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Ian Ozsvald picture

This is Ian Ozsvald's blog (@IanOzsvald), 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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31 October 2007 - 11:19Thursday Night – ShardCore Private View @ Tin Drum (Kemptown)

ShardCore (resident artist for the £5 App meetings) is showing a large selection of his geek art at the Tin Drum in Kemptown this Thursday evening (6-8pm, 1st Nov 2007).

This is his first ‘private view’ and, given how much work he has on show, it’ll be a good ‘un. Come along! Pop in for a drink, the usual suspects shall be present. You can see some of what’s on show.

1 Comment | Tags: sussexdigital, £5 App Meet

17 October 2007 - 17:02ShardCore’s Art on Brighton Radio

Woot – ShardCore‘s geek art is being discussed on the local Radio Reverb sometime in the next hour. You can listen live, Neil’s work appears at times at the £5 App (pics) and is currently hosted in The Tin Drum in Kemptown.

Updatemp3 now available from ShardCore’s blog. It is amusing, he really shouldn’t have mentioned his past career as a male model.

1 Comment | Tags: sussexdigital, £5 App Meet

17 October 2007 - 15:24Where to Post a Tech-Job Advert in Brighton

Recently I’ve been asked to help find a few candidates for some jobs – it seems that the ‘job ad’ solutions in Brighton aren’t all that well known outside of their immediate circles. I figured I’d summarise some of the options, please comment if you’ve something to add.

Newspapers:

The Argus: I hate to say it but I’ve heard that The Argus generates the largest number of applicants for tech jobs in Brighton. I hate to say it because an old-school printed newspaper that covers ‘everything’ doesn’t feel like the right place to find a niche tech job.

Two months back a tech company I know took out a half-page advert (cost approx. £2,000) and received several hundred replies. Between this and other routes they filled their four developer vacancies within a few weeks. Normal advertising is much cheaper – £30 to £140 – though it doesn’t say how long the ad is shown for.

I’ve also been told that the same company placed a similarly big ad in The Metro for £500 and received just as many enquiries.

Luke mentions that The Guardian’s Media and Technology section is a good place to advertise though the expense may only suit larger companies.

Job Boards:

Wired Sussex’s Job Board: Currently host to 97 jobs, mostly technical, I’ve heard of people using the Wired Sussex board with success over the years. Prices range from £80 – £250. The also offer an advertising service to get your job into The Argus.

Sussex Digital’s job board is a relatively new entrant, created earlier this year by Dave Stone and Josh. Their prices are considerably cheaper than Wired Sussex’s (£15 using the promo code on the page, £10 if you use the ‘bnm10′ promo code from the BNM list). Currently there are 12 jobs listed, all tech.

Sussex University Computer Science Dept.:

I have a contact inside my old computer science lab back from my MSc days. Dr. Sharon Wood is in charge of jobs for the dept., she is can pass on details of temporary/contract work to the students. Contact me (not Sharon) if you’d like a job to be passed on.

This is a great way to tap into a group of skilled programmers who can work on an ad-hoc basis and who might be interested in future full-time work.

A general link into the students at Sussex University is via CDEC (Career Development and Employment Centre – thanks John), they publish part- and full-time job requirements for all students and they can advise on the best way to reach the right people. They will also know about any careers fairs that might be running.

Mailing Lists:

The Brighton New Media mail list is the longest running tech mailing list for Brighton. The list is read by a large number of Brighton freelancers. Most of the participants will be focused on media and web development.

Job postings are welcome as long as they are clearly marked and not from agencies. Posting is free, just make sure you obey the list’s etiquette.

The newer Brighton Digital mail list (note: I’m a co-founder) is tech-business oriented. There are 57 companies on the list and soon there will be students joining. To post a job or skill request just post a clear message, it’ll reach Brighton-based tech companies and professionals who are interested in work in Brighton.

Events:

A final method is to pass on the word at networking events. As Luke mentions it is a great way to meet the right people – Brighton has a lot of opportunity for tech-networking.

People stand-up at the end of our £5 App evenings and talk about tech vacancies to the 20-30 attendees. The people who attend are focused on boot-strapping new companies and technical projects (and socialising over a beer or two).

The OpenCoffee Sussex events which are held at the Sussex Innovation Centre every 2 weeks are a great place to pass on the word over a friendly (and now free thanks to SInC’s management) coffee.

BrightonFarm meets regularly at the BelleVue pub and is a first point of contact to find web freelancers, Paul Silver maintains a list of good freelancers sorted by their skills.

Women in Media organise and are involved in events which encourage women to get involved in the media/creative industries here in Brighton.

Brighton Girl Geek Dinners are another women-focused event, generally held once a month (though recently replaced by Lunches). Boys can attend but the focus is to encourage women to get involved. Devi, Joh, Rosie, Ribot and Manuella are the organisers and they have connections between local companies and Sussex University.

Vine Brighton used to be women-only and now encourages mixed participation. The talks aren’t restricted to technology and are aimed at small businesses.

2 Comments | Tags: Entrepreneur, Life, sussexdigital, £5 App Meet

12 October 2007 - 15:49Facelift for our ShowMeDo Services

I’m very pleased to say that our ShowMeDo Services (see my Professional Screencasting site ProCasts instead) site has had an overhaul by a professional designer. Kyran did a great job implementing the new design and we have more tweaks to come.

On the site we give three case studies – a user education screencast that Kwiqq produced and two real world videos – one for PasPic on making their site easier to use, the other for a great bit of industrial kit with Apex Auctions.

What are we missing on the site? I’m told that I need to include some pricing information and I want to expand our list of services. Are we missing other elements?

One of our newer clients – yoolaa – have started with a first video on ‘More Moolaa with Yoolaa‘ for cash-collection. It is always great to see the different ways in which clients want to use our custom-screencasting service.

New features to come – statistics to track ‘video starts to play’ and ‘video reaches end’ events for feedback and a lead-generator form that follows a video so you can get involved with an interested viewer rather than lose them.

NOTE – as of July 2008 I provide professional screencasting services via my ProCasts separately to ShowMeDo.  I’m still connected with ShowMeDo, it makes more sense to develop my personal screencasting persona as a new identity:

procasts professional screencast

2 Comments | Tags: Entrepreneur, ShowMeDo

11 October 2007 - 17:04FivePoundApp *Day* during Digital Festival

Our Five Pound App Day [Upcoming] is listed on the Digital Festival site now, running on Saturday 10th November from 10am-6pm. Please sign-up on Upcoming so we can plan our numbers.

The theme is ‘moving start-ups a step forward’, we’ll have four sessions during the day on:

  1. The Perils of Bootstrapping (by me + other founders)
  2. Developing your £5 app (John Montgomery and others)
  3. Paul Silver discussing SEO
  4. A guide to successful Copy-writing (Ellen)

Each session lasts about 1.5 hours, there will be a short talk followed by an interactive session. Preferably several people will have flagged the issues they’d like to discuss, e.g. someone’s site copy-writing which needs improving or they’d like to learn about improving their search ranking results.

The first talk will focus on the ups and downs of boot-strapping (drawing on examples from ShowMeDo and others) with thoughts on why it may (or may not) be for you.

John will lead the second talking about the how of developing an application – looking at various technology areas and pointing out things which will save a new boot-strapped effort a lot of wasted time.

The third and fourth talks will focus on existing websites and how+why they can be improved.

We’ll be looking for volunteers to put up their site/business for use in the discussions, along (obviously) with questions during the sessions.

The day will be ad-hoc (i.e. you can come and go), you’ll need to provide your own drinks+food. We will provide office-space for the talks and work and wi-fi.

The event is kindly sponsored by Alan Newman, founder of Sensible Development.

No Comments | Tags: Entrepreneur, Programming, ShowMeDo, sussexdigital, £5 App Meet

11 October 2007 - 16:46London Python Meetups – active again

I’m pleased to see that the London Python meetups are running again. I’m also annoyed that I didn’t realise that one was running last night, but ho hum!

There’s a write-up by Fuzzyman (Mr. voidspace) and Tim Golden and it sounds like the free beer, pizza and great talks went down a storm.

Next time I hear about an event I’ll ask around and see who fancies a group venture to London.

No Comments | Tags: Programming, sussexdigital

3 October 2007 - 17:11Next £5 App Meet – Building Communities by Jeremy Keith (ClearLeft)

ClearLeft’s Jeremy Keith will be talking on how he built a large web community at next Tuesday’s £5 App. Sign-up on Upcoming please so I know numbers, or Unattend if you can’t make it (so I buy the right amount of beer).

The Session (http://www.thesession.org/) is a community website
dedicated to Irish traditional music that’s been running for about 8
years now. You’ll get a peek behind the curtain at the technology
running the site but the really interesting aspect is seeing how the
community has grown over the years and how that affects the structure
of the site.

Last month’s event was by Martin talking on his experiences as a Mac Indie Shareware Developer and Martin is likely to be involved with our resident artist ShardCore (now exhibiting at the Tin Drum Kemptown) for our Christmas Special – tentatively titled ‘The $50 Million Apps’.

Write-ups of all the previous meets are linked on my blog and via the official £5 App Site alongside the official (and low frequency) £5 App Blog.

Note also that we have a £5 App Day coming during November (replacing the £5 App Meet just for November) where we want to help a whole heap of companies take a step forwards. Expect sessions, panels and talks. Tentative details at Upcoming, Sunday Nov 10th.

No Comments | Tags: Entrepreneur, Programming, sussexdigital, £5 App Meet

3 October 2007 - 9:44“Set your own price” for goods?

[Update - added Kottke.org micropatron report near the end]

RadioHead have taken a bold move with their latest album “In Rainbows” as they allow fans to set their own pricing for the digital download (summary, long write-up with pictures of the process).

Except for a fixed credit-card overhead (around 45p) it seems that you can set any price you want (0p? Apparently 0p can work). Obviously this is a damned disruptive move for a large music group in the established industry, and about time too.

This is covered at Slashdot and BoingBoing and with an economics twist on The Long Tail and at the always-insightful BubbleGeneration:

“In quite a bit of recent work, we’ve been pointing out to clients that it’s a trend that is on the cusp of explosion…because it’s gonna absolutely revolutionize the economics of music.

Suffice it to say that open pricing is a strategic solution which deeply, deeply dominates the economics of music.”

I’ve toyed with the idea of using adaptive and user-defined pricing for our two commercial Python tutorials at ShowMeDo. So far we’ve settled for a fixed $10 purchase price – but maybe we should revisit a more flexible pricing model?

I particularly like the idea of letting a user choose their own price, having first established a ‘recommended’ price, and later giving the user the option of donating more if they really liked the content.

This lets people pay less than they might if they’re unsure and then come back and top-up the price if they found the information valuable. This would of course be backed by a money-back guarantee, that goes without saying.

A similar thread was discussed over on the 37signals blog for ‘Jane Siberry’s “you decide what feels right” pricing‘:

“The Canadian folk-pop singer Jane Siberry has a clever system: she has a ‘pay what you can’ policy with her downloadable songs, so fans can download them free – but her site also shows the average price her customers have paid for each track. This subtly creates a community standard, a generalized awareness of how much people think each track is really worth. The result? The average price is as much as $1.30 a track, more than her fans would pay at iTunes.”

Jane’s site includes a page describing her approach and it contains statistics on the prices currently being paid by purchasers.

This comment on the RadioHead thread at Slashdot covers several related examples of set-your-own-price music sales.

Matt Weston sent me a pointer to Jason Kottke’s kottke.org – during 2005 he ran a fund drive asking his readers (as ‘micropatrons’) to support his salary so he could work on the blog full-time. As far as I’m concerned his blog is a ‘digital good’ for the sakes of this entry.

He reports on day 2 and got some media coverage and raised just enough money to pay 1/2 his normal salary for a year.

After 2 months he gave an informative report on the results of the funding drive:

“And finally, the answer to the $64,000 question: is this a sustainable business model for independent media on the Web? The short answer is probably no, with a few caveats.”

Along with a concluding report after a year:

“[2] Since everyone and their uncle has been asking, about 1450 micropatrons contributed $39,900 over the past year…99.9% of that coming during the 3 week fund drive.”

Jason’s case is the only micropatron experiment that I know of (thanks for the reminder Matt) – anyone know of others?

A feedback mechanism is important, in ShowMeDo we could easily show what a user paid (and donated) and a user’s profile would presumably state if they were a penniless student or the MD of a tech company. Giving people a chance to be honest, pay what they want, and be a responsible member of a community feels like a very sensible thing to consider.

Are there more examples of setting your own price for a digital good that I’ve not covered here?

3 Comments | Tags: Business Idea, Entrepreneur, Life, ShowMeDo

1 October 2007 - 13:38Artificial Intelligence problems in Industry (things I’ve worked on)

A few days back Mihai commented an interest in the Artificial Intelligence work that I’ve undertaken in the past. I figure that a short run-down of the kinds of problems I’ve tackled might be interesting.

Since 2004 I have run my own A.I. research consultancy – I’m blogging about the experience of becoming a freelance programmer and researcher at the moment (part 2, part 3, several more to come).

Currently I’m working with PANalytical in the UK R&D lab (under Professor. Paul Fewster) to apply evolutionary search algorithms and statistical analysis to multi-dimensional search problems along with an old colleague from MASA (John Anderson).

We’re looking at improving their highly-regarded Epitaxy and Reflectivity X-Ray analysis tools so that they can solve more complex problems more quickly and reliably.

Techniques include evolutionary algorithms, pattern matching, statistical signal processing and a lot of lateral thinking. I won’t say any more as the details are confidential and my work is on-going.

I enjoyed some ad-hoc work at Ambiental previously on their flood-modelling software. The interesting side of things is thinking about what you can when you can accurately model floods – can you predict the best place for flood defences? Can you apply the same techniques to crowds or gas dispersal (e.g. bombs)?

During 2003 and 2004 I worked at Algorithmix on Natural Language Processing problems under Nick Jakobi (now at Google). Up until Corpora acquired Algorithmix I worked on cutting-edge approaches to sentiment analysis and for new-news ‘burst’ reporting.

During that time I also did my own work looking at the use of Bayesian Algorithms (which were becoming rather hot for personal spam filtering) for network-based spam filtering. I worked on the assumption that ISPs saw lots of the same spam so training a filter would be much more efficient at the ISP than on the end-user’s machine.

Algorithmix was spun out of the French MASA Group where I was Senior Programmer for 5 years. I worked on the logistics optimisation side of the business (competing with iLog) into what is now the Blue Kaizen division.

The general work was to use evolutionary search algorithms on heavily-constrained logistics problems to e.g.

  • Route postmen efficiently in vans to collect mail
  • Route petrol tankers to deliver fuel to many cities on complex road networks with varying traffic levels
  • Route waste-collection trucks which handle different types of waste to the appropriate management facility whilst respecting French hours-worked rules and road systems.

These problems were reasonably representative of the hardest logistics problems that high-end desktop computers could solve at the time, given the constraints of the problems.

I’ve always had an interest in electronic circuit design and in my early days at MASA I did some of my own research into floor planning, routing and device placement. Each of these are hard problems which will only get harder as e.g. our CPUs become more complex.

Another area of research at MASA was in the world of financial trading. I was involved in a long project on straight-forward stock market prediction (and no, it wasn’t successful and don’t get me started).

Later, separate from MASA, I was involved in a short piece of work looking at baskets of tradable financial instruments for statistical arbitrage which was fun.

Is AI alive and well? Yes, of course it is. It isn’t necessarily GOFAI and robots don’t clean our houses but there’s a heck of a lot that AI offers us.

One of the big reasons that I like AI is that it can be used to relieve humans of a lot of the tedium of analysing large amounts of data:

  • Spam classifiers will have to get more-AI-ish to deal with the visual and language elements that spammers keep bringing to the party
  • Logistics optimisation will get more complex as we have more constraints, more things to do and less time for planning
  • Circuit designs continue to follow Moore’s law and get more complex at a frightening rate.
  • As physics analysis machines become more complex the wealth of data becomes un-navigable unless you have the appropriate analysis tools.

What to get involved? If you don’t have a background in the area then find a subject that interests you, do some reading and choose a flexible dynamic language so that you can iterate quickly (I favour Python for all my AI work with number crunching in C++).

[I shall quickly plug our ShowMeDo's Python tutorial videos, there is nothing directly for A.I. in the list but there are videos for programming, physics, graphics and useful utilities that are associated with the domain.]

Search Amazon for terms like ‘artificial intelligence’, ‘evolutionary algorithms’ and ‘natural language processing’. I like ‘New ideas in Optimisation‘ by Corne, Dorigo and Glover (click the link and click the author’s names to see the AI books they published themselves).

You’ll find plenty of resources on the web and feel free to leave a comment if you’d like a bit of guidance on how to get started.

7 Comments | Tags: Academic Stuff, ArtificialIntelligence, Entrepreneur, Life, Programming