Archive for April, 2010

Making lemonade

April 29, 2010

My children have been fascinated over the last couple of weeks by a lemonade stand game, which is now available as an app for iPhones and iPod touches but is apparently based on an earlier computer game from the 1980s (though I don’t remember encountering it).  In principle it’s a fairly simple business game, where you need to match production to the weather forecast.  There are some nice touches: for instance you can vary your lemonade recipe, and if there are roadworks near your lemonade stand there’s some uncertainty as to whether they will boost demand, because you’ll have thirsty workers coming to the stand, or will reduce demand because people won’t be able to get to you past the roadworks.

Whether it’s intentional or not, this does remind me of the beer game   initially developed at Massachussets Institute of Technology, and it does share with it one important message, that a business needs to account for external and often unpredictable factors.  However the lemonade stand doesn’t (as far as I can tell) include the factor which makes the beer game both realistic and challengin, which is the delay between making decisions and them having a practical effect

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The Pirate Party comes to Britain

April 29, 2010

The current general election campaign has generated so much news about the major parties that I’ve seen little coverage of the really small-scale fringe candidates.  However there’s been some coverage of the Pirate Party, a movement that originated in Sweden devoted to decriminalising Internet file sharing, and now fielding a number of candidates in the UK .  My first reaction on reading this was that the Pirate Party was really a pressure group rather than a political party, but it has made significant inroads into Swedish politics as the BBC article notes.  Of course problems might arise if a single-issue party becomes a significant political force, since people united by a common belief in free file sharing might have widely differing ideas on favoured policies on other economic/social issues.

Still, this prompts some interesting observations.  One is that the party’s appeal is clearly directed towards the millennial generation – although its leader, Andrew Robinson, is of generation X he mentions that most of the party’s members and candidates are much younger than him.  Another is the section near the end of the BBC article about getting rid of pharmaceutical patents, and compensating for this with additional government funding for research into new drugs.  Which means that the Pirate Party proposes policies which aren’t just about sharing music and software, but could have an effect on NHS funding, which is definitely a topic of interest to mainstream polititicans

Palm comes full circle

April 29, 2010

I’ve been following closely the fortunes of Palm, because the business’s problems in many ways encapsulate the difficulties posed by disruptive technologies.  For Palm, the disruptive technology is the smart phone, which has made there traditional business of personal organisers almost obsolete, because it makes little sense now to produce such a product without adding a Sim card, and adding a Sim card puts these products in direct competition with both the iPhone and the Blackberry.  When Palm launched their Pre smartphone last year, I predicted that it would be well-received by technical journalists and other commentators, and that it would sell poorly – both predictions have come true.  Now Palm is to be sold to Hewlett-Packard , a business which has a presence in many different sectors of the IT business but not, so far, in any type of mobile phone.  Interestingly, in the era when stand-alone personal electronic organisers did have a big marked, Palm was one major player with devices using their own operating system, while Hewlett Packard was another player using Windows Mobile devices

WiFi on the move

April 29, 2010

This isn’t particularly new technology, but last week’s trip to Newcastle was the first time that I tried using a WiFi network on a moving train.  It proved very easy to sign up and make the initial connection to the network on board the train, and the ‘landing page’ which you reach when you first connect includes a small map showing your current location – which is a nice touch.  But (on my limited experience) the connection was slow and very uneven: apparently the system uses a combination of satellite and 3G mobile networks and cleverly routes data over whichever network offers better coverage.  I guess the considerable variation in speed that I experienced occured because one of these networks was working much more smoothly than another.

Despite this new technology, the East Coast main line under its current ownership (it was in effect nationalised after National Express bailed out) has some retro touches: many of the staff wear peaked caps of the sort that I thought went out with Dr Beeching, and the announcements on board the train are made by somebody describing themselved as a ‘guard’, not as a ‘train manager’.

Strange election demographics

April 28, 2010

I noticed yesterday a curious pattern in the election posters on display in Priory Gardens, a residential street right by Highgate Tube station.  At one end, closest to the station, are a few Labour Posters in people’s windows.  At the other end of the street, there’s a cluster of Labour posters in a few people’s front gardens.  In between, every election poster is for the Liberal Democrats.  Is this just a statistical ripple of no significance, or should I infer that in this part of London there are more Labour voters at the end of streets than in the middle?  Incidentally this is in the area described in this piece from the Independent,  where the competition is essentially between Labour and the Liberal Democrats

Surprised they are still selling

April 28, 2010

I’ve seen some coverage lately of the demise of the floppy disc, so was surprised to see the BBC claim at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/8646699.stm that they are still sold in large numbers.  As it happens I do have a USB floppy drive for my laptop which I’m sure I used sometime in 2006…

FiveThirtyEight comes to the UK election

April 6, 2010

There are now several items about the forthcoming British general election on the American site FiveThirtyEight, which aggregates the results of opinion polls and discusses the statistical issues around them.  It’s an interesting illustration of how, with the help of the Internet, you can do something imaginative and interesting with data that’s in the public domain.  There’s a useful discussion in the comments on the latest blog entry about how margins of error   in opinion poll results are reported by the press.  Incidentally the name FiveThirtyEight comes from the number of seats in the electoral college that a US presidential candidate needs to win