27 August 2009

Bernie Goldbach disusses eReaders and the ePub format

Inside View from Ireland: Late Night in the ePub This is a call to arms to embrace the open ePub format, and stop Amazon's Kindle from dominating the market with a locked in DRM format for electronic books.

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26 August 2009

Comparison of pre-pay mobile phone call and data plans across countries

This is an excellent high level discussion of the cultural differences to pre-paid plans in different parts of the world -- it's starting to get easier to buy such a plan in 5-10 minutes in a shop in many places in the world, especially the EU VoIP Watch: The Mobile Operator Dichotomy-Product vs... Service Approach.

I used a 3 pre-pay plan in Italy recently, and it worked really well. 3G data is starting to be come better value than expensive hotel WiFi plans.

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Economic Models: Rethink Growth

This is a thought provoking discussion of alternatives to economic models with a continuous growth assumption.

The Next Evolution in Economics: Rethinking Growth - HBR Now - Harvard Business Review

In a cellular economy, key metrics change. GDP growth is less important than GDP regeneration. Successful growth takes into account the sustainability of that growth.

The most profound change in a cellular economy is the devaluation of the transaction. Today, economic value is determined primarily by the value of the transaction. To grow (even just to survive), we must keep trading, keep consuming--no matter how wasteful the process becomes--because success is creating more transactions. This keeps us locked into a linear, growth oriented paradox.

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RSS vs Social Media - is RSS losing out?

In an interesting post Patricio Robles discusses why RSS usage is dropping of in the USA and wonders about the equivalent rise in the use of specific social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter Is RSS dead? | Blog | Econsultancy.

He concludes the RSS never was mainstream, and that it still serves a very useful function that will not go away any time soon.

I'd agree, adding that we are actually taking about the different flavours of RSS and Atom here. Personally I use RSS/Atom every day, and have started to use Twitter quite a bit. I use tools - like ping.fm - (often enabled with Jabber/IM and RSS) to update Facebook rather than using Facebook directly. Similarly with Yammer, MySpace, LinkedIn, Plaxo Pulse, and Flickr). Life's too short to be logging into all of these individually to update status, or to micro-blog. Also, I still value the more thoughtful composition required for a full (even if short) blog entry, compared to a short 140 character tweet. Thus I view the social media platforms as potential hooks to engage people, rather than as my real focus.

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GoMo News: Not legal to unlock iPhones in USA and Ireland, but it is in other countries such as Finland

Cian O'Sullivan of GoMo News (a TSSG spin-in company) reports that Legal unlock for iPhone shows just how bad USA and Ireland have got it. I had never realised this - the extent to which the legal unlocking of phones was dictated by one's country, but it does make sense.

As it happens, I use a Sony Ericsson P1i, that is unlocked, a bit of a last year's smart phone but I still like it a lot. I must admit it isn't as good at email as a Blackberry, and it isn't as good at web browsing as an iPhone, but it suits me grand for now.

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19 August 2009

Boston's innovation culture

It is interesting to read that Boston is only now changing towards a newer type of innovation culture (if this blog post is to be believed) given that it is famous for it's Innovation Corridor on Route 128 The Cultural Revolution: Which Side Are You On? - Innovation Economy - Boston.com

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16 August 2009

Does Ireland need independent Research Institutions?

I have been wondering for some time now whether what Ireland needs is to foster Research Institutes (RIs), that are co-funded by public funding and by industry, and independent of universities (or other Higher Level Institutions).

The idea of the RIs is that they would employ people who had a focus on building successful research outputs that could be used by industry, rather than trying to balance traditional academic goals with this aim, and instead of only employing post-doctoral researchers and PhD students, as pretty much all Irish research centres do today. Thus the RIs could act as a real bridge between academia and industry, acting as a cultural bridge as well as a new place for applied/industry-focused research to take place. I feel strongly that academic faculty, post-doctoral researchers and research students (who make up nearly 100% of the work force employed by the Irish research funding system funded by the HEA, SFI and Enterprise Ireland), will always place a higher priority on the academic issues, such as academic publication, and doing what is needed to get a PhD, rather than on the industrial linkages. If you really want industry linkage to be the main driver and the primary focus, new structures and institutions might be required. If RIs depended on industry for 25% of their funding initially, perhaps 50% after 5 years, then they would be forced to place an equal weighting on the applied research outputs that were of value to the industry that was contributing. Chris Horn has commented on my suggestion (via twitter tagged #itaskforce) that this could well be the problem, getting industry to fund part or all of such enterprises would never be easy, and especially not in the current economic climate; yet relying on public funding is a recipe for longer term failure, as such an RI would be likely to eventually merely replicate the pure academic culture of the existing system.

I am certainly not the first to make this observation about the Irish research and innovation setup. Cogan and McDevitt alude to the defict here:

“The country missed out on institutions such as technological universities and industry laboratories that are a feature of the industrial landscape in most European countries. In addition, Ireland’s chosen path to industrialisation, i.e. following the FDI route, masked until very recently this deficiency in the research infrastructure, and in the intermediaries that help bridge the gap between enterprise and the research base."
(Cogan and McDevitt, 2003, p. 27)

Of course, I have huge respect for my academic colleagues, and their academic work, and indeed there are some very good success stories of successful industrialisation from the existing investments that have been made in Ireland. My point is a structural one, not a criticism of any individuals or existing research centres. Also, the argument I am making is not an argument for not funding good basic academic research as well as good industrially relevant research. The argument is really about all the pieces that have to be in place for a "National System of Innovation" (NSI) to function properly, the theory of NSI being heavily promoted in the 1990s in Ireland when the increased R&D expenditure was proposed, but has been much less studied since that investment has started to be made (from the late 1990s with HEA PRTLI and from early 2000s with SFI, and in the general raising of the levels of funding given out by Enterprise Ireland for academic-industry linked research).

Perhaps the best example of Research Institutes of the type I envisage are in Europe, such as the Fraunhofer Institutes in Germany, e.g. FhG FOKUS in Berlin that we work very closely with in the TSSG. They are required to raise 50% of their funding directly from industry, and get the remainder from the German federal and state coffers, and from EU research project funding - so we are partners with them in many EU funded projects. FOKUS is famous for helping foster innovations such as MP3 and SIP (that underlies most of the Voice over IP world).

What we're trying to do in the TSSG, in effect, is to build such a group inside a Higher Educational Institution (HEI), Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT). We are almost unique in Ireland in being given the freedom to employ non post-doctoral researchers as our primary research staff - our pure academically focused staff are in a minority. We have around 150 staff, 20 of whom are full time PhD students, 14 of whom are post-doctoral research fellows, 4 of whom are full-time faculty, and the rest are various other forms of professionals - software developers, project managers, and other types of researchers (who don't necessarily have a PhD). We also have some administrative staff, and some technical support staff, but these add up to just another 10 people as a maximum. Our argument is that to make an impact in ICT (Information Communications Technologies), what you need are good programmers who can produce high quality code that actually has an economic value in itself - the code base can then form part of the licences granted to industrial partners to exploit these results, whether these be spinout or spin-in companies, or other external companies. Thus our argument has been, since we were founded by Willie Donnelly in 1996, that we should have a balance of a critical mass of sustainable funded research programmes that are (i) basic research programmes - traditional academic research (ii) applied research programmes - focused on industrial problems and industrial partners and on building working prototype solutions and (iii) commercialisation activities - trying to create economic value based on the outputs of the other two areas. We have achieved the balance in that (i) is funded by HEA PRTLI and SFI, (ii) is funded by EU FP4, 5, 6 and 7 and (iii) is funded by Enterprise Ireland. We've brought in around €60M over the past 13 years, most of it in the past 5 years (TSSG Projects). We've launched 13 spin-in and spin-out companies since 2000, most in the past 5 years, employing 55 additional staff (TSSG Companies).

This article is my own personal opinion, and may not be officially endorsed by the TSSG or by Waterford Institute of Technology.


Cogan, Joe and McDevitt, James [2003] Science, Technology and Innovation Policies in Selected Small Countries. VATT, Government Institute for Economic Research, KNOGG Deliverable D2, Finland. (KNOGG, BIBLIOGRAPHY 176 Knowledge, Growth and Globalisation, the Role of Science and Technology Policy in Small Countries, EU Project STPN-2000-00104), URL http://extranet.vatt.fi/knogg/Reports/VATTtutk96.pdf.

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13 August 2009

Twitter Statistics

The Sysomos report on Twitter - interesting reading Sysomos | In-Depth Look Inside the Twitter World

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11 August 2009

Mortality and Scholarship

Over the course of today, whilst working on my doctorate (on Irish research funding policy) the two most thought provoking things I have read have been obituaries in the Guardian. Two very different scholars who gave a lot to the world: Ivan Illich (born September 4 1926; died December 2 2002) and Bernard Crick (born 16 December 1929; died 19 December 2008). I first read books buy both authors in the 1980s (Illich: De-Schooling Society, Crick: In Defence of Politics), and only discovered today that both authors had died, even though it was quite recently for Crick, and it was quite a while ago for Illich. If that isn't a suitable note to finish on for the day, I'm not sure what is.

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10 August 2009

On the Importance of Taxonomies

Carol Kaesuk Yoon on the importance of taxonomies to science and to language itself in the New York Times: Reviving the Lost Art of Naming the World - NYTimes.com

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3 August 2009

Tynt tracks web copy and paste

A new product called Tracer from a Canadian start-up company Tynt allows web site owners to track how their content is being copied and pasted. Measuring reader engagement by how often they copy and paste - Nieman Journalism Lab

Tynt homepage.

Posted by mofoghlu at 10:37 PM

Jon Udell on Computational Thinking

Every now and then I am reminded of why I latched onto Jon Udell as a Byte author in the 1990s. Then it was his very engaged style of linking abstract thought to the pragmatics of using Perl for lightweight web development. Now I suppose it is the same: Talking with Joan Peckham about computational thinking - Jon Udell

When Phil Windley pointed me to Jeannette Wing’s manifesto on computational thinking, she had me at hello. The intellectual tools of computer science, she argues — including the ability to work at multiple levels of abstraction, to automate repetitive processes, and to make and use state machines — are really “a universally applicable attitude and skill set that everyone, not just computer scientists, would be eager to learn and use.”
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1 August 2009

Sailing from Byzantium

[Composed 1st August 2009, posted 9th August 2009 - connectivity issues when traveling.]

On summer holidays finally got around to reading Colin Wells' book Sailing from Byzantium. It is a very interesting look at Byzantium's contribution to preserving Greek learning for three cultural groups:

  • The Latin west, primarily via the Italian Renaissance;
  • The Islamic cultures of the Middle East, North Africa and Spain primarily via the Translation Movement ;
  • The Slavic peoples of Bulgaria, Russia and elsewhere primarily via the spreading of the Orthodox church.

This book isn't a good overview of Byzantine history itself, in fact it may be best to have read some of this first before reading this book. For the history I recommend the three volume history by John Julius Norwich (1, 2, 3), and the fantastic dramatisation of the fall of the empire in 1453 by Roger Crowley Constantinople, The Last Great Siege 1453.

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