Wednesday, April 14, 2010

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The right people with the wrong idea

A couple of months ago I was hanging around the Y Combinator offices scouting start-ups when Paul Graham introduced me to a guy called Paul Biggar. Paul had this crazy idea about offering a better commenting system for news web sites. A sort of Disqus just for newspapers. I didn't think it was a very good idea, but I offered to help anyway because Paul seemed like the right person with the wrong idea.

I've spent my entire career in technology start-ups (and, briefly, in venture capital) and if there's one thing that's invariant it's that it's better to find the right people with the wrong idea than the wrong people with the right idea. The right people will be able to change their idea to fit the market, the wrong people will rarely capitalize on the right idea.

So it was no surprise to me that Paul came back with a new idea: a news web site built around journalist brands with revenue sharing between the journalist and the web site. Now that seemed like an interesting idea. It's a sort of anti-Economist where the name of the journalist matters more than the brand of the overall site. I said I'd help and emailed journalist and writer friends to get them to look into it. I also sat down over the Easter weekend and wrote three articles for the future web site.

Yesterday, the resulting web site called NewsTilt went live. My three stories are:

Ode to the Number 11 bus.

If you're visiting London, stop before you spend £50 ($76) on a sightseeing tour and consider taking a bus used by Londoners to get to work. It might not sound like the best idea for an out of town visitor, but at £1.20 ($1.80) per person a trip along the 7 miles of the number 11 bus route will let you see the sights in true London double-decker bus style.


Long haul heaven

For many people the thought of a long haul flight is enough to fill them with dread and loathing. They loathe the indignities of airport security, the stale food and staler air, the cramped seats and cramped conversation. But I love a good long haul from London to San Francisco, or Miama to Buenos Aires. I love it because when I step onto a 747, an L-1011 or an A340, I'm entering my mile-high monastery.


The missing element in travel: science

Many people wouldn't consider wrapping their head around some science to be an ideal way to spend a holiday. But science and enjoyment aren't incompatible. Here are seven ideas to get you out and about, and make you think.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Witch doctors should be available on the NHS

One of my relations wrote to his MP opposing the MP's position on funding homeopathy through the NHS. Here's the interesting bit of the MP's reply:

Thanks for your e-mail. There are many people who consider that homeopathy is beneficial to them, and would thus disagree with both the Committee's conclusions and the view you express. In the grand scheme of the billions spent by the NHS, the cost of homeopathy is small - and if people sense that homeopathy is helping them get better, then that is sufficient reason why I think the present arrangements should continue.

It's instructive to reread this email with homeopathy replaced by witch doctors.

Thanks for your e-mail. There are many people who consider that witch doctors are beneficial to them, and would thus disagree with both the Committee's conclusions and the view you express. In the grand scheme of the billions spent by the NHS, the cost of witch doctors is small - and if people sense that witch doctors are helping them get better, then that is sufficient reason why I think the present arrangements should continue.

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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

It's the thought that counts

After I finally replaced the old HP Procurve 420 Access Point at the office with an Airport Extreme, HP came up with a solution to my problem. They decided to send me, free of charge, a brand new access point (since the 420 had been end-of-lifed).

This was very kind of them and now, sitting on my desk, I have a brand new HP Procurve MSM310 Access Point. It came with all the trimmings: two antennae, a power adapter and a serious steel wall mounting bracket. Compared to the Apple device it looks seriously industrial.

Weirdly, all four parts, the access point, the power adapter, the antennae and the wall bracket, came in four separate packages. The funniest of which was the one that just contained the two small antennae. Good business for DHL I suppose.


Now, I don't know if this device actually fixes the original Bonjour problem I was having, and I'm unlikely to find out. Despite the London address, HP sent a power adapter with a US plug.

Ah well, it's the thought that counts.

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Monday, April 05, 2010

The Offal Tower

OK, that's not the headline that The Guardian chose, but here's me writing in The Guardian's Comment is Free section:

At the unveiling of Anish Kapoor's design for the Orbit tower it was compared to the Colossus of Rhodes and the Tower of Babel. But the history of those follies isn't auspicious. The Colossus of Rhodes was destroyed by an earthquake after standing for only a few decades, and the Tower of Babel was, the book of Genesis tells us, constructed to glorify those that constructed it.

I can't help wondering to what extent the ArcelorMittal Orbit is being built for the glory of Boris Johnson, Kapoor and Lakshmi Mittal. And as details emerge of its Olympic corporate entertainment role, it looks less and less like a work of art. But setting the motivation of the creators aside, the worst comparison of all is with the Eiffel Tower.

The rest is here

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