Tuesday, April 25, 2006


Anybody who knows me will know that I find the theory of Evolution interesting, fascinating even, and it is a theme that crops up in conversation on many occasions (stop yawning over there).

My two favourites examples of evolution are

  1. The Heike Crab

  2. The Internet

The Heike Crab

For those of you who don't already know (I can see you yawning, but I know you really, really want to hear this again) is a crab from Japan with an unusual history.

Old Japanese legend has it that in 1185, after defeat at the battle of Dan-no-ura in the Genpei war, the Emperor Antoku and his Taira warriors, committed suicide by throwing themselves into the sea. From this time, the heike crabs in this area are believed to hold the spirits of the dead warriors and any crab caught that has a carapace which resembles the face of a samurai warrior are thrown back into the sea.

Thus over the last 800+ years, crabs that carry this resemblance are more likely to survive and breed, thus forcing them down an evolutionary path, in this case artificial, not natural selection. The end result, you can see for yourself, is remarkable.

The Internet

Well actually that should really say something like "business models of companies primarily using the internet as their trading medium", but "the Internet" is a bit snappier when you're having this conversation in a pub.

So many different examples to use, but a good one to quote is the rise of the Internet Search Engine, such as Yahoo, Google, or remember Alta Vista?

There is a lot of talk in Internet circles about the dominance of Google at the moment and how it seems to be expanding into lots of new areas. I've been online since late 1994 and I've watched with interest the changing search landscape and just have one thing to say, well a couple of things really:

  • It's tough being number one, everybody is out to get you

  • It takes genius to invent, it takes engineering to replicate

  • Somebody is always trying to build a better mousetrap

  • If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants

So what does that all mean?

Basically what I am trying to say (and if you don't stop yawning, I'll start talking about Schrodinger's Cat again) is that the rapid pace of technological change as illustrated by the Internet in all it's glory, has also accelerated the process of evolution.

This example, the evolution of search engines, I think illustrates all of the above points and I hereby predict that somebody, someday, sooner rather than later, will invent a better search engine than Google and it will become the dominant player. I also predict that this new search engine would not have been possible without the pioneering work of it's predecessors, i.e. "Standing on the shoulders of Giants"

I also predict that it is quite possible it will be ex Google people that do it!

Two other more esoteric references to evolution, I remember reading a book, "Oath of Fealty" about the development of earth's first Arcology and the impact it has on the society surrounding it's location, Los Angeles I believe. I remember a phrase from the book that stuck in my mind, "It's just evolution in action", which in the book referred to the stupidity of some intruders into the arcology that ignored clear signs that they could be killed if they continued to break in. They carry on and guess what? They get killed. I often wondered if this book had an influential effect on the founder of the Darwin Awards.

Finally (honestly), my last reference to Evolution is from one of my favourite Clint Eastwood movies, Heartbreak Ridge. AS tough guy, Gunny Highway, Clint refers often to the US Marine Corps motto: Innovate, adapt, overcome! Now if that isn't an evolutionary call to action I don't know what is.

Phew, this has to be my longest blog post ever. Well it is a bit of a big topic...

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Go Detritus!

Either we are getting smarter, the questions are getting easier, or we had a lucky night. Whatever the reason we got one of our best scores in the Pub Quiz last night, 21 out of 40 (don't mock at that until you have tried it.)

Not only that we were 6th out of 11 teams, only about 7 points behind the winners!

What was just as annoying was the couple of questions we were convinced we knew the answer too, but just couldn't tease the information out of our beer dulled brains.

Convinced that there must be a name for this condition (apart from forgetfulness)I did a quick search on Google and found an interesting article on Wikipedia about a phenomenon known as "Presque vu" related to the more common Deja Vu, the term is from the French language, meaning "almost seen," the expression means almost, but not quite, remembering something. Often very disorienting and distracting, presque vu rarely leads to an actual breakthrough. Frequently, one experiencing presque vu will say that they have something "on the tip of their tongue".

This exactly describes how I felt last night, there were several questions where I could feel the answer just out of my grasp in my memory. I can remember related facts, where and when I had heard the name before, could even describe a person, but just couldn't quite bring the name into focus - very frustrating.

What is mildly worrying, is that the article goes on to say: "Presque vu is often cited by people who suffer from epilepsy or other seizure-related brain conditions, such as temporal lobe lability. This condition is related to people who exhibit strong artistic or imaginative abilities, however also related to the theory that Alien Abductions are most often psychic incidents, i.e. the person imagines the abduction, but at such a detailed level that they strongly believe it is true. Such a phenomenon is also knows as False memory syndrome.

I have always been fascinated by memory and how it is triggered by smells, sounds, even colour. I think more reading is required...

Thursday, April 06, 2006

I have escaped the Digital Stone Age

I have just returned from almost week stuck in the Digital stone age, also known as "visiting family".

A typical day for me usually involves me never being away from a fast internet connection for more than a couple of hours at a time:

  • Home - 1Mb connection
  • Office - 512k connection
  • London - Up to 1Mb connection in wifi hotspots, e.g. Starbucks

Usually when I go "Up North", the slow dial-up connection via my mobile GPRS is quite sufficient for picking up email and I just grumble quietly about not being able to do too much as the cost of 1Mb data over GPRS is something akin to a cheap laptop on eBay

However, this trip, was poorly timed and I had some serious work to do, unfortunately on various web based services which meant I was going to use a serious amount of data. Luckily, my T-mobile provider has just started offering an all you can eat GPRS access for just £7.50 per month, bargain I thought.

If only it had been that simple, not having to worry about the cost, I set about doing my stuff only to discover that the so called GPRS connection has a theoretical max speed of about 115kps, but an actual speed of data glacial if you try to do anything serious. So what would normally have taken 30 mins took about 3 hours of excruciatingly slow page refreshes.

The next day, I tried a different approach and tried to find a WiFi connection. First I tried a Cafe Nero, supposedly part of the Surf and Sip network, except, the staff there couldn'tt spell internett never mind work out why their wifi connection was appearing for only about 1 second every five minutes.

Second I tried a local bar, supposedly part of the same network, the conversation went something like this:

"What can I get ya?" asked bored looking female bar staff.
"Is your wifi connection working in here?" I asked politeley
"Our what?"
"Your internet connection, you're supposed to have a wifi hotspot here?"
"Our hifi connection? What's that? The jukebox uses CDs, we havent had hifi here for years"
"Never mind"

Finally, I drove out to another pub and sat in the car park trying to pick up the hotspot signal - success, it was there but a poor connection. So I went inside and ordered a beer, asking the bar man where was the best spot for his wifi connection.

"What's that?" he said looking puzzled.
"Your wifi hotspot, the connection was a bit weak in the car park, where is your router?"
"We don't have an internet connection here", he said looking a bit baffled, "maybe you are picking up a local house?"
"OK, I'll just sit over here quietly", I said, not having the energy to argue.

For the next half an hour I enjoyed wifi/broadband bliss, whilst occasionaly giving knowing glances to the puzzled looking barman.

And the moral of this story, just because your wifi provider says there should be a hotspot there, don't you believe it, I'm off now to look at the price of a 3G laptop PCMCIA card....