China Needs Airships

I go on about airships a fair bit but, despite the headlines, we’re still yet to see them steaming their way through the skies on a regular basis. Part of that might be down to cost (upwards of £300 million in some cases) and the fact that it’s an industry that is being reborn, so involves feeling the way.

One country that could afford those costs is China though, and it may need to. Its economy has been built on massive exports due to a large, cheap workforce that manufacturers most of what the rest of the world consumes.

That’s starting to change as rising transportation costs, greater use of robotics and, in the future, 3D printing mean it’s cheaper to manufacture in the country of consumption. Already ships are travelling slower to save fuel and sails are likely to make a comeback.

Airships aren’t exactly quick, but as fleets slow their ships down to around 17 knots (19.6 mph) to save fuel they don’t need to be greyhounds and as they can fly over land they can take far more direct routes. Continue reading

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The Lack of Small Vehicle Options

Considering the ever-rising price of fuel, the ridiculous cost of parking and the clogged state of our roads, I’m surprised we haven’t seen an increase in smaller forms of transport.  How often do you drive your car with more than just you in it?

So why haven’t we seen a rise in motorcycle ownership (technically we have, of more economic models, but I don’t know of anyone who has bought one)?  One answer is that motorbikes aren’t much cheaper to run than a car (most bikes won’t beat a diesel on MPG, require more frequent servicing and require buying safety equipment), plus they have drawbacks such as requiring another licence, they’re not great in inclement weather, you can’t just get in and go like a car, there’s safety issues too (they account for 1% of traffic but make up 20% of deaths and serious injuries).

There’s the scooter option, no licence required, just pass a CBT and you’re away, but you still face many of the same issues as motorbikes (they may be cheaper than a car to buy but they don’t get good MPG).

Several attempts have been made to crack personal transport, we can all remember some of those that failed: the Sinclair C5, the Segway, etc.

So what is it we’re looking for? Continue reading

Smile, You’re on Camera

As a man who shares an office with a person responsible for a fleet of vehicles, I’m acutely aware of how hard it is to determine who was to blame in a car accident and therefore who foots the bill.

With car insurers already using satellite tracking to monitor a driver’s behaviour in order to reduce the cost for ‘safer’ drivers, how long will it be before we see cameras fitted to cover the front and rear of a vehicle?

It would certainly take the issue of blame out of the hands of unreliable witnesses, vague memories, outright liars and clerk interpretation and should provide a black and white answer to who was at fault.

Obviously there are issues of privacy, but as long as the information is stored encrypted, for a limited time and can only be accessed physically at the vehicle by authorised people I think you’d find a lot of people (businesses especially) would be happy to take it up.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not massively keen on the idea from a personal perspective, but you only have to search YouTube to see how a camera can help visualize a situation better than any written description.

Robotics: The Saviour of UK Manufacturing

I recently finished Civlization: The West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson (you can read my review here) and one of the things that struck me in the discussion of why the Industrial Revolution happened in the UK rather than any of the other nations at that time struck me.

You see, Ferguson rules out many of the reasons, such as better innovators or innovation, instead seeming to conclude that a big factor was the cost of labour in the UK.  In London, as the time, labour cost roughly twice as much as in Paris and nearly four times higher than Madrid.

We had cheap coal, which helped, but labour costs meant that ‘it made better sense in Britain than anywhere else to replace expensive men with machines fueled by cheap coal.’

That sounds rather like the situation now, where manufacturing is all done in Asia because it’s too expensive to do it in the UK.  Other developed countries manage it though, such as Germany and Japan.  True, they tend to sell higher profit goods, but in the UK we seem to have stopped manufacturing a lot of things.

We seem to have given up on it, but there is another way: use the high costs to spur on technological development.  If our labour costs are too high, then we need to find a cheaper source of labour and I believe that means, as in the Industrial Revolution, turning to machines. Continue reading

Kickstarter Stole My Idea

Okay, so that’s not strictly true, it’s just a bombastic title. I can still kick (no pun intended) myself for not realising a similar idea for people power. So I thought I would spell it out here (for posterity and to sooth my wounds).

The year was 2003 and I had stopped off in San Jose to stay with my parents for a while on on my way back from nine months of travelling. While I was there, late into the night and early hours as the rest of the family slept (I could sleep late) and my mum’s venerable Dell was free, I taught myself how to build websites with CSS instead of tables (which is what I’d previously used). I also taught myself some Javascript, some PHP and MySQL and I started to build some of my numerous websites (at one point I had so many a friend commented I could have started my own internet).

Many of those sites are now gone, but one of those early registered domains still exists in my portfolio. Fund a Film was an idea spawned from reading an article about a woman who had asked her site visitors to donate money to help her get out of debt (it may even have been Save Karyn). I figured that if people were prepared to donate (at that point) $13,000 to a stranger to help her out of a whole she created, why wouldn’t they do it for a chance to be part of making a movie? Continue reading

The Next Tech Boom will be Data

I started writing this post a few days ago and I may actually be behind the curve, just look at the success of Splunk’s IPO in recent days and even the BBC featured a story on data (that actually features Splunk), not to mention Tim Berners-Lee was on about it, but, in the words of Mastermind presenters everywhere: “I’ve started so I’ll finish.”

Obviously, I’m not the first to say it (though I’m not sure 2012 will see any significant change as some have predicted) but a big growth area in tech in the near future will be data.  There’s already plenty of companies working in the sector, but they’re mainly aimed at helping business better understand things like sales data, demand and customer profiling.  What we’re going to see is a growth in personal data collection, analysis and manipulation.

If you’re interested in personal data tracking, you may have heard of Nicholas Felton (I found him through Jason Kottke), who produces a beautiful personal annual report each year (as of 2005 at least).  Felton has even co-authored a site called Daytum to allow you to collect and track everyday data.  I’m a fan of tracking data, that’s why I built some tools into Write Here to allow you to track your progress (here’s my profile page for example), for which I have to credit Buster Benson and his site, 750words.com, as inspiration.

Real deep collection and analysis is already being done by the outliers, the few who are prepared to make the effort to collect this data manually, but it’ll go mainstream once the collection is more automated and when companies offer services that add value to this data.  The FT reported last year about people such as Michael Galpert, an internet entrepreneur who collects data to ‘optimise physical and mental performance.’  There’s a great article over the the NY Times from 2010 and a website dedicated to self quantification. Continue reading

Single-Use Credit Cards

The rise of cloud computing and hosted applications only seems to be on the rise and while this opens up vast possibilities it also opens us up to security implications. Aside from trusting these third-parties with our data, it also means trusting them with our financial details.

One of the biggest stories of 2011 was the news of hackers breaking into Sony’s PlayStation Network and stealing millions of user’s credit/debit card details. And they were just one of several companies hit, bit corporations who have the resources to protect their data properly. As I’ve said before though, hackers will get in eventually, no matter how good you are. Now Sony (and others) are adding clauses to their contracts so you can’t sue them if they have a breach.

If we start to rely on hosted services, then they’re likely to want to store our details so we can continue to pay for them and remove the barriers to buying new services. These big pools of card details provide a tantalising target for hackers interested in financial gain, so we need to start thinking of other ways to protect our details. Continue reading