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This is Ian Ozsvald's blog, I'm an entrepreneurial geek, a Data Science/ML/NLP/AI consultant, founder of the Annotate.io social media mining API, author of O'Reilly's High Performance Python book, co-organiser of PyDataLondon, co-founder of the SocialTies App, author of the A.I.Cookbook, author of The Screencasting Handbook, a Pythonista, co-founder of ShowMeDo and FivePoundApps and also a Londoner. Here's a little more about me.

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29 August 2005 - 23:59Review: The Island


The Island

Hmmm, John had warned me that it was going to be a long film. Clones grown for body parts, a Ewan McGregor (Lincoln Six Echo) with a really bad American accent and a film that was about twice as long as necessary.

After about an hour when our good-boy clone Lincoln Six Echo has escaped into the real world and has a new identity, they could have finished the film with a nicely ambiguous and slightly dark finish (a la Gataca). But ohhhh no, we have to have a Hollywood happy ending which takes another (long) hour.

Why couldn’t the crack-team of ex-Navy Seal assassins shoot straight? Why did Lincoln Six Echo grow new memories of the real world when he was always kept in a confined environment with no outside contact? Why did we have the way-too-obvious product placement? We’ll never know.

Wikipedia has a good entry including notes on controversy (noting the way too prominent product placements) and symbolism. They also link to the fictitious Merrick Biotech website which has been ‘hacked’ by anti-cloning activists (this is all fiction, of course) – including videos. This is a nice bit of marketing I think.

It gets 6.8 over at IMDB and I’ll give it a Thumbs Sideways. I await the day we get a good Sci-Fi flick where the trailers don’t give the entire plot away in 30 seconds and the marketing droids don’t get to sell every scene to the advertisers. Maybe I’ll go watch Kubrick’s 2001 again (but heck, didn’t Bell get some product placement in there as well?).

No Comments | Tags: Films

26 August 2005 - 19:11Site was broken, now fixed

Apologies for the site going a bit wonky over the last few days – all is good again. I bought a bigger hosting package from GoDaddy and in the process they disabled the ‘mod_rewrite’ rule for some reason. This stopped comments, permalinks, categories and posts from working. All is now fixed, sorry for the interruption (Dunc!).

No Comments | Tags: Life

17 August 2005 - 23:33Review: Hackers and Painters (Paul Graham)


Hackers and Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age


Paul Graham has been writing online since before 2000, today he has 45 articles published for free online. New articles now make Slashdot‘s frontpage, quite a big event in geek circles. He published this book last year and it contains 15 chapters, 10 of which are online and 5 of which are new (and probably won’t go online I guess). The 5 new chapters are:

  • Good Bad Attitude
  • How to Make Wealth
  • Mind the Gap
  • Programming Languages Explained
  • The Dream Language
  • Update Jan 2005: How to Make Wealth is now online.

    Good Bad Attitudes discusses the nerds instinct to step outside of the rules. Hurrah for us thinking outside of the box. How to Make Wealth explains that start-ups are a great way to make new wealth, and as a part of that start-up you can share in that wealth (so get on with it!). Mind the Gap discusses unequal income distributions, Graham think it is less of a problem than is popularly perceived and I tend to agree with his arguments. The last two new essays discuss aspects of programming language design.

    Having read all of the online essays over the years, it felt sensible just to buy this book and give Graham a little cash back. I’d definitely rate this book to new readers who are interested in what makes a geek a geek and the world of high-tech entrepreneurship.

    If you’ve read the online essays, you’ll still get 5 new chapters and How to Make Wealth alone is probably worth the entire price of the book, I quote:

    “At Viaweb one of our rules of thumb was ‘run upstairs’. Suppose you are a big, fat, bully. You open a door and find yourself in a staircase. Do you go up or down? I say up. The bully can probably run downstairs as fast as you can. Going upstairs his will be more of a disadvantage. Running upstairs is hard for you but even harder for him.”

    The online essays appear to be word-for-word reproduced in the book, but illustrations have been added. If you’ve never read Paul Graham, I’d suggest starting with his online essay Hackers and Painters (which is also one of the chapters in the book, and obviously the book’s title too). Overall: thumbs up.

    4 Comments | Tags: Books

    17 August 2005 - 17:36Two cool businesses

    The Business Experiment is rather novel. Take a distributed bunch of people communicating through an internet site, assume that they’re all reasonably intelligent but not necessarily skilled in any one business disciple, assume The Wisdom of Crowds and see if anything coherent comes out. Boot-strapped and open to volunteers. I like. I wouldn’t throw any money at it, but I like.

    And how about a peer-to-peer production site, for the sale of hand-made items? Etsy.com lets you open a store to list your hand-made items, you conduct business privately between yourself and the buyer (so you PayPal each other or send cheques or something), and then you can rate your seller (so no one gets to cheat).

    Since there are no credit card transactions the site has a lower overhead and it can charge substantially less than eBay. Neat. Kyran and I have toyed with such a business model, it’s cool to see someone actually doing it ‘in the flesh’.

    These came via here and here, with the second linking to The Atomizing Hand a very cool (though rather long) Spring 2005 powerpoint on the economics of peer production.

    No Comments | Tags: Business Idea

    15 August 2005 - 15:10A dating site that rocks

    OkCupid – well, I’ve only just joined so I don’t know if it really rocks – but first impressions are good. First off – you don’t pay – they’ve got a slightly less cynical business model in mind. Second – you develop an online profile based on user-submitted questions – so nothing is predetermined. It looks like everyone is a real user too, rather than the pretty stooges that can be found in other sites.

    So, you sign-up and start to answer questions, and 10 minutes later you can do a search. It seems to understand that London is 50 miles from Brighton (and it’s a US site, so that’s not bad) and the matches it comes up with are ok – so far a mix of people with roughly the right interests as me and between here and London. The questions are real easy – just multiple choice, and you can submit your own. The matches are calculated by collating the intersecting set of your and their answers from the pool of random questions you answer. The more questions you answer, the better your profile.

    The creators are pretty open – they list a lot of details in the FAQ including thoughts on their business model, advertising (which is how they make their money), privacy, even the programming languages they use behind the site. The give a real simple overview of the profiling/matching techniques they use which covers some sensible-looking math.

    Rather nice to see a dating site that doesn’t depend on paying up-front, though I have to wonder if their advertising-only model really brings in enough money. Since they must serve up a lot of photos, that’s a lot of bandwidth…

    Now what happens if you could mix something like the Australian GetALife social/activity site, with a dating site like OkCupid – mostly for free, perhaps with company-sponsorship or maybe you’d donate to the site when you did fun activities or had good dates. It is clear that most dating sites are rubbish, heck even Paul Graham has written about improving the online dating experience.

    And oddly, these guys aren’t marketing themselves, it all seems to be word-of-mouth (and growing nicely by the look of things). I came across it whilst reading Jacqueline Passey’s blog.

    And continuing the theme – here’s Captain Capitalism, an economics bloke (what’s with the dating-friendly online economists?) who’s very open about his dating too. Perhaps a bit too open in his latest post, but heck, good luck chum. Ah, reading the comments a bit more,

    “Date with Knock Out Russian Babe went well”

    Lucky boy.

    No Comments | Tags: Business Idea, Life

    8 August 2005 - 14:47Conversion to Ubuntu Linux

    My Windows XP desktop computer died last Monday (warning: rant coming up) – I woke up to find that rather than dutifully doing what it had been doing all week (sitting there mostly, with some email), it had instead entered an infinite reboot/crash cycle. One evening playing with it (and I’m no slouch at fixing these things) was enough for me to know that XP was dead. Again.

    Annoyed with this, I decided it was time to have another go with Linux and see if the situation had improved from my last dabble a year or so back. I plugged for Ubuntu, backed by Mark Shuttleworth (the millionaire who bought a ticket with the Russian space agency to fly to the International Space Station in 2002) to the tune of $10 million US and marketed as a ‘linux for the people’ (rather than the geeks).

    So far, so good, one week in I’m still happy enough and I don’t intend to switch back to Microsoft XP. Be warned, the following is pretty geeky:

    Installed version: Hoary Hedgehog, version 5.04
    Installed machine: Athlon 64, Asus K8VSE Deluxe motherboard, SATA, ATI Radeon 9800Pro, Creative Audigy 2 ZS, 3Com USB WIFI

    Installation: easy and painless, there were few questions and mostly I just let the machine churn.

    What worked: after installation I had a user account with the defaults for Evolution email (which I don’t like), Firebird for browsing (good, but a pre-bugfix version), OpenOffice and utilities. My mouse, keyboard and basic graphics were ok and I could mount the old XP drive and access my lost data.

    What didn’t work: My 3Com wireless card wasn’t picked up, it looks like I need to play with ndiswrapper to get support – this is a failing on 3Com’s part for not providing drivers. My ATI card has basic support (no 3D), but that looks like ATI’s problem for not providing open-source driver support (though they have provided allegedly-hard-to-install binaries). No printer drivers yet, but in fairness I’ve not tried plugged my HP in – however it looks like I have to install more drivers there too.

    I burned some backup CDs, but these were all bad burns – I had to install proftpd and send files to my Windows laptop and burn from there to get a good backup. No sound support – there’s a weird hack which seems to have worked, but annoying that it didn’t work out of the box. No fan support – the machine enters a low-power mode for the CPU but still runs the fan at high (and noisy) speed.

    It looks as though I can solve all the problems I’ve seen, so I’ll keep plugging ahead for now. There’s an active support community over at UbuntuGuide and the UbuntuForums and the next release is scheduled for October which includes a lot of improvements. I think I might be able to get along with this distribution (here’s hoping), then maybe I can leave my desktop turned on for more than a week without having to reboot.

    Update: By default the fan-control isn’t enabled, so the CPU fan runs at full speed (which is loud). I used these instructions to install the fancontrol module (via the Ubuntu forums). I have to do fancontrol at every reboot, I’m not sure which script to add this too yet.
    Update: To enable sound on my Creative Labs Audigy 2 ZS under Ubuntu I followed these instructions, essentially you have to use the alsamixer and switch an output from digital to analog. I followed the 2nd entry by Daniel49. Using sudo alsactl store stored the setting between reboots.
    Update: Still no wifi on my 3Com 3CRWE254G72 USB stick, even though I’m using the latest ndiswrapper compiled locally with several versions of the 3Com Windows drivers. Will keep trying, the 20 metre network cable is all well and good but is somewhat ugly. If you can offer any help on this one, please drop me a line (2005-08-28).
    Update: Woot! 3D graphics now working – I’ve installed my ATI Radeon 9800 Pro under Ubuntu Hoary following these instructions. No problems, I just installed the stock drivers (steps 1 and 3). Actually I messed with Step 3 and had to revert to my saved xorg.conf, but after following the instructions properly it went fine. Now my video is less choppy and the UI feels a bit more responsive.

    5 Comments | Tags: Life