-- Business blog now available --

A quick note to say that I've set up my Business blog, to be able to speak with a clear voice on both personal and work issues (i.e. by having separate blogs).

Friday, 25 April 2008

Free Trade Pop Star

I'm thinking of becoming a pop star. I thought about becoming a musician, but then you don't need to play an instrument or sing to be a pop star. ;-)

It's because I want to become the first Free Trade Pop Star, who reads The Economist and is centre-right on Economic matters. Social matters don't matter in this scenario.

I'll try to avoid looking like a Young Conservative [heaven forfend], but I'm going to right on in a kind of non-political way.

I'm thinking of all those agitators who think they know something about business / international Economics because people like their music.

Ok, I *think* I do because I've subscribed (and read) The Economist for over ten years. [god, how boring ;-)]. Oh, and I got a C grade for Economics A Level (back when they were difficult).

Please may I have suggestions on what other Pop Stars / Musicians are unlikely to say, the following are examples:
  • Bono - would he say "get rid of the Common Agricultural Policy"?
  • Sir Bob - would he say "I want vouchers in Schools and the NHS?
  • Chris Martin - "I know what the Non-Accelerating Inflation rate of Unemployment is - nah nah na na nah"
  • Cheryl Cole - "don't talk to me about the Laffer curve"
  • Paris Hilton - "Oooh, I've been using my knowledge of Econometrics to figure out who's going to win and lose in this brilliant 10p re-working by my friends Alastair and Gordon" [or something like that]
You get the gist.

Would my credibility be sky-high because I'm counter-cultural? Or would the institutionalised "we know know how Economies work, stupid" from the musical fraternity mean I was frozen out of gigs and recording contracts?

Mmm, perhaps the business folk are capitalists. But then again, they probably don't like mp3 and get confused by the Pirate's Dilemma. Bah, you can't win.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Psychology experiments - Zimbardo and Milgram

I did my undergraduate degree at the University of Bristol, in Psychology. It was a fascinating three years, and always relevant: i.e. it's about people.

I did a variety of modules
  • Social - about groups of people
  • Developmental - "from sperm to worm" apparently ;-)
  • Neuropsychology - about the brain and its physical functioning
  • Neuropsychopharmacology - chemicals in the brain, and also the effect of recreational drugs
  • etc.
This post is all about giving me an excuse to re-visit a couple of top experiments - basically social psychology, about how compliant people can be to authority. They involve two titans of the field, Philip Zimbardo and Stanley Milgram.

Most of the following text is taken from Wikipedia.

Philip Zimbardo

"In the year 1971, Zimbardo accepted a tenured position as professor of psychology at Stanford University. There he conducted the infamous Stanford prison experiment, in which 24 normal college students were randomly assigned to be "prisoners" or "guards" in a mock prison located in the basement of the psychology building at Stanford (three additional college students were selected as alternates, but did not participate in the experiment).

The students quickly began acting out their roles, with "guards" becoming sadistic and "prisoners" showing extreme passivity and depression. Prisoners and guards rapidly adapted to their roles, stepping beyond the boundaries of what had been predicted and leading to dangerous and psychologically damaging situations. One-third of the guards were judged to have exhibited "genuine" sadistic tendencies, while many prisoners were emotionally traumatized and four had to be removed from the experiment early.

Ethical concerns surrounding the famous experiment often draw comparisons to the Milgram experiment, which was conducted in 1961 at Yale University by Stanley Milgram, Zimbardo's former high school friend."

Stanley Milgram

"The experiment

The role of the experimenter was played by a stern, impassive biology teacher dressed in a technician's coat, and the victim (learner) was played by an Irish-American accountant trained to act for the role. The participant and the learner (supposedly another volunteer, but in reality a confederate of the experimenter) were told by the experimenter that they would be participating in an experiment helping his study of memory and learning in different situations.[1]

Two slips of paper were then presented to the participant and to the actor. The participant was led to believe that one of the slips said "learner" and the other said "teacher," and that he and the actor had been given the slips randomly. In fact, both slips said "teacher," but the actor claimed to have the slip that read "learner," thus guaranteeing that the participant would always be the "teacher." At this point, the "teacher" and "learner" were separated into different rooms where they could communicate but not see each other. In one version of the experiment, the confederate was sure to mention to the participant that he had a heart condition.[1]

The "teacher" was given a 45-volt electric shock from the electro-shock generator as a sample of the shock that the "learner" would supposedly receive during the experiment. The "teacher" was then given a list of word pairs which he was to teach the learner. The teacher began by reading the list of word pairs to the learner. The teacher would then read the first word of each pair and read four possible answers. The learner would press a button to indicate his response. If the answer was incorrect, the teacher would administer a shock to the learner, with the voltage increasing for each wrong answer. If correct, the teacher would read the next word pair.[1]

The subjects believed that for each wrong answer, the learner was receiving actual shocks. In reality, there were no shocks. After the confederate was separated from the subject, the confederate set up a tape recorder integrated with the electro-shock generator, which played pre-recorded sounds for each shock level. After a number of voltage level increases, the actor started to bang on the wall that separated him from the subject. After several times banging on the wall and complaining about his heart condition, all responses by the learner would cease.[1]

At this point, many people indicated their desire to stop the experiment and check on the learner. Some test subjects paused at 135 volts and began to question the purpose of the experiment. Most continued after being assured that they would not be held responsible. A few subjects began to laugh nervously or exhibit other signs of extreme stress once they heard the screams of pain coming from the learner.[1]

If at any time the subject indicated his desire to halt the experiment, he was given a succession of verbal prods by the experimenter, in this order:[1]

  1. Please continue.
  2. The experiment requires that you continue.
  3. It is absolutely essential that you continue.
  4. You have no other choice, you must go on.

If the subject still wished to stop after all four successive verbal prods, the experiment was halted. Otherwise, it was halted after the subject had given the maximum 450-volt shock three times in succession. This experiment could be seen to raise some ethical issues as the experimenter did not truthfully tell the people involved what the real test was for."

Monday, 14 April 2008

Lion's Mane here we come! Probably


You may recall that I bought some products from www.fungi.com just before Christmas. One of these was a little packet of wooden dowels, which have corkscrew channels cut in them. Into these channels, Fungi.com have innoculated Lion's Mane mushroom spore.

My challenge has been to drill holes in a geet big log of Poplar, which I bought from our friendly firewood supplier, Mark Ridley from Birtley (near Hexham). I then had to tap the dowels into the holes, and seal them with beeswax - according to the instructions.

It was going to be straightforward, but I borrowed the wrong sized drill bit from my Cousin, and therefore got a bit fed up when I couldn't get the dowels into the holes. Happily, Mark was happy to swap the 8mm for a 9mm drill bit, so I got cracking again.

Also, upon re-reading the instructions, I found I'd over-specced the size, so the log I've used is probably twice the diameter required. :-s

The beeswax seal keep any bugs out from munching the evolving muchroom / mycelia, I think.

For the beeswax, I ordered some beeswax candles from eBay: although I have to say I'm not impressed with the parcel service from Royal Mail. This is the second item I've had to had re-sent by an eBay seller as RM have "lost" my goods*. :-(

I will be uploading some "before" photos, so I can compare in, say, six months.

On a related note, my Parents kindly helped Caroline dig some pig muck (from the porkers next door to us) into the flower beds at the front.

I'd put my back out lifting some garden furniture [that's a convenient excuse... - Ed.] so it fell to Dad to plant the seed potatoes kindly donated by Tom next door (ok, over the fields). Dad sprinkled some Mycogrow for Vegetables in the trench, before putting the spuds in.

* Apparently, Ian Fleming's Auric Goldfinger said that "Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it's enemy action." I wait with dread for the next thing to disappear in the mail, as then I'll be forced to complain, and endure the hell that is the RM's customer complaint process (judging by the description on their website).

Friday, 11 April 2008

The limits of Web 2.0

Apologies if you've seen this from me via Twitter.

I wanted to replay it via a blog post because, behind the humour, I believe there's an important point here.

My sense it that we'll go through the Gartner Hype Cycle with various aspects of Web 2.0, and with Web 2.0 itself.

However, I reckon that whether you call it Wikinomics, Enterprise 2.0, Peer Collaboration, or vanilla Web 2.0, [I hope] we'll punch through to the "Slope of Englightenment" without too much of the froth.

My take is that it's down to us, working in the Technology sphere, to help others understand the concept, refuse to oversell things, and focus on organisational value. Our credibility, dented by past excesses, depends on everyone keeping their feet on the ground.

Oh, and developing the necessary upper body strength. Buwha-haha!

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Choosing Adverts

Following on from my post back in January about what to blog about, here's one...

I was watching some TV recently, perhaps one of the series of Carlsberg ads. For me, they have been a really interesting and sympathetic experience, as well as enjoyable. [Enough of the flowery language - Ed.]

There is one in particular that I like, which is "Carlsberg doesn't do flatmates, but if it did, they'd be the best flatmates in the World". [I think maybe this ad was meant to appeal to blokes... ;-)]

OK, back to the point.

It led me to think that perhaps, if:
  • there is a series of ads
  • and the one you're just about to see is clearly the pants one
  • because you've seen all the others
  • and there's no way one was avoid the ad
... then perhaps we could be given the option of which ad we'd prefer to see in the series? That way the advertiser would know that the viewer was interested in the ad [she'd expressed a preference], and the viewer didn't have to go through the pants advert.

Probably madly complicated from a technological point of view, but I thought I'd put the idea out there, anyway.

Maybe Phorm could be adapted so that it knew which ads you'd like... ;-)

btw is it called Phorm because it thinks you're a criminal, or perhaps a racehourse? I wonder! >chin stroke<

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Is the Internet your silent Partner?

Caroline was on Radio Newcastle this morning. As a dutiful Partner, I decided to tune in and listen to her insights.

The DJ, Mike Parr, asked her whether the Internet was the silent Partner in our Relationship. Her answer made me smile (and gave me my 5 seconds of fame) - along the lines of:

"Yes, absolutely! He was spending so much time in the shed [where we have a small office] I thought he was having an affair... Apparently he was updating his Facebook profile..."

I'd like to state, for the record, that I was spending time in Second Life ;-)

fyi - work av is Fujitsu Infinity; personal av is Tandoorichicken Masala.

p.s. I'm feeling like the straight man in a double act - perhaps Syd Little? ;-D
p.p.s shame on you Bill Thompson, your frequent tweets have Caroline checking my text messages as well... ;-)
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Friday, 4 April 2008

Big up Gourmet Spot! :-)

Allow me to say a big "Thank You!" to Dr. Raj Naik, proprietor of the Gourment spot and surgeon Queen Elizabeth II Hospital, Newcastle, UK (amongst other things).

An amazing gastronomical evening last night, with "Post-Modern Food" on the menu - cooked with Liquid Nitrogen, Dry Ice, and all sorts of confections. Raj and Sean the chef prefer Post-Modern Food to another term, molecular gastronomy - which you may be more familiar with.

We were privileged to be part of chef Sean Wilkinson's experimental evening, and to be joined by Sam and Dominic from Animmersion, Janice and Graeme Webster, and also Caroline Theobald (aka my lass)

Those of you following me on Twitter will know I'm interested in Virtual Worlds. Recently I was lucky enough to attend an RSA organised demo of a 3d appendectomy simulator. Very clever technology, delivered via web browser.

Raj has partnered with Sam and Dominic, and via NHS Innovations North (and connected together by Janice) they have put together the simulator. It could turn out to be the future of vocational training / tuition. :-D