Two wonderfully enlightening TED Talks

Over lunch today I found time to watch a couple of amazing TED talks

The first is by Moshe Safdie, an architect who’s work should be an inspiration to us all.

I spent a number of years working for an architect, in fact as a young teenager I had my heart set on becoming an architect, however by the time it came round to choosing a degree I had discovered a new passion. Nevertheless I’ve always been fascinated by buildings and both the science and the art involved in their construction. Moshe Safdie’s work has long been hailed as both innovative and inspirational, as you listen to him describe four of the projects he’s worked on you’ll get a sense of why!

The second talk is by Howard Rheingold, he talks about about the coming world of collaboration, participatory media and collective action — and how Wikipedia is really an outgrowth of our natural human instinct to work as a group.

It’s a fascinating talk that is filled with remarkable sociological, economic and cultural observations about how as a species we have evolved and are continuing to evolve.

A reflection

It definitely feels like I’ve had one of those days. I got a call after lunch informing me my younger brother had been involved in a car accident, after everything else that’s happened lately my reaction was to panic (a bit?), fortunately he is fine and unhurt but I remember as I rushed home from work asking myself what did we do deserve all the bad things that seem to have happened lately. At times like this I often find myself either praying for help, or railing against God and how unfair his design seems to be.

Once I realised my brother was actually ok a rather random thought lept into my mind … it was something I heard once on a sci-fi show …

You know, I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. 
Then I thought, wouldn't it be much worse if life were fair, 
and all the terrible things that happen to us come 
because we actually deserve them? So, now I take great 
comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.

                                              Marcus,  Babylon 5

There’s a lesson in there for each of us.

Nobel Prize Winner – Muhammed Yunus talks about micro-credit

Muhammad Yunus gave this talk as part of the authors@google series, it’s a fascinating insight into both the man and his quest to eradicate poverty, which the Nobel Committee commented on by stating:

Lasting peace can not be achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break out of poverty. Micro-credit is one such means. Development from below also serves to advance democracy and human rights

CBSO Youth Orchestra – another resounding success

I had an enchanting evening yesterday watching Alex perform with the CBSO Youth Orchestra … Richard’s been planning the evening for a while hoping that it would cheer me up or take my mind off things – I haven’t really been out since dad passed away so I wasn’t sure whether I’d really be able to enjoy it or whether I’d end up feeling quite distant and removed from it all. Fortunately it really was an amazing evening, I think it did me good to get out.

Alex was obviously playing so Richard, (the delightful) Moona and myself were watching intently and taking more than just a few (embarrassing?) pictures of our little prima-donna 😉 The orchestra played three pieces:

  • Britten Four Sea Interludes (from Peter Grimes)

  • Shostakovich Cello Concerto No.1

  • Bartok Concerto for Orchestra

I really enjoyed the cello Concerto which was led by Guy Johnston who was, in a word, amazing!. At the interval Alex popped out for drinks with the rest of us and mentioned that Guy wasn’t just a great musician, but by all accounts he seems to be a wonderful, and very humble individual who earned the respect of the youth orchestra by actually thanking them for their efforts and for giving him the opportunity to play with them – which very few soloists ever bother to do.

Anyway here’s a few snaps from the evening:

The CBSO Youth Orchestra will be performing again over the coming year, I thoroughly recommend them to anyone who enjoys listening to classical music performed by a very talented group of musicians.

Ian Davis presents the Talis Platform at KMI

My colleague, Ian Davis, visited the Knowledge Media Institute yesterday to present his talk on The Talis Platform: A Generic Infrastructure for the Next Generation of Web Applications to their research group. Here’s the short synopsis for the talk:

The Talis Platform provides a generic infrastructure for building data-rich Web and Semantic Web applications. By taking care of the “heavy lifting” associated with data management and storage, developers are freed up to concentrate on building applications using the Platform’s APIs and services. In this presentation I will outline the problems the Platform is attempting to solve, describe the principles on which our approach is based, and ground these in trends such as “Software as a Service”. The capabilities of the Platform will be illustrated through demos of Platform services for mashing up heterogeneous data and providing faceted querying over data sets. I’ll wrap up the talk by describing how members of the audience can use the Platform to support their own applications, and help shape its future development.

Ian is a great guy, and is very much the driving force behind our vision for what the platform should be. The talk is only thirty minutes long but he gives a valuable insight into what we are doing and hopefully what we are trying to achieve. If your interested in finding out about what we do and why we are doing it then watch the talk.

Google doesn’t seem to like the idea of Microsoft merging with Yahoo!

Unless you’ve been hiding beneath a rock then you are probably aware of the news that Microsoft has offered $46 Billion to buy Yahoo! When I first heard this news I thought I couldn’t help but feel that in many ways it was an admission that as things stand it really cant compete with Google. Yahoo has certainly been struggling lately and current trends seem to suggest that this situation doesn’t look like it’s going to improve any time soon, particularly since Yahoo! revenue, like Google, is advertising driven and it’s pretty obvious who is winning that contest.

Since the announcement of the offer was made on the 1st of February many people have been waiting to see how Google would react. Well today David Drummond, Senior Vice President, Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer responded on the Official Google Blog, in a post interestingly entitled “Yahoo! and the future of the internet“. The post is full of some unusually aggressive statements (by Google’ standards) about this potential acquisition:

…This is about more than simply a financial transaction, one company taking over another … It’s about preserving the underlying principles of the Internet: openness and innovation. Could Microsoft now attempt to exert the same sort of inappropriate and illegal influence over the Internet that it did with the PC? While the Internet rewards competitive innovation, Microsoft has frequently sought to establish proprietary monopolies — and then leverage its dominance into new, adjacent markets…Microsoft plus Yahoo! equals an overwhelming share of instant messaging and web email accounts. And between them, the two companies operate the two most heavily trafficked portals on the Internet. Could a combination of the two take advantage of a PC software monopoly to unfairly limit the ability of consumers to freely access competitors’ email, IM, and web-based services?

Sounds like interesting times ahead. I personally struggle with the notion of Yahoo! selling up to Microsoft. Yahoo! has far more in common with Google than it does with Microsoft. On the internet Microsoft has never really succeeded even after acquiring successful properties like hotmail, because they could never really figure out what to do with them. I think it’s partly because Microsoft doesn’t really come across as a consumer oriented entity, it’s more of an enterprise oriented company. I still think they are very much entrenched in the “how much can I charge you for a license to use X” world and never really sought to look beyond that for other options until it was too late and the barbarian( Google) wasn’t just at the gate it had plowed right through it.

I personally dread to think of what might happen if Microsoft got their hands on a service like flickr and here’s why …

I remember when Yahoo! first acquired flickr 2005, the user base complained fearing Yahoo! would somehow destroy their beloved flickr. We know that didn’t happen and Yahoo! invested in not only improving the service but also succeeded in growing it into one of the most popular social sites on the internet. So if that worked out ok why wouldn’t the same thing happen again if Microsoft was at the helms. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest it’s because Yahoo! gets the internet. If there’s one thing Microsoft has proven over the last few years it’s that it definitely doesn’t get the internet. Or another way of looking at it is this … if Microsoft bought Yahoo! would it allow flickr to continue to run under the same ethos and principles it was founded on?

Maybe Drummond is right? maybe this isn’t just about a transaction, maybe it is about preserving the underlying principles of the Internet: openness and innovation.

But then again how truly open is Google?