Monday, January 16, 2012

January 18th - Stop SOPA day...

January 18th is the day that the internet sends a message of opposition against SOPA and its lesser known brethren PIPA by blacking out websites in protest... 

Inspired by Reddit, who confirmed last week that the site would 'go dark' on Wednesday to highlight the concerns and opposition to SOPA, a whole host of websites have now agreed to follow suit...

As well as a myriad of small sites, sites such as tucows, boing boing and the cheezburger network are joining in and - whisper it - but even Minecraft is going dark for a day in protest.

And, with the day drawing nearer, more and more companies are choosing to join the black out to voice their opposition to the bill - with speculation mounting that wikipedia could soon join...

Now we just need the likes of Google and Facebook to back up their vocal opposition to the bill with a move that would make everyone notice...

If you want to blackout your website for the day - checkout for more details.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

CES 2012 - The world just got cooler...

The 45th Annual Consumer Electronic Show (CES) has just wound down after a hectic three days, in which hundreds of electronic manufacturers descended on Las Vegas and did their level best to hawk their upcoming wares - giving us the latest in everything from tablet PCs to Smart Fridges, from 3D televisions to therapeutic robot seals (honestly).

But, in amidst this cornucopia of electronic gizmos, this sea of gadgets, what really stood out this year?

1. Makerbot Replicator
Image courtesy of Makerbot Industries
An open source, 3D printer with two colour printing that's small enough to sit on your desktop and cheap enough (starting from $1749) that it brings 3D printing into the budget of the reasonably wealthy (as opposed to the startlingly wealthy), this had me pretty excited. For more of what the Makerbot Replicator can do, check out the video below:

2. OnLive Desktop

OnLive made waves a couple of years back when it announced a cloud-based gaming system that was intended to go head-to-head with the powers that be in the gaming industry and, while they build their market in games, they've announced a (somewhat surprising) plan to also bring cloud-based services to the workplace - OnLive Desktop. OnLive Desktop streams Microsoft Office Suite to your iPad and, with the all the processing work done on the cloud, you don't have to worry about the processing getting too intensive. Check out their (rather cheesy) advert below:

3. LG 55 inch OLED 3D TV
Image courtesy LG

No CES would be complete without some monstrous TV promising absurd resolutions, and LG made sure people weren't disappointed with their 55 inch organic light-emitting diode (OLED) 3D TV that offers not only a big screen, a near infinite contrast claim (a billion to 1), built-in wifi and passive 3D but also comes in at a super svelte 4mm thickness. That's right - about the same as 3 credit cards back to back. Big TVs don't come much cooler than this. Well, until CES 2013, that is...

4. Samsung Smart Window
Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Who among us, at some time or another, can say they have not hankered to be Tom Cruise? I am, of course, referring to his use of some uber-cool smartscreen technology in the (somewhat mediocre) Minority Report. Well, rejoice Tom Cruise wannabes - for your time, thanks to Samsung, is well and truly at hand. The Samsung Smart Window is exactly what it sounds like  - a one way transparent display that allows you to use your window like a touch-screen.  Check out Mobile Nations video review below:

5. Benchtop Ion Proton Sequencer
Image courtesy PR Newswire
Maybe it's just that this appeals to the Mad Scientist in me, but how cool is a benchtop Ion Proton Sequencer, capable of decoding the sequence of a human genome in under a day for only $1000? Pretty damn cool, if you ask me. And at an asking price of only $149,000 it brings the mapping of human genomes into the reach of ordinary doctors. Up until now, such devices retailed upwards of $500,000, took weeks to deliver a result and and cost $10,000 per sequence. 2012, the year DNA sequencing went mainstream...

Friday, January 13, 2012

Will this be the ISS Replacement?

Painting by Don Davis, courtesy of NASA
It might look like something from the Golden Age of Science Fiction, but the above painting shows a representation of a Stanford Torus Space Station. And, if a recent interview with the Ukrainian Prime Minister, Mykola Azarov is anything to go by, it may well be that NASA is working hard to transform the Stanford Torus from Science Fiction to Science Fact...

The Stanford Torus was first proposed in a NASA Summer Study in 1975, held at Stanford University, in which possible designs for future space colonies were discussed. The science behind it is relatively simple; the torus rotates at a speed which generates artificial gravity, close to that of Earth's, on the inside of the outer ring by means of centrifugal force. In 1975, they discussed the possibility of a 1.8km diameter ring, rotating once per minute, that would be capable of supporting 10,000 residents.

In a recent interview, Azarov stated "I will tell you a story: I just got back from a plant in Dnipropetrovsk. Only 20 years ago, it was a highly classified facility that produced missiles and satellites for the Soviet Union. Today, I saw with my own eyes: it is producing the first stage of parts for the US-designed Stanford Torus space station in collaboration with scientists from the United States."

If you're wondering what a Stanford Torus would look like from the inside, well Don Davis has done us the favour of envisioning that as well:

Painting by Don Davis, image courtesy of NASA

While this is likely to only be the early stages of a prototype, I'm excited to think that this type of forward thinking is going ahead and that NASA is conducting research into the practicalities of this technology....

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Big Bang Fizzling Out...

Photo: Sonja Flemming/CBS
First of all, I have to admit up front that I am a relatively recent convert to The Big Bang Theory; it was only a few weeks before Christmas that I finally worked up the motivation to check out the first season and I enjoyed it so much that I quickly grabbed the four season box set and began devouring episodes at a rate of knots... 

However, now that I'm up-to-date and catching up on the fifth season, I have to say I am deeply disappointed with the changes that have been wrought upon the show. The Big Bang Theory that I had developed such fondness for told the story of a bunch of guys whose service to science, and love of all things geek chic, means they had the collective social skills of a mouse mat and more raging hormones than a US cattle farm; four guys who lives are disrupted (and enriched) by the arrival of a hot, blonde neighbour who lacks their intellect but also lacks their social awkwardness and outweighs them all combined in the area of common sense.

We spent time in their work environments, were involved in the various scientific projects they worked on and the many machinations they set in play in order to achieve success with the ladies (with the obvious exception of Sheldon, for whom such matters were far too trivial). And, throughout, the show was littered with all manner of SF, comic, fantasy and gaming references (not to mention more than a few snippets of scientific theory). It was fun, it was bright, it was a breath of fresh air in comparison to the majority of turgid sitcoms out there...

Fast forward to Season 5 and it's hard to believe that this is the same show. Leonard is in a long-distance relationship; Howard, the (wannabe) suave player with a penchant for foot-in-mouth disease, is in a serious relationship, Raj has seen more girls in the first four episodes than he did in the first four seasons and even Sheldon - the theoretical physicist who considers himself the first homo novus - has a friend, who is a girl but not a girlfriend (although in episode 3 of the new season we see him displaying very out-of-character jealousy).

Change I can deal with, but it seems like the heart of the show has been ripped out; I'm five episodes in and we've had no scenes in the University (aside from a few discussions in the canteen), there's been very little mention of science and even the various references seem to be far less numerous and designed to appeal to a lower common denominator. Instead of a fresh take on modern sitcom, The Big Bang Theory has descended into the same mire as so many other shows - focusing more on relationships than relativity - and thus mining material that has been seen a hundred times before.

In watching all of the episodes with such delirious rapidity, the decline is all the more noticeable and perhaps nowhere more so than Sheldon who has devolved from a beautiful mind, whose hubris was predicated on years of being way too smart for those around him and who was seemingly unable to comprehend even the simplest social interactions, to some kind of petulant brat who gets jealous when he doesn't get enough attention from his visiting mother...

It feels like the show is trying to temper its sharp edge, bring down the barriers-to-entry created by genre specific references and appeal to a wider audience. But, in doing so, it's losing what gained it its audience in the first place. I'm hoping it can improve, that it can be turned around and restored to its former glories...but I'm not sure how many more tepid episodes I can watch before, like interstellar matter being sucked into the gravity well of a black hole, all the enthusiasm for the show is drained from me... 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

E-Flotsam from Google...

Image Courtesy of Scott Cresswell
I have to admit, I'm often bemused by the curious ways in which people find themselves, like flotsam and jetsam, washed up upon the shores of this blog.

I first noticed it the other day, when I was looking at the visitor statistics of the site on statcounter, and saw that I was the number one ranked search result for the phrase 'head of culture job' on Google (which relates to one of my earliest Unsuitable Job applications). A quick scan through my visitor's paths saw that, due to the rather varied nature of the various Unsuitable Jobs I have applied for over the years, you can find me at the head of the Google results in a whole host of areas...

Some of the top-ranked favourites that have sent people my way in recent days are 'Antelope Keeper' (due to Unsuitable Job 14), 'Experienced Sock Designer' (Unsuitable Job 37), 'Rules of bodyguards' (Unsuitable Job 43) and 'Resident Sex Therapist' (Unsuitable Job 76).

I am not quite sure what those people made of the blog when they got here - I find it hard to believe that they got precisely what they were originally looking for - but it's still nice to see such random visitations and I hope, at the very least, it gave them cause for a brief amount of smirkage...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Apocalypse (anytime) Now...

Image Courtesy of NASA
As you may have heard, the world is going to end in 2012. To be more specific, the world is going to end on December the 21st, 2012. Which works out quite well for me as its only two days after my birthday (there's a good chance I'll still have a hangover) and four days before Christmas (so I don't need to bother splurging on gifts for the family this year).

However, it appears that things are working out even better for Vivos - The Underground Shelter Network for Long-Term Survival of Future Catastrophes - who are flogging floor space in their fortified bunkers to the gullible chosen few, for up to $50,000 per person...

Monday, January 09, 2012

3 Cool Space Missions for 2012

Image courtesy of NASA
I can trace my abiding fascination with Outer Space all the way back to a large book on the Universe, which sat on the bottom shelf of our bookcase at home. The book and I were inseparable in my formative years and  I would sit on the living room floor and pore over it for (quite literally) hours at a time. While other five year olds in my primary school class were doodling what they did on holiday, I was more interested in mapping out the Solar System in as much detail as I could muster. Yes, even as a five year old, I was a little strange.

Therefore, despite the fact that 2011 saw the demise of the Space Shuttle programme, I am pretty excited about the wide variety of space missions that are planned for the forthcoming year so figured that I would run through some of the coolest extraterrestrial happenings of 2012.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

SOPA (is) for Dummies

Unless you've been hiding under the internet equivalent of a rock recently, you've likely heard mention of the Stop Online Piracy Act (or SOPA) which is currently working its way through the House of Representatives in the US.

With highly vocal support (and almost $100 million in official lobbying efforts) from the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America and the US Chamber of Commerce, SOPA also has the support of more than 400 organisations as it seeks to block 'rogue websites' who, according to the US Chamber of Commerce "steal America's innovative and creative products attract more than 53 billion visits a year and threaten more than 19 million American jobs".

The trouble is, SOPA isn't so much a sledgehammer to crack a nut as it is a high-yield thermonuclear warhead...

There are numerous reasons why SOPA is bad news for the internet, especially for people living in the US; from the potential invasions of privacy (for example, ISPs may be required to use deep packet inspection on web users to prevent access to specific sections of websites), to problems of security (that has seen the head of the Homeland Security subcommittee on cyber security state SOPA will undercut cyber security measures), to the simple fact that, if passed, SOPA will act to cripple the nature of the internet.

But I really wanted to take a moment to puncture one of the key arguments that supporters of SOPA rely upon - namely the massive losses that are incurred by the various entertainment companies by activities such as file-sharing and streaming.

Despite apocalyptic claims, the fact is that US movie revenues in 2012 - even allowing for the state of decline in the world economy - were the third highest of all-time and over $10 billion for the third year in a row:

Supporters of SOPA like to argue that every person who downloads or streams a film or TV show or album are people who would, otherwise, have gone out and bought a legitimate copy of that film, TV show or album - and they calculate their vast billions of dollars in losses from this poorly thought out logic. The truth is, people frequently download media that they would not have paid to consume - only the tiniest fraction of those people downloading or streaming media are really potential customers being lost.

On top of that, quite aside from the way in which the supporters are spinning the statistics, it seems that no one in the MPAA or the RIAA want to discuss the way in which file-sharing and streaming can actually boost their profits.

By sampling media in this fashion, people are able to make decisions about the products they wish to purchase. I was recently informed that I had been seriously missing out by not having watched Big Bang Theory and, so, decided to check out the first season by streaming it; I liked it so much that I went out and bought the first four seasons boxset. Now Warner Brothers would argue illegal streaming of the first season has lost them £4.99 - but, in actual fact, it persuaded me to spend £28.97.

It just strikes me that the MPAA and the RIAA are trying to live in a world that hasn't moved on, a world where frequent consumption of digital media isn't the norm and where people are only interested in physical copies of their media. The world has changed and the entertainment companies - instead of trying to shackle the internet to preserve their established business models - should be trying to move with it.

For example, I can't believe that it is not possible in this day and age for us to be able to watch TV shows, officially streamed with adverts, from entertainment company websites. I know that if this service was available, I would be using it all the time. The way to 'kill' rogue websites isn't to detonate a nuclear warhead on the people who the entertainment industry depends upon for its revenues, instead it is to adapt and evolve and provide us with better alternatives that suit the way we want to consume media. Anything else is simply doomed to fail.

Friday, January 06, 2012

2012 - A New Start

I am willing to throw my hands up and admit it - I have been a very bad blogger.

After failing to provide any kind of update throughout the entirety of 2011 (not even a revision to my, seemingly popular, Eurovision Drinking Game), I have decided that 2012 should be rather different.

For starters, while I'm not entirely abandoning the 100 Unsuitable Jobs quest (which is currently sitting at Job No. 95 - Supervisor, Children's Zoo), I have decided that it might be good to also blog about some of the other things I'm interested in during the (long) fallow periods between finding worthwhile jobs to apply for. Consequently, I've ditched the 100 Unsuitable Jobs moniker for the blog and replaced it (slightly narcissistically) with Oliver Davies instead.

Which means I now have absolutely no excuse not to use this as a place to ramble on about the myriad things that interest and intrigue me - from astrophysics to music, from politics to comedy (a fine line, perhaps), from technology to literature - with sporadic updates on the progress of my novel and (when the mood takes me) an unsuitable job or two.

So, expect things to be altogether more interesting around here from this point on...