Jez Higgins

Freelance software generalist
software created
extended or repaired


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Friday 14 June 2019 The Forest Road Reader, No 2.19 : Not Because It Is Easy

For several years I used to carry a tiny bit of lunar soil around in my wallet, and every now and again I remember that’s actually fully remarkable and mad.

Of course, I didn’t actually go to the moon and collect it myself. We didn’t have the budget for that. Instead, my friend and colleague Andy Morse got it from the safe in the clean room in the next lab.

Together we spent 20 hours or so cooking it up, indirectly analysing the deuterium to hydrogen ratio of the trapped solar wind we were now driving off. The D/H ratio of solar wind tells you something about the formation of and processes within the Sun, and I don’t believe anyone had made that measurement in this particular way before.

As I remember, sometime around 4am Andy phoned our results through to our boss, Colin Pillinger, who was over at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston.

Later that morning as we tidied up, Andy handed me the little sample, now metamorphised from the heat, wrapped in a bit of foil and sealed in a glass envelope, these few milligrams of the lunar regolith, that had been brought back from another world by human beings who had risked their lives to travel through the vacuum of space by being strapped to a hundred metre tall tank full of explosives, and I stuck it my wallet because this thing was a remarkable treasure.


The rather mundane end of this little anecdote is that I had to give it back a few years later because NASA were doing a stock take.


By virtue of turning 50 this year, I am reminded it is 50 years since the Apollo 11 mission, the first crewed moon landing.

The BBC World Service’s 13 Minutes To The Moon is a terrific radio series (or podcasts as we call them in this modern age) about just what an astonishing achievement that was.

The last Apollo mission, Apollo 17, went to the moon in December 1972. NASA is again moving towards new crewed missions to the Moon (keep 2024 free space fans!) and NASA’s Chief Scientist, the wonderfully ebullient Jim Green, is doing a top job covering the latest lunar science in the current series of the Gravity Assist Podcast.


Tagged moon, and colin-pillinger

Friday 31 May 2019 The Forest Road Reader, No 2.18 : No Sleep 'Til

nordev logo
accu2019 web
brumjs tiny
brumphp tiny

Wrapped up the collosal 7-month 5-date JezUK Winter/Spring Tour on Thursday doing The Very Slow Time Machine as the headline act at the BrumPHP Meetup. It seemed to go over well, I enjoyed it very much, and I’m grateful for the invitation. Indeed, I’m grateful to everyone who’s hosted me. I’ve never had a talk that I’ve taken on the road like this before, and it’s been great.

Paul at Norfolk Developers got the whole thing going by asking for a talk about something, ACCU London let me really lock it down, and Brum.js and BrumPHP's ecumenical openness let me do talks I could get the bus to. Well, could have got the bus to. Because of the vagaries of our domestic calendar I went straight out of Brum.js into a four hour drive to Pembrokeshire, and went straight from a four hour drive back from Pembrokeshire and into BrumPHP.

The Very Slow Time Machine

  • Slides with notes - it’s a reveal.js deck, so press 'S' to get the speaker notes without which the slides will make no sense at all.

Live on Stage

As a side note, I do own more than two t-shirts. Honest.

DVD Extras

Snakes Into Snake Oil - What Blockchains Are And Why They’re Terrible

  • Slides with notes - it’s a reveal.js deck, so press 'S' to get the speaker notes without which the slides will make no sense at all.

  • Laying down truth at the ACCU Conference. It was a big room, and it was the first time I’d ever given a talk from a stage which I spent the entire time in fear of falling off of. Managed not to, and am really pretty pleased with this.

DVD Extras


Tagged brumphp, brum.js, accu-conference, blockchain, archangel, machine-learning, talk, nordev, and on-tour

Thursday 23 May 2019 The Forest Road Reader, No 2.17 : Tour Wrap-Up

brumphp tiny

JezUK On Tour - BrumPHP

The JezUK Winter/Spring Tour wraps up on Thursday 30 May at the BrumPHP Meetup. It’ll be the last outing of The Very Slow Time Machine, my talk about the Archangel project. I’m part of a double bill with David Maidment who’s talking about writing an old fashioned game engine in Go. That sounds like really good fun.


Tagged brumphp, and on-tour

Sunday 28 April 2019 The Forest Road Reader, No 2.16 : More Canals

There’s an old chestnut about Birmingham having more canals than Venice. Since Birmingham is very, very large and Venice is very tiny - Venice would fit comfortably inside the Middleway with plenty of room left over - this seems like an banal and redundant observation.

In fact, the difference between the two is rather less than you might think - Birmingham has around 58km of canal, while Venice has 42km. Given a population about around a million against Venice’s 62,000, that actually means that Birmigham is vastly under-canaled. It has a trifling 5⅘cm of canal per head of population against Venice’s magisterial 67¾cm.

For Birmingham to reach Venice-equality we would need to build another 620km of canal. I’m guessing now, but that would probably mean digging out all the main roads into the city and flooding them. I would entirely support such an enterprise, as it would not only put Venice in its place, but immediately exceed Birmingham’s clean air strategy goals, improve the urban landscape, boost biodiversity hugely, enable the construction of miles and miles of walking and cycling routes, and give every other UK city a good old poke in the eye.

What’s not to like?


Tagged birmingham, and venice

Wednesday 10 April 2019 Talk: Snakes Into Snake Oil - What Blockchains Are And Why They’re Terrible

Presentation at ACCU Conference 2019

Since Bitcoin first rose to public awareness in the early 2010s,cryptocurrency enthusiasts have predicted a new world order. Central banks would fall away to be replaced with a consensus currency arising almost magically out of a worldwide network of independent computers, each transaction indelibly carved into the blockchain. The blockchain, immutable and permanent, stretching back in time to the genesis block, and growing, every few minutes, one block at a time, is, they say, the answer to all our economic ills.

And not just our economic ills: blockchains, perhaps running some kind of smart contract have been proposed as solutions for insurance markets, music distribution, land registries, voting, distributed file archiving, provenance of artworks and antiques, domain name resolution, human resources records, cross-border customs clearance, and more.

Snakes

In this session, we’ll have a look at what a blockchain is - how they’re implemented, and why they can indeed claim to be immutable. We’ll examine different consensus mechanisms, and how they allow new blocks to be formed without a central authority. That will lead into an overview of transaction mechanisms, and smart contracts. We might even write and a deploy a little smart contract of our own.

Into Snake Oil

Alongside establishing a baseline understanding of what blockchains are, we’ll also be looking at why they’re terrible.

The distributed nature of public blockchains purports to allow us to trust data produced by unknown and, indeed, unknowable third parties. This may not be the case, and if it isn’t you might never know. Blockchains are permanent and immutable, but is this feature or misfeature? While the ideas behind blockchains are all frightfully clever, is a blockchain basically a database with slow reads, really slow writes, and generally awful data throughput? Are they, in fact, ill-suited for many of the applications they are pitched to solve? And if you thought multi-threaded programming was hard, that’s just peanuts compared to smart contracts. Maybe we’ll also get a bit existential and consider whether a blockchain can die, and what happens if it does.

After all that doom and gloom we’ll try to end on a small positive note, with a brief look at a project which I believe is a good fit for a blockchain solution, and which might even make the world a slightly better place.


JezUK On Tour - ACCU Conference

accu2019 web

I presented this session at this year’s ACCU Conference. It’s always a good programme, but this year’s was just ridiculous, so it was a really privilege to be accepted. I’m reasonably comfortable giving a session, but I was scheduled in one of the larger rooms for the first time. You’re presenting from a stage in front of a massive screen, the room lights are down and there are spotlights in your eyes. I did find it a bit daunting. I tend to walk about and wave my arms around while I’m presenting, and I was more than a little worried I’d fall off the stage. (This was so apparent to one of my 'friends' they told me afterwards they had their phone primed and ready to capture the moment if I did.) I also cocked my timing up rather.

The talk is in two chunks. The first half is a pretty straight ahead description of the technology of cryptocurrencies. The second half looks at what a disaster cryptocurrencies and blockchains are in practice. I honestly tried to keep to time, but as I wrote new examples just kept coming up. I ended up referring to a series of events that had all happened within the past 10 days, some as recently as the day before. (If I’d been scheduled on the last day of the conference instead of the first, they would have been overtaken by an entirely new set of events.) I probably should have reigned that in a little, as I ended up skipping over some bits and dropping the small positive note I’d promised. Nonetheless, I enjoyed doing it and it seemed to go down well. And the rest of the conference was just great.

DVD Extras


Tagged talk, accu-conference, blockchain, and on-tour
Older posts are available in the archive or through tags.


Jez Higgins

Freelance software generalist
software created
extended or repaired

Older posts are available in the archive or through tags.

Feed

Follow me on Twitter
My code on GitHub

Contact
About