What can I say. It’s an amazingly fun game. It sold $1 million in 9 days.
Nearly 500 5-star reviews on the UK iTunes store. Nearly 5000 5-star ratings on the US iTunes store.

Plants Versus Zombies

Get it at the App Store.

The gameplay is simple. It’s a relatively mundane tower-defence formula. But what I like is not just the quirky graphics or the fun subject matter. It’s simply the massive variations on plants, zombies or even arenas. You’re on the front yard, or the back yard with the pool, on the roof, there’s daytime, nighttime and fog – the whole idea is to mix it up.

Devotion to Duty

Devotion to Duty
XKCD: Devotion to Duty

Back in my network engineer days at Nortel, uptime was something that was seen as vitally important. With the growth of the business pre-dotcomBUST, the production lines and the servers managing them needed to be up and serving 24×7.

24x7x365 was a very hard thing to measure, never mind achieve in pre-2000 information systems. In the end my overseers and bosses had to reconcile the need for maintenance and upgrades with the 24x7x365 myth and the uptime was achieved though we were able to maintain a very reasonable schedule – so reasonable in fact that the business was able to celebrate when we relinquished some of our regular maintenance windows.

But the message was clear, uptime was the most important metric.

Start-Up Nation

Andy Oram at O’Reilly RADAR writes:

One might expect Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle to come from the pen of business school or economics professors, but the biographies of authors Dan Senor and Saul Singer reveal policy backgrounds. Both were advisors in the U.S. Federal Government.

In this blog I’ll summarize the traits that that the authors find make Israel a successful incubator for innovation, distinguishing between traits that other countries can emulate and traits that seem uniquely embedded in Israel’s historical and geographic circumstances.

I’ll lay out three observations that came to my mind while following the authors’ argument: the importance of hard data, flipping axioms, and the creative role government can play.

The traits Andy mentions are summarised below. Go to the article for a more detailed discussion.

  • A loyalty to the entire community that goes beyond personal success.
  • A sense of dissatisfaction. To innovate, one must be convinced that things are not good enough the way they are now.
  • A Do-It-Yourself approach to technology, which perhaps is one manifestation of the afore-mentioned innate dissatisfaction.
  • A culture of challenging authority.
  • A determination to succeed against all odds
  • Interdisciplinary agility.
  • A tolerance for failure.
  • Providing young people with arenas to exert responsibility.
  • A fruitful mentoring relationship between venture capitalists and new entrepreneurs. Injecting money into new ventures (as so many countries do) is not enough
  • Government policies friendly to startups.
  • A truly open-arms approach to immigrants, who bring not only fresh perspectives but a high tolerance for risk.

I commented:
Coming from another nation transitioning from a traditional skills-based economy to a knowledge economy. When you compare Ireland and Israel, there are several comparisons.

A divided country, history of conflict, large international diaspora.

But there is one major difference. Ireland may have received funding from it’s diaspora but it did not receive the sort of funding that Israel received from the US DoD budget spending. The impact of the military budget combined with the impact of the diaspora is nothing to be sniffed at. I’m not saying that Ireland wants or needs DoD money – quite the opposite – but the impact of this investment seems to go unmentioned above.

My interest is, however, in Ireland, North and South. We’d welcome interactions with the Irish diaspora internationally – get in touch with the Start Virtual Incubator in Belfast or the Greenhouse Startup Incubator in Limerick – two private enterprises dedicated to helping Ireland transition to the 21st Century.

Last night I dreamed…

Last night I dreamed about a family holiday at the Palma Nova Hotel in Majorca from 25 years ago. I was 12.

My first day I spent entirely in the pool. A Spanish lad a foot taller than me stole my football and when I got it back, he punched me in the head until my eyes bled. I had to be rescued by other hotel guests. I still bear that anonymous guy a considerable amount of hostility.

During the holiday I was smitten by a girl called Karen who said she was from Newtownards. At age 12, that could have been the moon for all I knew and I was much too shy to do anything about it.

My last day there, a pretty Spanish girl who I had barely spoken to, gave me a card and told me she was in love with me. I was horribly embarrassed because she did this in front of 50 people on the coach. As I said, I had hardly spoken to her (though I remember the hotel ran a game for kids which involved multiple tasks – including feeding a partner with bread and chocolate milk while blindfolded) and remember her name was Carmen. I wish I’d been more gracious but I was still a kid.

It’s funny the things you remember most about holidays. And funny the things you dream about.

This doesn’t have anything to do with technology, entrepreneurship or even iPhone. As I said to Mike Cane last night,

It can’t all be ingenuity, vision and wisdom. Have to keep a good balance. Make sure there’s plenty of crap in there.

A Room with a VI

Marty writes about VI:

VI is an empty room. It needs painted, stud walls, electric points, heating and people to help do all of those things. It needs energy and creativity, ideas and heart. It will need money but for now it has enough to get by. It needs a good internet connection to give it tentacles to the world. It needs five businesses willing to take a risk at being all they can be. Why five? Because AirPOS, my spin out, is VI (1) and I’ll be on this journey with everyone else. And I’m very very excited about that.

VI has no business plan nor a strategy. It has no board of directors. It has no logo. We’re incubating the incubator too, if that’s not too surreal, and its success will be tied into those within its walls.

I disagree with Marty.

We do need paint, stud walls, electric points, internet access, desks, chairs, cork-boards, whiteboards and people to help make all of this work. And some of those people need to have energy, creativity and ideas and we want to help the people find their feet and make something of their ideas and creativity. But VI is much more than an empty room.

I snapped these pictures a couple of days ago:


Can you see it?

This room is filled with heart.

It’s leaking out the non-double-glazed windows. It’s seeping through the bare floorboards. It’s flowing out the main door and flowing down the sinks and toilets. This room is filled with so much heart that it’s alive.

In the coming weeks we’re going to have a paint party there. We’ll be there from early, hoovering up the dust and detritus, starting to paint over wood and bare plasterboard. We’re going to have power points and lights installed. A phone line will bring annoying ringing noises as well as sluggish ADSL broadband (until we raise enough money to install a leased line).

We don’t have the funds to maintain a large building out in the middle of a wasteland. We don’t have the budget to refurbish this building into a modern office suite with glass walls and an entire videoconferencing suite. We don’t necessarily have the connections to be able to call a President by his first name or have his Special Envoy over for tea. But these things don’t matter and they shouldn’t matter. We have heart to spare.

If you think of us as a competitor then I pity you. If this rag tag bunch of hobos with nothing but a little cash and a worn-out old clothing factory is a competitor then you’ve got a serious problem and you should seriously look at what you have there.

I’m thankful for a few people who have, perhaps unknowingly, pushed me to this. David, Marty, Aidan, Jason, Alex, Rob, Simon, Ian, Bill and others. Some of you will know why, some of you won’t – but all of you have contributed to me putting something on the line and making something happen. You’ve all helped and I hope you can understand that you deserve some of the credit here.

This is just the beginning.

The Multitask Myth

For years and years we’ve been buying new computers with faster and faster processors in an attempt to get to the supposed nirvana of all actions taking place in an instant and never having to wait for anything. Of course that dream died and now we’re frantically adding additional cores to the devices we use which will undoubtedly stop when we have n+1 cores (where n is the number of processes we can run).

Multiple cores don’t, however, make it easier for humans to use computers. My father has a lot of difficulty managing his open windows on Mac OS X (due to being partially sighted) and will probably never work out how to switch applications properly.

There must be another way.

While I think that Apple hasn’t done it 100% right, I do think the future of modern computing devices is going to be in providing good task control. We have to remember that there already is a movement towards single-taking. For example: Writeroom – distraction-free writing software (which was extensively copied for other platforms.).


In watching users at work, it seems that actual tasks are the things people manage to fit into a work day in between checking their email and Facebook status. If you can’t run more than one app, is there an argument that productivity might rise?

Some folk may believe this is Apple Apologism at it’s worst – and they’re partially right. But Writeroom shows there is precedent. I’m excited about the potential for elegant apps which would be cramped on an iPhone but which would be able to flourish on the additional screen space on an iPad. All said, I expect a form of multi-tasking to appear with iPhone OS 4.0 – perhaps a combination hosted service with push/pull – but something nonetheless.

Fragile Assumptions

I just read this brief blog post from BrainStore which is designed to help people visualise thinking about the future. They say to let them:

invent “Headlines of the Future” for the industry or topic you are working on? It puts them in the shoes of a different group (journalists) and generally produces great insights that people can relate to better because they are more familiar to them.

The example they give is:

Screen shot 2010-02-09 at 11.43.23

This is a process that beings by eschewing assumptions. For example: lots of people have a concrete preconception of what makes a personal computer. They have severe difficulties in accepting notions which are outside of their paradigm. And it’s not just in computing. By challenging assumptions which are supposedly fundamental to the current stream of thought, we can find new ways to innovate.

Some of these (such as “No More Keyboards” are easy to envisage with the adoption of touch-screens and some of the brain-activity work going on in our local universities – keyboards could already be a thing of the past. But what about screens? We’ve seen a concept computer from DELL which doesn’t have a screen, it has a projector by default. Or how about a wearable computer which feeds data directly to a video headset. What about non-visible user interfaces like on the iPod shuffle? Or one which uses aural or haptic clues?

It isn’t quite as easy as just taking each statement and looking at the inverse – but rather to examine it for fragile assumptions.