Nothing is Simple

I am currently reading the excellent book by Jim Holt – “Why Does the World Exist?”.

And it turns out that that question is related to one of my late night musings – “What is the simplest possible universe?”

As in every good debate, we start by defining our terms. “Something” is easy to define, at least as a bucket, but what is “nothing”?

One way to define nothing is to start with something and then take it away.

So we start with our universe and remove all the matter. Do we then have “nothing”? And is then the simplest possible universe “nothing”?

The problem is that emptying the universe is not as simple as subtracting 1 from 1 to give us 0.

Even if we removed all matter, particles would still bubble up from the Dirac Sea. The only way to stop that is to remove the fundamental laws of this universe.

But where are these? How are they manifested?

Are they intrinsic to our universe or do they sit outside? And if outside then how do they affect our universe and have we not just replaced God with an equally inaccessible controller?

If they are intrinsic then where are they? Wearing a Mysterian hat, perhaps they are in plain sight but are imperceivable to our consciousness.

Emptying the universe starts to seem a lot less simple.

In the book, Jim Holt gives three requirements for this subtractive model of nothingness. One of which he, though not I, thinks is a deal breaker.

For me the fundamental problem with the subtractive model, aside from the challenge mentioned above, is ghosts.

Ghosts do not exist, they are therefore nothing. But they are obviously not nothing as there is a word in the page “ghosts” and you who read it know what it means.

Ghosts are both being and nothingness. What do I take away from what to create the nothingness that is a ghost?

Chromebook – first thoughts

Google yesterday launched the Chromebook and a lot of the coverage has been about the 3 year leasing model which they offering.

I am still waiting for more details but based on the information here I have some first impressions.

Chromebooks essentially appear to be thin clients in netbook form – data and apps are stored remotely with the device essentially being the presentation layer.

On a 3 year basis the cheapest device has a cost of $28 x 36 or $1008 as opposed to the one off purchase cost of $349.

So the question is “Is the service wrap worth $659?”

The only details I can find so far are here.

Cost savings seem to be mainly captured in this paragraph:

Chromebooks and the management console automate or eliminate many common, time-intensive IT tasks like machine image creation, application distribution, patching, and upgrades. Additionally, there is no need to purchase licenses for anti-virus, data encryption or data back-up software. Subscription pricing means that you only pay a low monthly amount.

Minimum quantity is 10 so service wrap will be a minimum of $2197 per annum.

But someone still needs to do configuration, deployment, run the management console etc.

Will do some more detailed modelling and realworld comparisons but will be interested to see a) how the thin client model works in operation and b) whether the netbook form factor is now too unfashionable for the market to accept!

Zen Bosons

What is the simplest possible universe?

One answer is that it is ours because ours is the only universe we know to exist and one is simpler than two.

Another answer is to start from scratch with a blank sheet of … well what? Vacuum foam? Dirac sea? Hilbert space?

So rather than building up perhaps we should start by simplifying, decluttering the universe we have. We could start by getting rid of some of those high end elements from the periodic table, the ones with half lives measured in fractions of a second…

But although they seem to have no relevance to our world they exist because of the laws of nature so we would gave to unpick the laws of nature and elements, are in any case, merely energy situationally described in information terms so which laws do we need to start unpicking?

So perhaps we need to go back to the start from scratch approach?

And so this cycle of random night thoughts continues until I fall asleep.

Night all.

Two different stories, one platform

Twitter release an updated client for iOS which puts a large black hashtag bar across the top of the screen which results in users complaining bitterly that the functionality of the app had been sacrificed to the demands of monetization.

This morning I awoke to an update from someone whose long established Twitter username had been claimed by an organization who post-dated the person’s use of that username but who were a registered commercial entity.

The thing which they have in common is that they both reflect the difference between open and proprietary platforms.

The thing which most differentiates Twitter from email is that the email we use is based around a series of open standards – RFC1939, RFC822, RFC5321 amongst others.

Twitter can change the rules at any time.

But it’s not just Twitter

I wrote earlier this week about the risk of a single point of dependency in business models, but what if that single point of dependency is in our social and personal lives instead?

C is for Cookie, G is for Global

Cookie Bokeh

Image by Tomi Tapio via Flickr

You may have seen the recent news about EU legislation about the use of cookies on websites to track individual users. You can find reports on the BBC, The Register,  Techcrunch Europe and GigaOm.

I cannot write about the policy details or the implementation, for a start I am not involved in either, but the discussions around this particular issue have triggered a couple of thoughts on my part.

The first is the trite observation that this is a reflection of the many local vs. global tensions which the Internet raises. It is almost insulting to compare cookies to democratic liberation movements but they are both the result of local barriers being replaced by global platforms. And in return, local communities seek to raise those barriers in the new global space – be it cookie management or content filtering.

The second thought is that Internet commerce is based on a single point of vulnerability – not security – but identity management. We have struck an implicit and at best slightly understood agreement that we can shop and access services online in return for our interests and our activities being tracked and being sold onto the highest bidder.

The EU cookie proposals challenge that implicit agreement at a local level but what would happen if online tracking suddenly became a global concern? What if the Mozilla work on Do-Not-Track and the Microsoft work on cookie filtering become the norm for all rather than the exception used by just some of us? What if online tracking goes the same way as smoking or wearing fur?

What does the Web, what do business models look like in that world?

Any business model based on a single point of vulnerability is problematic, if that business model drives much of the valuation of the Internet economy then what happens?


let their hand go for it, grasp it

Sketch for Twitter. See also the author's desc...

Image via Wikipedia

Idea plus execution equals outcome.

Without both parts the outcome cannot be achieved.

An idea can be great but with poor execution it will stall, a poor idea with great execution is simply a waste of time and money.

Even the biggest companies can get it wrong – Google’s troubles with wifi were a poor idea badly executed while Buzz was an ok idea woefully executed.

If the idea is good enough people will tolerate grit in the delivery – Twitter and the fail whale being a classic example.

If the execution is slick enough then people may be dazzled long enough for you to sell them version 1, but they soon arrive at your doorstep with pitchforks and burning torches.

Innovation is often approached by businesses (and yes Virginia, the public sector is a business in this sense) as something both mysterious and highly dangerous.

This conflicted attitude can be seen throughout organizations, from the CEO down.

And I suspect that a lot of it comes down to regarding idea and execution as separate concepts, not as part of a seamless delivery.

Now you may, and rightly, say that this is all obvious. And you would be right.

But if it is obvious why do we all, including some of the biggest and the best, keep getting it wrong?