments want to reverse this approach and take control; to re-create silos, have forced localisation of standards, content and devices. This is already the case with some classes of data in some countries.

The issues: (1) extending connectivity to those who are not connected. (2) safety, security and privacy – where there clearly is a role for government, but be clear that these are not just internet issues. Others on a slide about Internet of Everything. Some governments are well-intentioned but not well informed; others, more dangerously, were the reverse. And old-tech assumptions (how you charge for phone service, for example) doesn’t match the new realities; the product is connectivity (not voice).

Swedish study: if you can’t transfer data, you can’t trade (nor have global companies). Localisation of data will impact severely on the global economy. Note: Economist Intelligence Unit looked at some proposals; 90% of the authoritarian regimes voted for new internet regulations on a multilateral basis, 90% of democracies against. Enough! We are at a crossroads where the Net could take either direction, and they are not equal.

Final quote: Neils Bohr. How wonderful we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress!

I’m not going to try and capture Q&A. Heading over to Twitter. Watch the webcast; I’ll post the URL in an amendment when it’s up on the IET website.

Has it been an objective discussion? In one sense yes. But in another, Robert Pepper clearly has a passionate belief in the model of governance which he is promoting. What’s been shared is experience, insight and vision. Well worth a review.

Links:
• BCS/IET Turing Lecture 2015: online report (BCS); or view the webcast replay from The IET
Proteus Digital Health including a video on their ingestible sensor
Watching the Waist of the Protocol Hourglass, Steve Deering, seminar 18 Jan 1998 at Carnegie-Mellon University (abstract only)
Turing Trust
Recycle-it (don’t be confused; other organisations with similar names exist on the web)

LinkedIn in the news (and its hidden resources)

Two media notes from LinkedIn this week: an enterprise which I always take an interest in because, as well as being a user, I visited them in Silicon Valley some years ago.

Through Outsell, which is a media analyst and (among other things) monitors analyst firms, I was connected to an article on VB which covers a LinkedIn tool called Gobblin. It’s been developed to gobble up, and improve LinkedIn’s use of, the wide range of sources which it uses. With many different inputs to reconcile (a task I’ve done bits of, on a much smaller scale, in the past), the development is clearly driven by necessity.

VB calls it “data ingestion software”. The interesting thing is that LinkedIn doesn’t treat these kinds of developments as proprietary. So the announcement explains that the software will be released, available to all kinds of other enterprises with similar needs, under an open-source licence.

Almost the same day, Outsell also flagged a report that LinkedIn is expanding its reach to embrace younger members (high-school students, in US terms) and will provide a specific capability for higher education institutions to promote themselves. This will, of course, increase the data ingestion requirement.

Interestingly, I had to use Google to find LinkedIn’s press release archive; there’s no link to corporate information on the regular user page so far as I can see. And there are no press releases showing at the moment related to either of these news items. However, via Twitter, I found a discussion of Gobblin from analyst GigaOM with, in turn, a link to another “hidden” section of the LinkedIn website: LinkedIn Engineering. That’s the primary source and it has diagrams and a useful discussion of the analysis and absorption of unstructured “big data”. Interesting to me, because I cut my database teeth on text databases when I moved from University computing to enterprise IT.

When I visited LinkedIn, on a Leading Edge Forum study tour, they were still a start-up and it wasn’t clear whether they had a viable business model or met a real need. It was their presentation then which decided me to sign up. Well, a good ten years on the company is still not in profit although revenue, in the last quarterly results, had increased by almost half year-on-year. The business model is still standing, at least.

MLinks:
• LinkedIn
• LinkedIn details Gobblin …, VB News, 25 Nov 2014
• LinkedIn expands for high school students, universities, Monterey Herald Business, 19 Nov 2014
• LinkedIn explains its complex Gobblin big data framework, GigaOM, 26 Nov 2014
• Gobblin’ Big Data With Ease, Lin Qiao (Engineering Manager), LinkedIn Engineering, 25 Nov 2014<
• LinkedIn Announces Third Quarter 2014 Results, LinkedIn press release, 20 Oct 2014
• Look for LinkedIn information here: Press Center; and Engineering

Crowdfunding: not just for geeks. Help Free Ruggiero

Just a short post. Teaching the Open University’s technology foundation course a couple of years ago introduced me to the idea of crowdfunding – I’m sure I’d have encountered it anyway, but seeing it as part of the wider picture of the social revolution added an extra dimension. Of course, crowdfunding isn’t entirely new; people have always subscribed readily to popular conventional share issues, not just in the privatisations of the last few decades but in the 19th century railway boom and earlier (look up the South Sea Bubble for one that historically went badly wrong). What’s different is that the reach is extended via the Web to people who might not otherwise think of being subscribers; and the range of rewards, while often creative and interesting, doesn’t extend to ongoing shareholder participation.

Shortly after learning about the idea, I joined one crowdfunding initiative as a result of which I now own a board game called Dreaming Spires which is about to have its official public launch. And now another, firmly in the realm of  the Arts.

We’re supporting members of the Brighton Early Music Festival (BREMF) which is a music festival with a difference. Not just early music concerts of a considerable excellence – and this year we were privileged to be part of two of them, built on choral and instrumental workshops we attended. But also projects which present the music in a new light, set in its historical context. This year, for example, we learned of the developments of “new” music as the style moved from Renaissance to early Baroque; feelings ran high, and “the old music” was held by some as a standard which the newer styles were pushing aside.

Next year’s BREMF will look at women composers, and the festival wants to stage what we’re calling Free Ruggiero (it has a long Italian name) which is the first complete opera known to have been composed by a woman: La Liberazione di Ruggiero dall’Isola d’Alcina written in 1625 by Francesca Caccini. If you apply for Arts Council funding you need to show you already have backing from other sources, and BREMF are raising this by crowdfunding through the Zequs platform.

Visit the Zequs page to find out more, if early music which challenged the norms and set ideas appeals to you. As I write, you only have nine days left to subscribe!

Links:
• Free Ruggiero on Zequs
• Brighton Early Music Festival (not just in the season)
• Dreaming Spires on Kickstarter

Formula 1 spreads innovation

Travelling home yesterday evening, I was unusually listening to the BBC’s Radio 4. Unusually because we usually drive to classical music, but the Prom wasn’t to my taste and we did need the radio on a BBC station to ensure we collected the traffic reports as we travelled.

So we heard a report on the In Business programme about McLaren’s Formula 1 racing team, and a new venture called Maclaren Applied Technologies (MAT) which is creating a spin-off business by applying the F1 team’s approaches to help other businesses innovate. It’s grown rapidly from a handful of individuals to around 250 people. It’s worth a look (or in this case a listen).

F1 lives by innovation. Racing cars develop significantly between races, to short timescales of one to two weeks. Not only that, but there is significant process expertise too. A pit stop will lift a car, change all four wheels on a car, put it back on the road and have it accelerate away in less time than it takes to read this: perhaps two seconds. All down to well practised team work: each person ready, in place with the right equipment, and knowing exactly what to do.

Now MAT is helping other businesses. They offer their experience in areas like advanced sensor technology, and large scale real time data handling. Not Big Data for the sake of Big Data, but identifying what’s needed to resolve a problem or monitor and improve a process: and then having the technology and the expertise to gather the data, and to analyse and report on the necessary timeline. Not forgetting the teamwork, process-based innovation which gets their cars through their pit stop.

Examples cited included other sports, of course: GB Cycling, and rugby, working on the performance of athletes and their equipment. It’s perhaps a natural development of that to equip individuals tackling their weight problems, so that they can be made aware of their “energy burn” during different physical activities from walking to house cleaning: this in partnership with a doctor’s practice (about 11 minutes into the broadcast).

And (at about 14 minutes) the conversation moves to my old company, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). GSK have had an established partnership with McLaren for around three years now.

Clinical trials are a large scale and, of course, critical element of drug development. GSK is moving this data gathering from retrospective (trial participants’ records being mediated by a clinical partner and reported perhaps monthly) to real-time, using MAT sensor technology. Not only does this provide more complete and more robust data; it can of course speed the process of getting a valuable treatment to market. Crucially, too, it helps failures to be spotted sooner – hence reducing overall costs to the company, costs which can only be recouped through successful products.

And then, still in GSK but in consumer-health manufacturing, McLaren’s pit stop expertise (remember?) comes back. GSK makes several toothpaste brands. No, they’re not all the same inside the tube and the line has to be changed over for a different batch. For McLaren, the speed of the pit stop changeover wins races. Applying this to manufacturing changeover has, it seems, created operator pride in the speed with which it can be achieved – and saving time, quite simply, gets more toothpaste to market.

Of course, conventional management consultants might tackle some of the same problems. McLaren see their differentiator as this: theirs is engineering-led innovation rather than analysis-led innovation. They come at things from a doing angle, not a thinking-about angle.

The broadcast is available as a podcast or download, not the usual time-expiring iPlayer replay. It’s worth half an hour of your time.

Now, how about applying pit stop thinking to the process of software release and upgrade?

Links:
• Fast and Furious, BBC podcast from Peter Day’s World of Business, 7 Aug 2014 from BBC Podcasts and Downloads
• Maclaren Applied Technologies
• MAT In the News features some of the examples cited in the BBC programme, including obesity monitoring and toothpaste manufacturing
GSK McLaren partnership, from GSK.com