Inverse Covid-19 protection?

For the last two or three years, I’ve been getting a ‘flu vaccination in the autumn. In the past, most winters would see me knocked out for at least a few days, maybe a week, at some point by a ‘flu-like bug. But once I discovered how easy it was — for people in the UK who aren’t eligible to get it free on the NHS, you just book an appointment at your local Boots and pay 12 quid — I realised this was a small price and well worth paying! Recommended.

Now, the jab obviously won’t protect you against the current coronavirus. It doesn’t even protect you against all strains of normal ‘flu. But it occurs to me that if everybody had had a recent injection, it would probably stop a lot of false alarms. You’d be much less likely to come down with something ordinary that might cause you unnecessary concern, and when you did start exhibiting ‘flu-like symptoms, you would be able to take them more seriously.

I don’t, however, know anything about the seasonality of this. New vaccinations are usually developed to cover the winter period, and I’m not sure about the value of taking one now that was created that many months ago.

But it seemed to me an idea worth considering. Is it worth doing an updated spring vaccination to help protect you against current bugs that are not Covid-19, just to assist with the detection of the real thing?

Whither the weather?

As a campervan owner, I’d like a kind of backwards weather-forecasting website.

Instead of saying, “I’m here, what’s the weather going to be like at the weekend?”, I’d like to say, “Where do I need to go to get the best weather this weekend?” (within a certain radius).

Does anybody offer such a service?

Thought for the day…

You never truly appreciate the wisdom of older people…
Until you are one of them.

The Ring cycle?

I have a Ring video doorbell. When there’s movement in front of my door, or when someone rings the bell, it captures a brief video clip and saves it to the cloud.

It occurs to me that:

  • Amazon owns Ring.
  • Amazon delivers to my door.
  • Amazon could register that they had successfully delivered to my door by holding the delivery (or its barcode) up to the doorbell’s camera.
  • Perhaps I should patent the idea?

Shifting to electric

In the U.S.A, cars with manual transmissions were just 1.1% of car sales last year.

Cars with electric motors were 1.6%.

Slowly but surely, the revolution is happening…

AirBnB faces some challenges

I’ve only stayed twice in AirBnB rooms.

The first time was in Sausalito, California, many years ago, when AirBnB was still a fairly new phenomenon. (I tried out another new service called “Uber” on the same evening.) Because I was only staying one night, the room was a bit pricey, but it was otherwise fine and still a lot cheaper than a hotel just across the water in San Francisco.

The second time was a few weeks ago, when I stayed for a few days over the New Year with a delightful family on the Isle of Lewis. A really lovely spot.

So my experience with the service, however limited, has been good, and I have many friends and family members who use it a great deal more than I do.

But it’s not the same for everyone, and James Temperton’s interesting article in Wired exposes the fact that some rather dubious people have found the success of AirBnB to be an irresistable temptation…

Thanks to John Naughton for the link.

A coming revolution in startup financing?

I remember when my parents got their first credit cards. This new method of paying for things materialised in the UK in the mid-60s, shortly before I did, but they only became widespread in the 70s and 80s, and my childhood was filled with advertisements for them. Anyone else here old enough to remember “Access – your flexible friend”?

American Express was also desperately promoting its alternative charge-card model with advertisements promising the earth. These were nicely satirised by the brilliant team from Not the Nine O’Clock News.

For some reason, it was a very memorable sketch for a young teenage boy, not used to seeing anything like that on British TV at the time!

Two other things, though, made a lasting impression on me at that age:

  • The first was a presenter on a humorous BBC radio programme starting a new section with these words: “Credit, of course, is a nice new word for the nasty old situation we used to call debt”.

  • The second was a speaker at a youth camp who gave some exceedingly good advice, which I have followed ever since, and strongly recommend to the youth of today: “Never borrow money for anything smaller than a house.” Seriously, I recommend it.

Debt, however, is not always bad. If you’re a business with reasonably predictable future revenues, debt-based financing can be attractive when compared with the alternatives, but in the tech industry of the last couple of decades, it has very seldom been a viable option for small companies and we’ve had to resort to venture capital instead.

But in a fascinating article entitled ‘Debt is coming’, Alex Danco suggests that this may be about to change, and that the trend for technology products and services to move to subscription-based models opens up new ways of financing startups, that may not depend on selling your company’s soul to the VCs.

Here is a widely believed cause-and-effect relationship I bet you’ve never thought to invert before: because most startups fail, therefore equity is the best way to finance them. Have you ever considered: because equity is how we finance startups, therefore most startups fail?

The article’s worth reading in full if you’re at all interested in this area.

Maybe, if I can get over my dislike of subscriptions, I’ll also be able to get over my dislike of debt!

Thanks to Pilgrim Beart and Tim O’Reilly for the link to Alex’s article.

How I Flitted away my Friday afternoon!

Today, I got to ride the Flit Electric Bike! It was great fun!

Actually, it was much better than that; I was invited to visit their office in Cambridge and got to spend quite a bit of time meeting the team and distracting them from what they ought to have been doing. But they were great people, and very patient as I quizzed them endlessly to find out more about what I think is a really nicely-designed product.

A bit of personal background: I own an elderly (non-electric) Brompton folding bike which I got from my parents, and there’s a story behind why I’m particularly fond of that brand. My father had bad arthritis in his ankles meaning that, from an earlier age than one might expect, walking any distance was difficult, but he could cycle just fine. Some of us got together and gave him a Brompton, little knowing that it really would prove to be quite a life-changer. He could take it with him almost everywhere he went, and it allowed him to join in on family walks, get exercise, and see new places in a way he never could have done without it. For him it genuinely was a mobility vehicle, and I think it kept him out of a wheelchair for probably 10 years longer than might otherwise have been the case. My mother also got one soon afterwards, and until fairly recently, their car always had two bikes in the boot. So yes, I have a soft spot for this brilliant bit of British engineering, designed by a Cambridge engineer and finally brought to market after a long hard struggle.

To be fair, almost everybody loves Bromptons, though for most people the value is that you can cycle at all on something that folds away so ridiculously small; it’s not really the bike you’d probably choose to ride just for the joy of riding. There are compromises in rigidity, in cycling position, etc., which are apparent when you compare it to any regular bike (though I gather newer models may be a bit better than my ancient and well-travelled example!). And when Brompton came to build their battery-assisted version, they didn’t want to change too much of the basic design which had been so successful for so long. They did an ingenious and careful job of electrifying it, but it was always a retrofitting exercise to an existing layout.

The Flit bike, on the other hand, was designed from the ground up as an electric bike, yet it folds almost as small as a Brompton, and weighs a bit less than their electric model. At present, it’s also cheaper, because Flit are selling direct; you can’t yet walk into a dealer and buy one. And in fact, even buying direct, you’ll need to be patient; they expect the first batch to ship in July. So the one I was trying was a pre-production model, but they’ve managed to sell quite a number through their crowdfunding campaigns, initially on Kickstarter and now on Indiegogo, which is impressive given that very few of those people, presumably, will have had the opportunity to go and try it out just a few miles from home, as I did!

But I don’t think they’ll be disappointed. I found it great fun and comfortable to ride, a good weight to carry, and easier to roll along the floor than any other folding bike I’ve tried. I can definitely see that if you lived a few miles from your nearest train or bus station, this would be a great way to get there. Or, say, to carry in your motorhome or yacht for trips to the nearest pub or grocery shop. OK, so it doesn’t fold quite as small as a Brompton. And it doesn’t have the load-carrying capacity of, say, the much larger and heavier Tern Vectron. Both of those are fine machines, but the Flit is noticeably cheaper than both of them at the moment and (in my opinion) nicer to ride than either.

I shall watch with interest as they ramp up production, and follow their blog, and I hope they have the success they deserve!

]9 Alex Murray

My thanks to Alex Murray, the Managing Director, for the invitation. (I first heard of Flit, by the way, on this excellent podcast, which I recommend for anyone interested either in bikes or startups or both!)

Cookie Monster

It’s so easy to focus on the more disastrous aspects of Brexit that I’d like to raise the spirits of UK citizens by pointing out one possible very positive outcome. But we’re going to have to work for it, make our voices heard, and bring freedom for our nation from a pan-European menace that has plagued us for years!

I am referring, of course, to the outrageously stupid legislation that requires websites to display those notices telling us that they use cookies.

It clearly hadn’t occurred to the idiots who crafted these rules — enforced first in the EU’s e-Privacy directive and implemented in the UK’s Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) — that basically every site on the web uses cookies. Therefore, unless you only ever visit the same half-dozen sites, you’re adding a burden to vast numbers of online interactions.

So it’s no surprise that nobody actually reads the notices. I have to agree to several of these every day, and I don’t think I’ve ever read any of them. It’s a fundamental and obvious part of user interface design that if you make users mechanically perform the same task too often, they’re not going to read the text in the dialog box before clicking OK. I have about five devices on which I regularly browse the web, so I need to click the OK button on each of them, even for sites where I’ve already said I don’t object.

And here’s the thing that makes it even more stupid…

Suppose you don’t actually want cookies stored on your machine, and you say ‘no’ when the website asks if it can store them. I don’t know if there’s anybody in Europe who actually does this, but let’s pretend for a moment. How do you think the website could remember your decision? Why, by storing a cookie on your machine, of course. That’s the only way. But you’ve just said it can’t do that, so you are going to get the stupid pop-up every single time you visit that site. If you are consistent about your refusal, then almost every page on the web is going to have this annoyance every time you visit it. (That’s in addition to all the ones that can’t work at all without storing cookies, because they need them to remember important things about your logged-in session, etc.) If this legislation was meant to enhance people’s privacy protection, it also gave them a big incentive to agree to giving it away.

I presume these rules must have been designed by people who only ever visited Facebook and one or two other sites, so they assumed that your preferences could be set in just a few clicks. They hadn’t fully understood the nature of the beast they were unleashing.

So we should start a determined post-Brexit campaign to end this madness, at least for Britons. If we can’t remove the requirements completely, then there are trivial technological solutions which could make it go away. Imagine, for example, that I could configure my browser to say, as a general rule, “Yes, I’m happy with that category of cookie and no, I’m not happy with this one”. It could send that as part of each HTTP request, or each HTTP request to a new site, and only if those headers are not present, or if the site wanted to use cookies for something else, would it be required to ask. If necessary, the browser could be required to prompt you every year to make sure your preferences hadn’t changed. And if you don’t want any cookies at all, you’d set that option and, while large chunks of the web wouldn’t work for you, at least you wouldn’t be prompted on every page.

In fact, most browsers allow you to change various settings on a per-website basis already, so you can decide whether or not you like cookies in general and enable them for sites you trust. People already had the ability to enforce some control of cookies for themselves. But even if you want the website to be told, for example, that you’ll allow cookies for some things and not for others, the legislation doesn’t allow that information to be transmitted to the site in place of an immediate, human, per-site interaction. And so we end up with this silliness.

It’s time to get this fixed. To whom do we write our letters? Or is one of those online petitions the best way to get started? If we demonstrate that it doesn’t have to be this way, we can set a precedent for our neighbours, and the rest of Europe will love us again at last!

Update: Some useful feedback in the Comments; see below!

Gymnasium

Danny MacAskill is always entertaining. This is quite superb, and inspiring for those of us who commute by bike and get a thrill out of riding off a kerb.

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser