BBC Radio 4 profile of Jack Ma

With the (as this post goes to press) upcoming IPO of Alibaba on the NY stock exchange, BBC Radio 4 profiles its boss, Jack Ma.  I first wrote about Ma in 2007 when he did an interesting interview at a tech conference, which is worth checking out.

•BBC Radio 4:  Profile – Jack Ma


Hugh Howey on the FLOSS Weekly podcast

FLOSS Weekly is a podcast that features interviews with people who are heavily involved in open source software projects.  I don’t listen to all episodes of the podcast but I do listen if a project sounds interesting. I was surprised to find a recent episode featuring Hugh Howey, author of the Wool trilogy, and had to take a listen.

Interviewing an author of science fiction seems like a strange choice, but Hugh tackles subjects including self publishing, DRM, piracy and collaborating with others.   FLOSS Weekly is part of Leo Laporte’s TWiT network and I would have thought that Triangulation (a more wide-ranging technology / culture podcast) would have been a better fit.

I don’t think that this totally worked but even so, well done to both sides for doing it.  Hugh does seem to be unafraid of mixing it up with technology sites – he can also be found on a recent O’Reilly Radar podcast talking about driver-less cars and more…

• FLOSS Weekly: Self publishing

• Spare Cycles: Hugh Howey-related posts

Article: Why I Just Asked My Students To Put Their Laptops Away

An excellent article on the myth of multitasking and the problem of distraction when trying to learn or concentrate on something important.

• Medium / Clay Shirky:  Why I Just Asked My Students To Put Their Laptops Away 

Mini review: “A Morning for Flamingos” by James Lee Burke (audiobook version)



This is an early book in the continuing adventures of Dave Robicheaux, a cop in the state of Louisiana in the American deep South, in whose company I am happy to spend many an hour.  This time Dave (and his buddy Clete) are getting involved in the murky world of dealing drugs, and once again his demons and his current problems go hand-in-hand.

This is a very good book.  Reviews for this and other books in the series often state that the author manages to keep the quality high.  This is my third outing and I’m starting to believe it.  This will not be the last James Lee Burke story I read.

I’ve said before – and I firmly believe – that good narration can add a lot to a story.  The narrator this time is Mark Hammer; his slap-it-on-thick Southern accent gives the character of Dave Robicheaux more depth than I could ever give him in my head.  For me, that voice is Dave Robicheaux…

… and therein lies a problem.  I want to continue listening to this series of books but the others I can get are narrated by Will Patton.  I’ve previewed several of these books on Audible and although they sound very professionally done, the voice has changed.  I wonder if that is going to be an issue for me in the future.  I hope not.


• Spare Cycles: Book: A Tin Roof Blowdown

A great day out at the Digital Revolution exhibition (Barbican Centre, London, August 2014)


Earlier this week I went to the Barbican Centre (in London) with my daughter to see the current exhibition “Digital Revolution”.

I had looked at the website but I still was not sure what I was really going to find.  The thing that I was interested in most of all was DevArt, which is billed as “a celebration of art made with code” (unsurprisingly in association with Google) .

When you first walk in you have a concise history of computers, games consoles and some early music equipment,  and it makes you wonder if this is going to be the focus of the whole event.  However, as you progress through the various areas one thing that really comes across is that this is an art exhibition – the fact that the tools used are digital is largely irrelevant, but at the same time the defining aspect of the pieces.  These works are art – interactive, involving, breath-taking, fun.

Of all the parts of the exhibition, the only aspect that was a disappointment was DevArt.  Here the pieces were interactive but several did not live up to expectations – the effects did not work as well as hoped or some of the interactive software was too complex and it was not clear what you had to do.  We did not experience this anywhere else.

Below are some videos I shot as we were going around.  Taking pictures was not possible as the darkness in most areas made the images from my phone go far too grainy – besides, still pictures would not do this exhibition justice.  Most things here move.  Video is the way to go.  Hopefully the clips will give you the desire to see more and go to the exhibition itself if you can.  It is excellent value for money and definitely one for children too.

Here are some highlights:

Sound & Vision has many interesting items, in particular a look at some special effects from the films Gravity and Inception…


… and a full-on audio-visual experience from


State of Play, with its main feature The Treachery of Sanctuary (three large white screens that take your movement and add some avian magic) is one of the standout installations:


Finally, this is probably my favourite.  “Marshmallow Laser Feast Forest” is not in the main building but a five-to-ten minute walk down the road; even so, do not miss this.  You enter a dark room.  It is filled at intervals with many long black vertical tubes from the top of which shoot green laser beams.  You walk through the “forest” tapping the “trees” as you go, each pole giving off a musical note that slowly fades.  Brush a number of trees and you experience a gentle musical dissonance.  If you ever fancied yourself as a ringer of small bells this is right up your street.




Humans Need Not Apply…

This great video explains who is at threat from automation in the workplace.  Watch it and, like me, try to think what you can do about it…

See also:

• Spare Cycles: Article: Better Than Human (Wired)

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “The Second Machine Age” by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee (audiobook version)

• Spare Cycles: Mini Review: Race Against The Machine

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future

• Spare Cycles: Article: Migrant Workers in China Face Competition from Robots (Technology Review)

• The jobless future

• Douglas Rushkoff : Are Jobs Obsolete?

• Wired: Raging Bulls: How Wall Street Got Addicted to Light-Speed Trading

Spare Cycles turns seven…


A little late but…

This lovingly crafted blog is celebrating its seventh birthday.   A beer (or seven) is cooling in the fridge to toast the reaching of a milestone.  Happy birthday!

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns six…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns five…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns four…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns three…