Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Resolution

Do less better = take more time to do things

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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Facebook missing a huge opportunity

The BBC Money program recently aired an episode about Facebook.

Users of Facebook like sharing with their friends and the lack of advertising. The company makes it's money from advertising and is somewhat bewildered that it's users don't understand that. Facebook have been looking for a way of leveraging the huge amount of personal information it holds and, in my view, have taken the incredibly stupid step of pestering people with targeted marketing messages. This is such an old fashioned way of trying to sell things to people and nobody wants to be marketed at. I would have expected a innovative company to come up with an innovative approach.

What they could have done is use all that personal information to create something that even I would use. A personal shop, full of all my favorite things: favorite books, music, horse gear, at this time of year, bulbs. It might even pick up that I am looking to buy a bread machine and magically a bread machine shelf appears in my shop.

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Childhood Clothes

Looking through photos of myself as a child and teenager, I realised I remembered almost all the clothes I was wearing.  Not just the look of them, but the feel of them against my skin.  I presume this is because we kept clothes for so much longer way back then!  Will children today remember their clothes?

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Friday, December 14, 2007

New technology for an energy efficient world

Amazing what er can do if want to!  A couple of items that came to my attention today:

Fluorescent paper that glows for 12 years -

Energy efficient server from Dell is referred to in this google tech talk, which is a lot more interesting than the title might suggest - Electricity use and efficiency of servers and data center - about implementing energy efficiency changes and the likely increase in energy demand from large scale computing.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Play time

This looks fun - too late to look at it now.

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Thursday, December 6, 2007

Obese software

Researchers Fight Computer 'Obesity' Crisis

I like this article - so true!

For reference, here are Lehman's Laws

Lehman's Laws of Software Evolution

Prof. Meir M. Lehman, who worked at Imperial College, University of London from 1972 to 2002, and his colleagues, have identified a set of behaviours in the evolution of proprietary software. These behaviours (or observations) are known as Lehman's Laws, and there are eight of them :
1. Continuing Change
2. Increasing Complexity
3. Large Program Evolution
4. Invariant Work-Rate
5. Conservation of Familiarity
6. Continuing Growth
7. Declining Quality
8. Feedback System

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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Some good press for China

I know very little about China but one of the often repeated statistics is that China opens a new coal fired power station every week. But how many are they closing and more importantly, what is their overall energy policy?

Here is some good press for China:

Thursday, November 29, 2007

College Course on Mobile phone in Japan

A sign of things to come?  While attending virtual college has many disadvantages over the buzz of being with real people, it will certainly play an increasing part in future education.  The Open University have been doing it for years and many traditional further education establishments are opening up a virtual arm. 

People are taking more control of their education, wanting to do one module from one university and another elsewhere.  Attending virtual university gives wide choice to students with affordable internet connections and create the possibility of offering highly specialised courses, when the potential students can be anywhere.  Fancy course on, well almost anything really...

Monday, November 19, 2007

War on Cancer - Stalemate might be better

Immune system can drive cancers into dormant state
A multinational team of researchers has shown for the first time that the immune system can stop the growth of a cancerous tumor without actually killing it.

I read an article some years ago talking about our fondness for the use of war metaphors, particularly in science - can't find the original, but this sums it up: The war against war metaphors
...militaristic language pops up in almost every scientific domain: conservation biology ("invasive species," "biosecurity"); global warming ("global war on global warming"); and biomedicine ("killer cells," "hitting multiple targets").
...Scientists who frame problems in a militaristic manner also likely have a drastically limited perception of the problem and how to tackle it... also talks of how unhelpful the phrases "War on Cancer" and "War on Terror" are.  They imply there is one big enemy and that a decisive victory is the only way forward.  Stalemate would been seen as losing and therefore not an option.

Also reminded of a book on complexity in the workplace that stressed the importance of a project team developing their own language to create a coherance in the way the group work together.  Great book: The Intelligence Advantage - Organizing for Complexity by Michael D. McMasters.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

What People Say May Not Be What They Know

Not going to comment as I'm supposed to be doing my tax return, but interesting....
What a person says is not necessarily an indication of what that person knows because speech is motivated by social circumstances and the desire to influence the listener

Monday, November 12, 2007

Toys influence on children?

I wonder how much influence the toys we play with as children have on our grown up mentality? I just say a TV ad for a supermarket checkout till, in plastic, aimed at 5-6 year old girls, that prompted them to "put through the milk now", "now put through the red item", "well done!". And this was an educational toy! At first I thought this was aimed at the number one pastime of younge people today, shopping. But no, the child is not shopping, they are operating the till. In my day nobody wanted to grow up to work the tills in the shops, I hope things havn't changed so much that this reflects the aspirations of todays kids.

On a related theme, I read an article somewhere that was asking if electronic toys were any good for children. The conclusion was that those that just commanded them to do things were not, being told what to do it not play after all, but that any toy that the child could control and use as part of their imaginary world was just fine. Makes sense to me.

Barclays again

I had to contact the dreaded Barclays again and they informed me, as if they had read my last post, that as I had banked with them for 17 years (which makes me only 34!) I was eligible for a special savings account! Lucky me. I wonder if I would also be eligible if I had only banked with them for a year, or is that being too cynical?

Friday, November 9, 2007

Review of Godaddy


Very good service and support, until now.

Have been using godaddy for domains for some years and always found them very good.  When I registered a domain with the wrong spelling, I called them up and the they sorted out a refund immediately.

 They I got a Virtual Private Server and spend the whole day setting it up.  Today it's gone!  Aparently there was a hard disk failure and they had to replace the drive, and due to bad timing there was no backup.  These things happen but I think a refund of some sort would be in order.  I will give them a couple of days to see if they offer me anything and then give them a prod.  Hopefully, they will continue to provide a good level of service.

Rated 3/5 on Nov 09 2007 by Phoebe

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Thursday, November 8, 2007

Do we go for a big fix for reducing carbon dioxide?

At what point, if ever, do we say that the risks from climate change are so high it is worth the risk of trying human intervention on a massive scale? We do not have a very good record when it comes to our tampering with nature. Introduced predators get out of hand, coral reefs made from tyres disintegrate. We just don't understand the natural world well enough to know what the side effects will be. But at some point will it be worth the risk?

He is a possible solution on a grand scale, increasing alkalinity of the oceans by accelerating natural weathering:

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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Setting up new Godaddy VPS

Mods to linux:
1. Modified .bashrc in my home directory and root and added:

alias rm='rm -i'
alias cp='cp -i'
alias mv='mv -i'

alias ls='ls -laF --color'

(used vi, ugh

2. installed emacs

yum install emacs

3. Copied previously zipped domain code from old server using ftp mput


and unzipped into domain directories


and change ownership

chown -R pbright *

4. Setup locate database

Checked not already in cron

crontab -l

Added /etc/cron.daily/mlocate.cron to run daily using Plesk
Ran script to get it started
sh /etc/cron.daily/mlocate.cron

5. Used to having domains in /home so put in dynamic links

ln -s /var/www/vhosts/

6. Get mysql server accessible from desktop

cd /home
7. Transferred data from mysql databases using Navicat and for each database create new users.

7.5 Create Domain template and User Phoebe Bright

8. For each domain
In domain part of godaddy
- setup nameservers (
- in nameserver put in new names, eg.
- modify index.php for this domain so I can tell when/if transfer takes place

9. Install ZendGData
- downloaded and installed in /usr/include/php/ZendGdata
- amended /etc/php.ini include
include_path = ".:/usr/include/php:/usr/include/php/ZendGdata"

10. Customised php.ini
- display_errors on
- log_errors off
- safe_mode off

11. Fixed default safe_mode on

For each domain, when setting up make sure the safe mode tickbox next to the php tickbox is set to off. There are domain specific settings for php in
# /var/www/vhosts/
# /var/www/vhosts/
can modify these manually but likely to be overwritten.

Commercial FabLab - BUGS

Here is a FabLab type idea that enables anyone to make electronic gadgets without skill. Still basic but good to see the type of innovations we are used to in software moving into the physical world.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Review of Sean the Sheep

Sean the Sheep

Favorite TV programs of the week at the moment, Sean the Sheep and Top Gear. Not sure what this says about my unsophisticated taste in TV!

Visitors to the house are all won over by Sean including wwoofers from US and spain.  But beware, the intro can start playing in your head all day, "It's Sean the sheep, it's Sean the sheep......".

See bootleg copy here

Also recommend the dvd as a gift (,5,,1,1195,shaunthesheep&ivtype=dvd:video&htxt=IG1VeLV49uxkcoqRxeOP2gAcoxOjQqmDtqGPRdvtNqo2yvXYKSUnj8UQ3BpcwNnjlmvn91qG2wUZ%0AJVx3A9NxTQ%3D%3D) already a success with my grandfather and plan to distribute far and wide this coming christmas.

Rated 5/5 on Nov 05 2007 by Phoebe

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Review of Broken Shackle 2006

Broken Shackle 2006

White wine from Australia. Verdelho Chennin Blanc Trebbiano. Very drinkable white wine bought from Drinagh Superstore in Skibbereen.

Label claims it is a wine of fresh grapefruit and tropical fruit.  The clean crisp palate is enhanced by subtle honey flavours and a soft dry finish.

Rated 4/5 on Nov 05 2007 by Phoebe

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Food Security no longer just for scare-mongers

I can remember a meeting on food security being held by Growing Awareness in Skibbereen years ago and it seeming very sensible to want to have a basic self-sufficiency in food, but not an idea that was likely to be popular any time soon.

But times are changing. In the (Cork) Examiner last friday there was an article on Japan's aim to increase their own food security. Here is a quote from another reference:

While Japan faces the possibility that large quantities of foreign agricultural products will penetrate its markets in the future, there is a strong public outcry for raising the nation's food self-sufficiency rate. In fiscal 1965, Japan's calorie-based self-sufficiency rate was 73 percent. By 1998, however, it dropped to 40 percent and remained at the level ... through fiscal 2005. The government seeks to raise the rate to 45 percent by the end of fiscal 2015.

In a December government poll, about 80 percent of those surveyed expressed worries about Japan's food supply in the future because of possible changes in the world situation.... The largest segment of those surveyed, 49 percent, put the desirable self-sufficiency rate at 60 to 80 percent.


While the Examiner article (from the farming section) seems to broadly support the plan, more sites online see it as anti-globalisation (see reference aboe). Full text of Examiner article here.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Barclays again

Need to urgently transfer back some money to my cousin, so went to

So I don't have the pin to go with the card sentry thing that the online banking system wants, so I click on "No got your card sentry?" link and it asks for my date of birth and connect card details. So I go out to the car and get my wallet and the card and fill in the details and it says "If you want access to accounts then please call us on 0845 600 2323*"!!!!! So what exactly was the point of entering that data?  

I am writing this as I am on hold for the number above.  Apparently all the advisors are busy as demand for this service is extremely high at the moment.   What a surprise.
Still holding.
It's 21:02 on a sunday.  I wonder if the long wait is due to a lots of frustrated people trying to use online banking or that barclays call centre staff are sensibly at home on a sunday.
Can Barclays get away with this because
a) most people are too lazy/busy to change their bank.
b) other banks provide a similar service
c) customers have run  up huge loans/overdrafts with barclays that no other bank would take on
d) Barclays are actually better than other banks
So if I hang up now will I have a longer and more expensive call tomorrow morning?
"We are sorry for keeping me waiting."
Just worked out how to use Leopard spaces.  Cool.  I going to have one space just or mail.
21:15 I give up.  Not going to have my Sunday ruined by another Barclays frustration.
To be continued (unfortunately)....

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Thursday, November 1, 2007

For those who like making things

While pricing horse walkers I came across a site that describes how to make things - site makes great use of popups too:

These are my favorites so far:
Ongoing discussion on motors for horse walkers:
Popup for the kitchen
Personal Power Plant (want that FabLab!)
Wind Turbine from a Pringles Tube
Fruit Fly Trap
Waffles - European style, which like English Muffins you only find in the US

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Rant on Barclays

I dread having to deal with Barclays Bank. It always turns into a protracted nightmare of calls until finally I find someone very helpful who is able to resolve the problem, or not. It's not the people, who are almost without exception friendly and as helpful as they are able to be, it's the systems.

I have been banking with Barclays for more than 25 years now and do I get any special treatment? I went overdrawn last year just before Christmas and as I am in Ireland I knew there was no way I was going to be able to post a cheque into them before Christmas hit so I asked if they could give me a £500 overdraft until the new year. No my recent transactions didn't qualify me!

Today I spent half an hour on the phone, trying to find out if I did indeed have an overdaft as the online system said I had. 4 transfers later and it turns out that I don't but whereas the online system appeared happy to give me a £1975 overdraft if I filled out just one page (until it said I already had an overdraft), the telephone adviser wanted my life history before giving me £500 overdraft. I gave up half way though the life history. Just not worth the hassle. And that's not to mention the calculator thing that I will need to use in future every time I use online banking. Yet another thing to lose.

Despite all this frustration have I changed banks? No. Not yet. And it would be so easy to keep my happy and banking with Barclays for the rest of my life. I think Barcays should have a policy of giving all account holders over 15 years a free premium service. Make us feel valued. If you treat us the same as the person who has only had an account with you for a year, then why stay?

I shall be moving to an internet only bank who want to provide me with a good service and welcome any recommendations.

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Reducing Nitrogen Fertilisers might be good news

A recent study shows that applying excess nitrogen fertilisers (most of which are made from natural gas) decreases the amount of soil carbon and overall yield. There has been a long term policy of over application in order to maximise yields, but this may have had the opposite effect.


If we are forced to reduce application rates by the increasing cost of fossil fuels and at the same time rebuild our soils with terra preta we might be able to increase yields on land which is going to be under pressure to provide food and energy and other materials such as bioplastics.

More about Terra Preta:


Oldest Animal

A clam over 400 years old was dredged up from the sea bed north of Iceland

Here are some other records:

Bacteria in suspended animation have been revivided from fossils 250 million years old!

The oldest living organisms are plants - a tree in Tasmania at 43,000 years.

A tortoise lived to 188.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Is this what the future holds? A legal battle for water in the US

A battle has begun between three drought-ridden states in the eastern US over the flow of water from a lake. Should river mussels come before economics? People before endangered species.

This one is going to court.

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1 Cow = 1 SUV

I knew cattle and sheep were responsible for a significant part of our greenhouse gas emissions but I was reminded of how much when I watched Countryfile today. Cows and sheep produce methane as part of their digestive process of which most comes out of the front end as a burp rather than the back end. Methane is 20 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, so astonishingly, the emissions from one cow is equal to running an SUV for the year!

There is work being done to see if by changing the diet of these animals, using additives such as garlic and changing the varieties of grass, we can reduce emissions, an scientist of hopeful of up to 30% reductions.

One large cattle/milk farmer spent £85,000 on a digester 17 years ago and it now heats two homes, including an rayburn and the energy used on the farm.

It's hard enough to suggest we should drive our cars less, to even think we should reduce the cows in our green fields seems almost sacrilegious.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Submission to the Draft Dunmanway Integrated Development Startegy

Spent most of my spare time this week putting together a submission for my local town's development plan. As with many development plans there is much good stuff int it, but they are based on the assumption that today's trends will continue tomorrow and with so many challenges facing us - energy, climate change, decreasing resources of all kinds and now a fading property boom, I think that is a very risky assumption.

If you agree that tomorrow is likely to be much more energy constrained, this opens a wide range of opportunities for towns ready to grab them:

  • Build a combined heat and power plant for the town providing cheaper heat and electricity and making it an attractive town for both residents and business.

  • Develop as a centre for repair and remanufacture of goods - the trend towards repairs is already starting with companies like claimtracker in the UK

  • Become a centre for low energy holidays such as walking and cycling with a range of quality resteraunts and other activies in the town.

  • Develop a biogas plant to turn sewerage from a cost into a resource

  • Install micro-hydro plants in the local rivers and stream

  • Develop as a centre for small businesses who want to do work remotely by providing high quality video conferencing facilities that small groups could not currently afford.

  • Build the first FabLab in Ireland and stimulate innovation and entrepreneurship in the town.

Read all 18 pages here:

Monday, October 22, 2007

Saving Energy in the Home - washing clothes

Like the law of traffic that says the number of cars expands to fill the roads available, just think of London's M25, there seems to be a similar one for laundry.  The number of clothes to be washed expands to keep the washing machine busy.  If it's so easy to wash, why not just wear things once and then clean them so your clothes are always fresh and clean.

The article: asks if we spend less time doing the washing than 100 years ago.

I remember with some fondness, the first washing machine I had, a little twin tub where you put the washing in one side, ran a very quick cycle, about 10 mins I think, put the clothes in the the other side to spin and that was it!  It was more effort, but if you spent an hour doing the washing that was a lot of washing!  I now have two washing machines, yes two, and there is a good reason for this.

I have a conventional washing machine that gets used about twice a month, overnight, to do delicates.  The other is a big top loader with no heating element.  When I have a bath I can divert the bath water to the washing machine for the wash cycle and rinse with cold, which is, I've been told, efficient for removing detergent anyway.

So if we used recycled water to wash our clothes and only washed them when they were dirty, how much energy could we save?

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Favorite Unix Commands

I am by no means a unix expert and don't use it often enough to have these commands at my fingertips, so I collecting them in one place:

Restart Server:
shutdown -r now

What's running:
ps aux

What using up disk space
du -k | sort -rn | head -20

Check for latest package:
rpm -qa | grep "mysql"

To replace all instances of oranges with bananas in the file mytext.txt

sed -e 's/oranges/bananas/g' mytext.txt

This will display the file with changes. I havn't found a way of making the changes in situ, but to write the output to a new file:

sed -e 's/oranges/bananas/g' mytext.txt > newfile.txt

20 most recently updated files:
find . -type f -printf '%TY-%Tm-%Td %TT %p\n' | sort -r | head -20

What's using memory

Value of environment variables set

List of all files recursively, containing text
grep -lir "no todo" *

Tuesday, October 16, 2007 interactive graph of human development

Want to look at Ireland's Income per capita against urban density vs. the UK since 1960?

You can also pick lots of other indicators and countries.

Fertility against urban population - Ireland, UK and Afghanistan Play

Less is more - and more is less

We intuitively know this is true, but logic tells us something different. Surely having 2 choices is better than none and therefore 3 is better again?

Just watched a presentation called The Paradox of Choice - Why More Is Less by Barry Swartz. Barry tells the story of how he had bought jeans for years from a store where there was only one type of jeans. They never fitted very well and he had to wear them in and then wore them for as long as possible to avoid having to avoid the wearing in process. Recently, when he went back to buy a new pair, he was asked what kind of jeans he wanted? Easy fit, straight fit, poppers, zippers, boot cut etc etc etc. Barry tried on many many pairs of jeans and eventually left with a pair that fitted him far better than any previous pair, but was Barry happy with his choice?

No, and why? Does any of this feel familiar:
- his expectations had been raised by the plethora of choices, there must be the perfect pair amongst so many.
- but how does he know he has the best pair, maybe the better pair were left behind?
- if so, it must be my fault because the jeans companies have done their best to give me the perfect pair for me.

Barry had better jeans but was less satisfied. More is less.

Highly recommend reading:
or viewing:

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Why is getting data so hard - Nuclear Energy Position Paper

Just finished a first cut at getting my thoughts in order on nuclear energy and the bit that took the longest? Trying to find numbers on the percentage of world energy production filled by nuclear. It seems to hinge on what proportion of world energy you think electricity is as there seems to be consensus that nuclear delivers about 16% of electricity. But electricity as a portion of world energy varies from 15% to 40%!

I havn't got to the bottom of question at all. I presume it depends on what you include and exclude. Transport, wood fires for cooking food in third world counties? Does you include the energy used to produce more energy? Does it matter?

Position paper:

Friday, October 12, 2007

Flying car

In a previous incarnation I was a partner in setting up and running a flying school. I had a glider, single, twin and helicopter PPL licenses - I had the bug bad and even dabbled in building a kit plane. For kit plane lovers, the highlight of the year is Oshkosh, an airshow in the US for the amateur with everything new and exciting on display. This year's demos included a flying car, or in this case a driving plane. Not a new concept, but maybe one whose time has come.

Flying is thought of as being costly energy wise, but this is not necessarily the case. A large part of the energy cost of driving is the friction of tyres on the road. Once a modern 'slippery' plane takes off, it can be very efficient. The kit plane I wanted to build, and still hanker after, is the Europa, which will do 50mpg at 150mph and that's in a straight line! Makes you think.

Here is a pic of this cute little plane, also with removeable wings so you can load it on a trailer and take it

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Back to the land - with technology

OK bad scenario time. World economy meltdown, fighting over limited resources, collapse of the cosy western world many of us grew up in and back to the land in order to scrape a living. But not back to the land the way our forefathers knew it because we have two things they didn't: the internet and junk.

Image how much stuff we could make from all the junk lying around, electricity generators, wind powered washing machines - Scrapheap Challenge here we come!

Yes I know the internet would be badly hit by economic collapse, but the internet was designed to be a hugely robust network that could cope with loss of servers. The internet in the scenario might be a pale reflection of what we have now if capacity and bandwidth is limited, but still an invaluable means of sharing information and innovation quickly and widely. Already one sixth of the world's population is connected to the Internet and growing fast in developing countries, who are developing their own long-distance wireless technology for areas where is not economic telecoms companies.
Casting a wider net - Principal Voices

Jimmy Wales
points out the difference between an internet enabled farmer who can find a market for his products online and a situation where that information is controlled by a middle man and the farmer is left with fewer choices and a smaller share of the revenue.

Have only dipped into Principal Voices, but really looking foward to listening to more.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Your next car might be a pet

Japan's 'Big Three' to Debut Cute Cars

Cute, communicative and cubic seem to be the fashion statement as far as offerings from Japan's "Big Three" automakers Toyota, Honda and Nissan, debuting at the Tokyo auto show later this month.

Behind the offerings is the growing view among Japanese automakers that more must be done to fight the image of cars as culprits of pollution, global warming and traffic accidents.

Their answer: Transform the car into a friendly companion - not just a machine for getting around.

Another sign that energy/climate change is being taken seriously.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Prisoner's Dilemma vs. Snowdrift and other games

I take the idea behind Prisoner's Dilemma
as a good rule for life. To 'win' (although winning in Prisoner's Dilemma is an Infinate rather than a Finite game, see my rules for life are something like this:

1. Give them the benefit of the doubt - be nice
2. If they take advantage, retaliate in kind.
3. Forgive and try being nice again.
4. If 2 and 3 keep repeating, walk away.

Snowdrift ( may be a better imitator of real life, but does not have the metaphorical value of Prinsoner's Dilemma.

Writing this also reminded me of an idea on a podcast (
The mind game was this. Imagine you are given some money and in order to keep some of it you must share it with me. You will only get one chance to make me an offer and if I refuse your offer, neither of us gets anything. What was interesting is that, in general, I will only accept an offer from you that I think is fair - if you get €100 and offer me €1 I will tell you to get stuffed, even though I will lose out on getting a euro. However, if you are a computer, I will be totally pragmatic and accept any offer you make.

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We are starting to take energy seriously

For me it's like this time last year when it seemed blindingly obvious that the property boom in Ireland was about to end yet still almost everyone was confident that things would continue just as they were, anything else was unthinkable.

Now the signs are everywhere that the energy paradigm is about to change. We can no longer count on cheap, endless supplies of energy where and when we want it.

Google are holding an innovation contest for how to use pedal power -