Monday, March 24, 2008

UAV flights in Antarctica

The British Antarctic Survey has just completed a series of test flights of autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in Antarctica.

I know one of the people involved and this is a cool project, with a lot of potential for interesting bits of computer science and engineering, as well as climate science, to get done. I've been meaning to write it up properly since Phil's press release came out, but time is passing and it's been sitting in my edit queue the entire Easter weekend, so I'll just point you to the release about the test flights and leave it at that.

I've also been meaning to write up my own playing around, although only in software at the moment, where I've been investigating flocking and cooperative behaviors for autonomous UAVs, which is something that's come out of my work on autonomous agents for the eSTAR Project. Hopefully I'm going to break out the Arduino boards, and my soldering iron, and find the time to do some basic hardware demos soon. So perhaps I'll write it up then. Until then, go look at Phil's project, it's worth your while...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

More on the iPhone SDK

So it turns out that, despite what Apple insisted, the iPhone SDK works pretty much out of the box on PowerPC based machines, and you don't have to be a member of the iPhone Developer Program to download the SDK. Both these things are good news, because as a Brit, I don't get to be part of the developer program, and I still don't have an Intel machine running Leopard.

So I've downloaded and installed the SDK on my G5 iMac, and it seems to work okay...

The problem? Like others I'm suffering under the frustration of Error (34) which means than, presumably due to the lack of a signing certificate, I can't even upload my applications to my own iPod to test them.

Interestingly when building for Aspen, rather than the Aspen simulator, and unlike others, I'm not getting any complaints about my missing signing certificate, just the predictable warning about target architectures.

My initial reaction is to guess that the mysterious Error (34) is probably down to the fact my iPod touch is running firmware 1.1.4, rather than the new revision 2.0 which won't as far as I know be available till June. Or possibly it's something to do with the apparent problems with 64-bit architectures and the new SDK. Who knows, Error (34) is a bit opaque after all...

Suffice to say I've gone back to working with the rather less friendly hacker SDK, at least till Apple gets its act together. There isn't a lot of point writing applications if I can't upload them to actual test hardware.

Update: So you don't need firmware 2.0, but you do need the signing key? Wonder how long the developer program will take to roll out to the UK?

Update: Okay, that's interesting. Despite Error (34), the applications are uploaded to the iPod, but rather than ending up the /Applications/ directory, they end up in /var/mobile/Media/PublicStaging/. Moving one of these applications from PublicStaging to Applications and restarting SpringBoard drops the uploaded application onto the SpringBoard display. But, it has a default icon rather than the icon that's included in the package. Not a good sign. SSH'ing into the iPod and poking around inside the application bundle, shows that the binary doesn't have its execute bit set. Setting the application so that it can actually be executed, and clicking on the icon on SpringBoard, does actually get us somewhere. The Default.png background image opens, but then the application crashes.

At this point I think I've demonstrated, at least to my own satisfaction, that all that's missing here is a signing certificate. I just wish Apple had provided a more understandable error message to tell us this, you'd think it wouldn't have been that much more effort? and it would have saved a lot of people, a lot of trouble.

Update: Ah now that's interesting as well. After plugging my iPod back into my development machine I get a pop-up to say that the iPod contains diagnostic information that might be useful to Apple. Clicking on further details, and it's the crash logs from my test applications...

Friday, March 14, 2008

The "official" Google Sky Maps

So we've been playing around with Google Maps for Sky, as opposed to Google Earth for Sky which has been around a few months longer, since December last year. But yesterday Google got round to releasing the 'official' Sky Maps site. It's pretty cool, and I'm glad I never got round to fiddling with opacity sliders for multiple wavelengths, because they've done it better than I would have done.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

ETech: Closing Keynote

I'm in the closing keynote of ETech. First up is Alex Steffen talking about Building a Bright Green Future.

If those 4 billion people on their way out of poverty in the third world adopt our life style, we're 'all cooked'. We need sustainable development.

Interestingly, Alex is arguing that one of the key ways to encourage sustainable development is the education of women. That the example of the first world shows that giving women rights, and choices, means that less children are born.

He's also arguing that out small steps at home, like recycling, aren't going to help. We need systematic change. We tend to think the way to solve cars' ecological problems is to invent better cars. But the big problems with cars aren't under the hood.

Vancouver car ownership is down by 40% and 70% of the trips made are by foot. It is possible to build livable downtown communities, the Pearl District in Portland, Oregon.

But density also allows us to think about how we deliver goods, webfronts like Nau, and delivery companies like City Cargo, a pilot project in Amsterdam to test whether using cargo trams to deliver goods in the inner city is viable.

Just by showing people the effect of their actions, then people's actions change. Cars that have real time mileage meters get better gas mileage than the same model car where the only difference is that it doesn't have the meter.

Update: Next up is Lew Tucker talking about Twine and the Social Graph Meets the Semantic Web. I'm really surprised that people are still talking about social graphs so much, especially here which is supposed to be an emerging technology conference.

Lew is giving a demo of Twine, which is an invite only social network. Looks pretty cool, but it also doesn't look such a big step change to Facebook that someone on the street with be able to tell the difference. I can see the difference, I can see how semantic tagging is a step forward, but I can tell you straight off that people who aren't alpha geeks won't be able to...

The interface is also way, way, too complicated. I'm sure it's going to be really popular with the Silicon Valley crowd, but the outside world? Anyway, social networks are well, over. They aren't particularly interesting anymore, geeks might not be bored of them yet, but the rest of the world is getting tired. They'd rather go down the pub and talk to people...

Update: Next up is Micah Sifry talking about Digital Democracy, and using technology to engage with the democratic process. Maybe it's just me being cynical, but is anyone engaged in the democratic process these days?

Update: The final talk of the conference is by Timothy Ferriss talking about his 4-hour Work Week.

I don't trust an inbox in my pocket in the same way I don't trust dark chocolate in my house, I don't have good enough impulse control

Interestingly he came up with the title of his book by running a Google AdSense campaign, with the suggested titles are the text. He went with the highest click through rate.

...we're done. Time to head to the bar.

The iPhone SDK is here, or not?

So Steve Jobs did indeed announce the iPhone SDK this morning. Things are better, and at the same time worse, than I feared. You can sign up for the developer programme for only US$99, the bad news, you have to be running Leopard on an Intel Mac for the SDK to run. My problem, I've got a Mac running Leopard, but it's PPC. I've got an Intel Mac, but it's running Tiger. I really don't want to upgrade the machine running Tiger right now.

However, it doesn't look like it's going to be a problem, because I'm the wrong type of developer anyway. In a totally insane move Apple have restricted the programme to developers in the US only. What's going on here? What happened to globalisation?

Unlike the licensing restrictions which lead to the iTunes divide, there is absolutely no legal reason that I can think of that would prevent Apple rolling out the SDK to 'the rest of us'... so why restrict it to the US?

Update: So things turn out to be at the same time better and at the same time worse that I initially thought...

ETech: A Bomb Shelter for the Climate Crisis

I picked the next talk just based on the title, there wasn't an abstract, so it's touch and go. I'm in A Bomb Shelter for the Climate Crisis given by Natalie Jeremijenko.

She's talking about translating global problems into locally actionable items. We're faced with a global climate destabilisation, at other times (for instance during the cold war) we mobilised on a local level to build shelters. Natalie is advocating building Urban Space Station, an optimised urban greenhouse...

ETech: DIY Survival Projects

I'm in DIY Survival Projects for the Apocalypse with Bre Pettis.

There are number of realistic ideas about the end of the world; nuclear blast, warfare, fire, volcano, tsunami, hurricane or earthquake, robot uprising.

You need to have a plan. You need to get used to making things, because you won't be able to go down to the corner store and buy a biege box any more.

It's really important to buy beer and condoms, disaster preparedness can get really boring in hour seventeen... but don't buy beer, buy pop tarts

Bre is arguing that it's really important for survival to have a community and that everyone should start or join their local hacker space. Communication is also really important, get your ham radio license.

But most of all you need to know how to make things, and getting into the habit of learning how things work, attempting to fix things that are broken and making things from scratch.

Post-apocalypse currency, gold are more likely t maintain value than the US dollar, you can't get to safe deposit boxes, so bury it in your back yard. But it won't hurt to carry a thousand dollars in your wallet. If your airlifted out a disaster, your in a better situation that you would be otherwise.

You have tools handy, right?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

ETech: Disaster Tech

I'm in Disaster Tech: What is working and what is coming given by Jesse Robbins and Mikel Maron. They're examining how technology is used in mainstream emergency management.

Apparently disasters are really simple, and you don't have a lot of time to respond, so you pick the tools you have available and know will just work. After the disaster there will generally be a champion that emerges that takes the new technology that was used during the disaster, and pushes it forward, supports it, so it can be used for the next disaster.

Jesse is showing photographs of the damage done during Katrina, and pointing out that highway signs don't survive disasters that well. Apparently a lot of people started to rely on Google Maps, but of course that's less helpful when (for instance) bridges get destroyed.

ARC: Take the I-90 bridge..
Jesse: The bridge is destroyed.
ARC: No sir, Google says...
The model doesn't keep up with reality, the world changes too fast. So Mikel is involved with OpenStreetMap, and he feels that this is a better model for collecting geo-data, especially during a disaster.

One of the big challenges during a disaster is how you communicate, how do you tell people you're safe and well? One of the primary sources of data during the San Diego fire was twitters from Nate Ritter. The Red Cross has picked up on this...

Interestingly to the general public people think that anything accessed via a cell phone is as reliable as the core services, like dialing 911. That presents interesting technological adoption challenges.

ETech: Project Sun SPOT

I'm the in the Project Sun SPOT talk given by Roger Meike and Arshan Poursohi. They're talking about 'new gadgets', where have all the gadgets gone? All of the recent startups are just software. Hardware only really seems to come from big companies now.

The good news is that things are changing, there is a resurgence in building DIY hardware. Roger is arguing that wireless sensor networks are going to be the 'next big thing'.

Sun has been amazingly sucessful getting Java onto cell phones, over 1 billion shipped. But what comes next? That's where Project Sun SPOT comes in...

Sun SPOT is 'small programmable object technology', it's designed to be flexible, and make hardware projects into software projects. The Sun SPOT is a battery powered device, with wireless connectivity, and runs Java on the metal. Java is the operating system. So people who are normally high level programmers, can play around directly with hardware.

ETech: Wednesday morning keynote

The Wednesday morning keynote kicked off with Nat Torkington, without his traditional OSCON shirt, introducing the first speaker of the day. The father of Lisp, the creator of Artificial Intelligence, John McCarthy. He's talking about natural language and Elephant.

Next up is Steve Cousins talking about an Open Source Platform for Personal Robots. He's talking about the STAIR the Standford AI Robot, and Willow Garage.

He's trying to build a open source platform for robotics, but how is this different from a normal open source operating system? It'll have SLAM Navigation, it'll be able to track where the robot is and take commands to go safely to a new location. There will object recognition, using a database of pictures to identify object. There will be a 3D object map, maintaining a map of known object locations. There will be manipluation libraries, which plans how to safely pick up an object.

Next up is Kathy Sierra talking about How to Kick Ass. She's arguing that the difference between world class and average, generally isn't anything to do with natural talent, it's about putting in the time. Natural ability just isn't as important as we used to think, it more about the ability to focus.

Update: Next up is Tom Coates talking about Fire Eagle a new information brokering service he's been developing. It lets people share their location online.

Services should be available from anywhere the network touches, it should play well with others and services should decouple the creation and the use of data. Fire Eagle does two things, allow a number of different services to update your location, and then parses this and provides it in a consistent format, at whatever level of granularity you want to authorise, to further services.

The last speaker of today's keynote is Peter Semmelhack from Bug labs who has the longest talk title I've ever seen, he's talking about Personalizing the Device: How Communities Will Help Actualize User-generated Hardware and the Long-tail of Gadgets.

He's arguing that we're on the cusp of a big change in the way electronics are produced. There are lots of examples of devices, which we'd all want, but under the current economical model would never get produced. There is a long tail of electronic devices.

...and we're done.

ETech: Open Source Hardware

I'm in Open Source Hardware given by Phillip Torrone and Limor Fried. I've acually seen some of this talk before as a keynote at OSCON, but it's well worth seeing again...

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

ETech: DIY Drones

I'm in DIY Drones given by Chris Anderson of Wired Magazine and

The question he's asking is whether there is anywhere we can innovate in robotics without having a huge budget. There is generally one huge problem with traditional UAVs, that'd be the cost. So how chea and simple can a UAV be?

There are two functions in aerial robotics, stabilisation, just keeping the thing aloft, and then there is navigation. Traditionally auto pilots do both. But if you unlink the two problems then you can buy fairly cheap off the shelf stuff. If you use an off the shelf unit for stabilisation then you've turned a hard 3D problem into a simpler 2D problem.

Separating the two functions, giving the ailerons to the stabilisation unit, and the rudder to the navigation unit, means that you end up with crabbing into turns rather than cleanly banking into turns. It's not pretty, but it works. Which is okay...

He talking about the the different autopilots he's built, starting off with Lego, cell phones and moving on to Arduino boards. Pretty cool stuff.

Moving on to blimps. The blimp uses an ultra sonic sensor and a vertically mounted propellor to maintain altitude, and an infra-red sensors to allow it to follow people around.

Update: A short movie of the blimp demo where it uses infra-red to follow someone around the room.

Update: The minimum blimp demo at ETech got picked up by Boing Boing TV...

ETech: Tap is the New Click

I'm in Tap is the New Click about how to design gestural interfaces given by Dan Saffer. He argues that we're in the midst of an interaction design revolution, something I really heavily agree with...

We're going to be talkimg about interfaces, not technology, with the exception of sensors. So a gesture is any physicla movement that can be responded to without the presence of a traditional interface device. While the technology has been around since the 1970s, it's only lately that the technology has started to take off, but we've been training a significant portion of the population to interact with these devices for the last twenty years.

There are really two types of interactive gestures, touch screens (either single or multi-touch) or a free-form gesture based interface (like whistling to find your car keys). But the first question is whether you should even have a gesture based interfaces. It's not good for heavy data input, it relies on the visual and the physical form and is inappropriate for some contexts.

However, if you're going to have them, the first part of having them is sensors. They're the secret sauce. The type of sensors you have totally dictates what interfaces are available. The most common sensors available are: pressure, light, proximity, acoustic, tilt, motion and orientation.

The attributes of gestures: presence, duration, pressure, width, height, depth, orientation, number of touch points and the sequence of gestures.

You also have to think about the limits of the human body. The more complicated the gesture, the fewer people who will be able to perform it. The typical size of the fingers (width 16-20mm, tips 8-10mm, pads 10-14mm) are fundamental in designing gesture based interfaces. Your fingers just aren't as accurate as the cursors we're used to designing for...

Touch targets are the technical term for when an event happens. We need to pay attention to Fitt's law (the time it takes to get to a target = distance t0 target /size if target). You generally need touch targets around the 10mm size, interesting the iPhone keyboard has targets half this size.

However it uses tricks to work around this, iceberg tips (where the touch target is larger than the visual element representing it. Then there is adaptive targets, where you predict the next interface element your predicting the user will touch.

For the most part people aren't dragging their fingers across screens, so to have a persistent cursor generally doesn't make sense. So, since there is no persistent cursor, hovers and mouseovers don't make a lot of sense. Multi-select is limited by the number of fingers, and right clicks, drop down menus, double clicks and cut and paste are all are just plain difficult.

So how do you figure out what is the appropriate gesture? Firstly, determine what sensors you have available, then the task that needs to be performed, then you have to consider the physiology of the human body. This can actually be a fairly straightforward set of questions, and the complexity of the gesture should match the complexity of the task at hand.

The best designs are those that "dissolve into behaviour" (Natoto Fukasawa), the behaviour is unconscious in what you want to do, this is the promise of interactive gestures in general. The best designs match the behviour of the system to the gestures humans might already do to enable that behviour.

...and we're done.

ETech: Ambient Computing

I've come in a couple of minutes late to David Rose's talk on The PC-free Internet: Ambient Computing, so I've ended up sitting on the floor at the back of the room. The room is packed full, wth people sitting everywhere on the floor. Looks like the organisers severely under estimated how popular this talk would be...

He's got an interesting take on ubiquitous tech, he's started off by talking about fictional examples. Wonder Woman's lasso of truth, the wicked witch's magic mirror, the Weasley's clock.

He's talking about how we perceive; early stage processing (in hardware) which is rapid and parellel and late stage processing (in software) which is a slower and much more serial process.

He's talking about interfaces and making good points about shape, colour and reusing existing metaphors like dashboards for new purposes. He's illustrating some of these points by examining Internet Devices, from his own company Ambient Devices, and the data casting network they've built.

Oh that's cool, he's talking about using transparent LCD technology to embed information in glass, although it looks like for the production devices he's using something a bit less cool than that...

...he's arguing that ambient devices are a new class of electronics. Sometime summarisation is more valuable because it requires less time and attention.

ETech: Tuesday morning keynote

I bailed on the evening sessions last night as I've come down with one of those irritating head colds you catch after sitting inside a tin can breathing recycled air for eight hours while being slung across the Atlantic ocean. I'm feeling a little bit better today, but not a lot. We'll see if I make it through the day.

We're kicking off the keynote with Saul Griffith talking about Energy Literacy. He's going to try and lay out a logic approach about how much green energy you need to substitute for non green to stabilise climate change.

He's talking through the models, and the best case model he's examining is 2C. So far his talk is a cut down version of Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth, except that he's pitching that we have to decide what the stable level of CO2 in the atmosphere actually is... need to choose the temperature at which you want to stabilise the Earth.

He's mapping what the 'acceptable' levels of carbon in the atmosphere is to the amount of power we can generate using different methods. From 1980 we went from 95TW to just over 15TW in 2005. Now he's talking through his personal energy budget, and it's fairly interesting to see how he's going about that. He's even go so far to calcuate his share of the US government energy expenditure.

Oh that's interesting, the average US citizen uses 11.5kW, while the average European uses 5.5kW. I hadn't realised it was that big a difference. He's managed to reduce his impact from around 13kW down to 2.9kW per year.

Now he's talking through what it means to build a sustainable power production infrastructure over the next 25 years. We need 11TW of new sources, we've managed 6.5TW over the last 25 years. But the hardest thing we need to do is probably going to be turning off 9.5TW of old sources over the same time scale.

Update: Next up is Your Phone is Your Controller given by Jury Hahn and Dan Albritton. They're talking about real time games, and how to make digital signage interactive.

I think thry're pretty brave they're doing a live demo here, with the audience as players on their own cell phones. Currently they've got 115 people registered on a game they've never had more than 20 players testing before.

This is the part where I don't know if it's going to work...

Oh this is great they've got people wandering around the room making animal noises looking for 'team mates'.

Hey it worked!

Update: Next up is Information Visualization is a Medium by Eric Rodenbeck.

He's showing a number of different types of visualisations, and how you can play with data. It's interesting, but not bloggable. Hopefully O'Reilly will put video of the keynotes presentations online and I can insert it in here later...

...first you freak them out, then they ignore you, then you win.

Update: Next up is Project Darkstar by Chris Melissinos from Sun Microsystems. Apparently he's Sun's chief gaming officer. Sun has a chief gaming officer?

Update: The final keynote is a change ot the programmes, we're talking about Social Encounters between the Physical and Digital by Elizabeth Churchill.

She's talking about using shared physical displays linked to a shared online space. The question is why not jut use just the shared online spaces? She's arguing that these simply aren't as efficient. That people don't use them to their full potential. Having been involved with lots of distributed projects over the years, and used lots of online collaboration tools. I have to agree, but I'm not entirely convinced that adding shared displays is going to solve what are pretty fundamental problems with online collaboration. Some of the stuff she's talking about, feeding back video clips of people touching posted content back to the original poster, seems rather strange to me.

...and we're done.

Monday, March 03, 2008

ETech: iPhone Software Development

I've been to four, maybe five, O'Reilly OSCONs. I think I've blogged at least three of these here, but this is my first ETech. Expectations are, as ever, pretty high. I've heard a lot of good things about this conference...

The first day of ETech is set aside for tutorials, and I'm sitting in iPhone Software Development: Past, Present, Future given by Nate True.

The big disappointment here is that Apple hasn't yet released the official iPhone SDK, it's delayed till Thursday, I'm sure if Apple had kept to their original deadline of late February Nate would have had more to say. I'm also fairly sure Nate is more annoyed about this that I am, so I'm moderately philosophical about this problem...

This is probably the first tutorial I've ever been in where the presenter has opened with "There is DVD here for the Mac. If you don't have a Mac...". Looks like we're really going to get hands on here, which is pretty cool.

Update: Nat is covering the state of the current SDK, and the history of iPhone jailbreaks and firmware attacks. I've actually been keeping up with this although it's nice to see this in one place from someone that was on the inside, and in a lot less fragmentary way than I've seen in the past.

Update: There are two SDK's, the official SDK from Apple and the hacker's SDK. There are rumours everywhere, but Nate is guessing that there will be a large barrier to entry to the official SDK and very enterprise focused. The hacker's SDK has been around for months, but it is difficult to setup (but he's going to walk us through it today) and it's got really poor documentation. However the interesting point he's making is that the applications are likely to be compatible with the Apple SDK. The installer that arrived with the v1.1.3 firmware looks hopeful. Because of the lack of documentation, having the applications open source is essential.

Update: Interesting he's talking about 'how to make money' and the list seems to be: donations, selling your software, adverts and sponsorship, contract work a employment. Users will only donate if they love your app, nag screens can increase donation rates, but will decrease user satisfaction. Selling your software, generally as trialware andsince Paypal works on the iPhone you can make payments on the phone itself, you can make your applications activate entirely on the iPhone without having to got to a desktop machine. However many users reject trialware immediately, so you have to prove your worth the money.

Update: It's tutorial time, time to break out that DVD we've been given. We need the Xcode v3.0, the iPhone toolchain v0.4, the iPhone 1.1.4 firmware filesystem, and headers patch archive. Time to sudo...

Update: First step is unbundling the firmware, then installing Xcode if you didn't already have it, but I do, then running the toolchain installer. If you're running Leopard then you now have to patch the headers. Nate isn't sure whether this is necessary if you're still running Tiger, as I am, so we'll find out...

Update: ...and I've just built and installed my first native application. You don't have to apply the header patches if you're running Tiger, and interestingly things seem to work okay with Xcode 2.4.1 as well as Xcode 3.0.

Update: Now for some UIKit basics. Currently, at least, iPhone applications are written in Objective C a which has an odd memory management strategy, at least if you're a C programmer. Memory leaks on the iPhone are especially bad, although (theoretically) your phone functionality should be secure against third party applications. Nate is talking about the UIKit and the other frameworks.

Update: ...and I've just built and installed my first UIKit application. You can apparently run your UIKit applications directly from the command line rather than from SpringBoard, which means that you can capture the debugging output from the application. If you run it from SpringBoard it'll jut close if something goes wrong.

Update: Interestingly Nate's estimate of the install base of hacked iPhones is in the 'hundreds of thousands'. We're now walking through the code of Nate's Tap Tap Revolution application...

Update: We're on coffee break...

Update: ...and we're back. Nate is going through a live example of how to add UIKit buttons and functionality to the sample application we built before. I've also been playing around with Erica's accelerometer code during the break.

ETech: Unevenly distributing the future

I'm currently in San Diego for the 2008 O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference. I haven't even been in a session yet, but just paging through the programme guide I'm reminded of the quote, supposedly attributed to William Gibson, that "The future is already here - it is just unevenly distributed". In San Diego this week it'll be very unevenly distributed. We're going to be talking about ubiquitous computing, embedded devices, UAVs, crowd behavior, reality mining, brain imaging (for fun and for profit), green technology and DIY survival. The rest of the world will be going on as normal.

...there are somewhere between six and ten billion people. At any given time, most of them are making mud bricks or field-stripping their AK-47s. - Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash p.26

When it comes down to it, I get paid to think about things. There really isn't that many of us, most people get paid to do things, produce things. Every once in a while I have to write things up, but it's amazing how long you can get away with not doing that. The reason I get paid to think is so that, if humanity ever needs a expert in whatever it is that I'm supposed to be expert in, they'll know where to send the black helicopters. Then I save the world... you watch movies, right?

A lot of the stuff we'll be talking about this week is interesting, but will never make it into the hands of consumers. Or if it does it'll be so diluted down that you'll barely recognise it. So I'm also reminded of the phrase "memento mori" whispered to Roman generals by a slave as they were paraded through the streets after a great victory. Whatever it is you're paid to think about probably isn't as important to the rest of the world as it is to you.

In fact, I can see that there may only be ten years or so left before all the interesting thinking about the stuff I'm working on now is done and it's relegated to making license plates.

With any job, there's some creative work that needs to be done -- new technology to be developed or whatever. Everything else -- ninety nine percent of it -- is making deals, raising capital, going to meetings, marketing and sales. We call that stuff making license plates. - Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon p.107

So I'm here because I need something new to think about, or I need a new way of looking at the things I'm already thinking about which means that there is more to think about. If you follow that...