KELVIN: A Guest Post

There’s been a lot of discussion regarding the benefits of Project KELVIN, a €30M investment in Northern Irelands telecommunications infrastructure. The issue is that when questions were asked, answers were not forthcoming. David Kirk, ex-AOL, ex-Cisco, steps in with some clarity.

Let’s Get a Few Facts Right …, by David Kirk.

In November, Matrix published “Telecoms Horizon Panel Report; Exploiting Northern Ireland’s Telecoms Infrastructure” claiming “international connectivity now gives us the distinction of being “closer” to the east coast of North America than California.”
Then on December 14th, in a piece by John Simpson in the Belfast Telegraph, an article on the report states

“The new Kelvin direct fibre link from Northern Ireland to the USA offers huge capacity, sufficient for 1 million concurrent 2Mbps users, and reduces the round trip time for contact with the USA from 120-150 milliseconds to 65-67 milliseconds. Operating in milliseconds is itself staggering.”

You’d get the impression from these claims that Kelvin just established Northern Ireland as the telecommunications gold medalist in the 2010 connectivity sprint. Unfortunately, the above statements are meaningless out of context – a fact that a number of telecommunications experts in Northern Ireland have been trying to tell the powers that be for 2-3 years now.

So, let’s step through this slowly.

But first, lest this article is written off as just another negative poke from another naysayer – there are LOTS of advantages to Kelvin, both strategic and tactical, but round trip latency IS JUST NOT ONE OF THEM.

And, I’ll keep this as simplified as possible to illustrate the point.
On a continuous run of fiber optical cable, data is transmitted as light pulses – and travels at the speed of – well – light. Long lengths of fiber optical cable need repeaters (passive repeaters) to get the light longer distances. This will slow the data down, but that’s not the major reason for delay. Two other network topology and routing considerations have vastly more significant delays on data transfer / throughput rates than round-trip delay – hubs and peering arrangements.

Round trip delay data, in this case, is the time to transmit from a Hibernia node, to another Hibernia node. This has NOTHING to do with the actual delay, transfer rate or throughput that an actual user may experience. The REAL impact of data transfer / throughput will depend on the “last mile”, i.e. what connectivity any user has to its ISP and which other ISP’s are peered.

For example, I am on Time Warner Cable in Palm Springs. To send an email to my neighbor who is on Comcast means that my data has to travel to the nearest peer exchange where Time Warner and Comcast have a peering arrangement, i.e. agreed to allow data to travel over each other’s networks (reciprocity).

Basically, it is impossible to predict generic data transfer / throughput rates from backbone round time delay, and making non-sense statements like “closer” just illustrates that the folks making these claims either know how facile the arguments are, or simply just don’t have a clue about networks and data transfer / throughput rates. A simple challenge to this claim would be to ask for the end-to-end transfer / throughput benchmarks.

By way of analogies:

  1. Basing claims on round trip delay is like saying that a car’s speed is only dependant upon the revs of its engine. A Porsche would be delivering around 400hp and in 3rd to 4th would be doing 100mph and a Prius can only deliver 100hp for a top speed of, maybe 95 mph.
  2. A slower (in terms of processor cycle speed) PC will print faster on a printer connected to a USB 3.0 connections, in comparison to a faster PC printing to the same printer but connected via USB 1.0.

To make these claims that are being thrown about will incur laughter from knowledgeable network engineers and discredit the REAL benefits and advantages of Kelvin. Perhaps the folks that are pumping out these claims should be listening to the folks that understand?


At yesterdays SBRI briefing about the NITB Tourism Apps Competition, there was a brief discussion of the difference between “mobile apps” and “web apps”.

At some point in the future, web apps are possibly the best way to go. They allow a certain amount of write once-deploy almost anywhere, they are utterly buzzword compliant, combining the advantages of cloud deployment and software-as-a-service. They are the future.

So far, they’re not really the ‘present’.

I’ll lay it on the ground by saying that I have never seen a web app executed to the level of native software. And that I don’t think I will see that app within the next twelve months which puts it well outside the remit of this SBRI.

A tourism app needs to be able to work everywhere. This really means that the bulk of the data needs to be installed on-device and not relying on intermitted 3G services. This doesn’t mean it can’t utilise the network but considering the target market is remote tourism sites (where network availability is low) and foreign visitors (who will have to pay exorbitant data costs), network availability should not be relied upon. And at the moment, most web apps rely on the network heavily.

I’m not saying you cannot create and deploy a tourism focused web-app but in terms of media capabilities, you end up using cutting edge (and possibly bleeding edge) web frameworks. I’ve seen people writing apps in ‘HTML5’ back in 2008 – and yet we’re still saying that HTML5 has a ways to go for full deployment in 2010.

Some companies have invested heavily in the web app space and while I think this shows foresight, it’s not what this SBRI is about. I’m happy to be proved wrong on the ‘web apps are not ready for prime time’ if anyone can show me concrete examples.

One folk legend, two social workers and a poisoning.

There is an expectation that entrepreneurs will just get up and do stuff. That they need nothing more than a whiff of an opportunity and they’re off making millions.

What utter rot.

I’m reading Ken Robinsons book, The Element. In it (p120), he relates how a young Robert Allen Zimmerman had heard Woody Guthrie songs many times before but it took one afternoon of listening to Guthrie to inspire him to become a performer himself.

If Bob Dylan needed to wait to be inspired, then surely we cannot expect more of anyone else?

I had an environment which should have inspired me to be an entrepreneur early. My father ran his own businesses from when I was four years old until I was thirteen when he was poisoned. He owned a record store, a whole raft of tyre/exhaust fitters, a pub. His passions were always music and beer. His most successful business, however, was the tyre/exhaust fitters. He made a goodly amount of money during the late 70s and early 80s being one of the few local companies who supplied the security forces with tyres and fittings. He got a lot of support from LEDU, the economic development organisation in Northern Ireland at the time. Until he got ‘sick’, we never wanted for anything.

My mother, on the other hand, is a strong-willed, independent woman who has managed rise to the top of any organisation while still maintaining a family (especially after 1985, when my Dad was ‘ill’). She’s made her career in the public sector, in the care of the elderly and infirm and my sister, another strong-willed, independent woman, has followed her in this line of work. They’re both empathic yet objective, both care deeply about the welfare of their clients and both get very frustrated with what they see as poor performance and wasted resource in the NHS. I admire them both.

My mother has described me as stubborn to the point of bloody minded. She says I knew my own mind from an early age and would make decisions about my education, about my future, without consulting either parent – decisions which they would be told about after the fact.

There was no ‘entrepreneur’ class in my school. The idea of starting your own business was not mentioned at all in Rathmore Grammar School. I think they expected all of us to become teachers, doctors, lawyers, vets, scientists and engineers. It’s different for kids now. They have the Go For It Challenge sponsored by InvestNI, there are programmes run in the FE colleges to help students start businesses and within our universities, the commercialisation offices are extremely keen to help smart undergrads and graduates start something.

So, how did I get started?

The first time was in the early nineties when reading a RPG book and thinking, “I could do this.” and so I did. I published three RPG books between 1996 and 2001. And they made money and got good reviews.

In 1997 I was working in Nortel and taking part of their “Management for Achievement” process. I was asked by my manager, Brendan, what I wanted to do in five years. My immediate answer was “Your job” but it got me thinking. And I decided that I’d be running my own IT services company. In 2003, I founded Mac-Sys Ltd. I left Nortel in late 2002 and spent six months with a startup (called Macinni) that was possibly the worst managed company in existence. When it folded, I had thought, “I could do this” and so I did. And it’s made money and gotten good reviews.

To my mind, seeing inferior work was ‘permission’ for me to do something. And I think it’s the same for our young latent entrepreneurs. We need to find ways to give them permission to start something. It’s not about being born with fire in their belly. It’s not about finding a way to give that permission.

After all this, with half a lifetime of experience, I’m not 100% sure what my “Element” is. Arlene says it’s a condition of never being satisfied with what I have. It’s not enough to have the day job. It’s not enough to settle into a routine. She reckons I’ll always be miserable because I’ll always be trying to do one more thing. And yes, it’s exhausting.

I guess I’m still playing the music, I’ve just not heard the music.

I quite fancy some Gingerbread

I’m very tempted by Gingerbread.

Apple has treated me well in the past three years by providing me with hardware I love and an OS that delivers almost everything I want. But my needs have changed and the differences in iOS4.2 just don’t cut it.

I’m envious of the Notifications system in Android. The iPhone one doesn’t really cut it at all – layering the messages one on top of the other means you have to deal with each one of them as they come, latest first. And the dialogs are modal. It’s frankly terrible.

I’m envious of the Lock Screen system in Android. I want to be able to populate that with some more widgets, a little more information, data about my notifications or my incoming messages, status updates from online services, news items from my favourite feeds.

I’m envious of the Home Screens. They’re a bit more configurable – widgets really make a difference. I’m not saying that I want lots of them, just some would be nice. I’d like to be able to choose the size of my icons. I’d like icons to be live beyond the simple badges.

I realise there are other limitations. I realise that Android is still not as polished or as consistent as iOS, but there are some features which are painfully missing from iOS.

For the cost of a bulb, multi-gigabit broadband

From the BBC

Every community in the UK will gain access to super-fast broadband by 2015 under plans outlined today.

Explaining why the government had abandoned the plans of the former administration that promised 2 megabits per second broadband for all by 2012, he said: “It’s silly to hang your hat on a speed like two meg when the game is changing the whole time.

He added: “What we’ve said is that just giving people two meg is not enough, what people use the internet for is changing the whole time.”

A recent study by the regulator Ofcom revealed that fewer than 1% of UK homes have a super-fast broadband connection, considered to be at least 24Mbps.

I ranted a little today for a change in the way that Northern Ireland deals with its broadband.

Northern Ireland has a fibre ring, which contains dozens of fibre pairs, all belonging to different carriers. Some of them are lit, some of them are dark. But it’s the dark ones that interest me.

This map, from Eircom, shows the basic layout.

Why am I interested?

Well, let us say I want to send a 1 GB uncompressed digital video file (equal to about 5 minutes) to my server in Pittsburgh. My current upload speed is 0.38 Mb/s which would mean the transfer would take about 6 hours to do the transfer. Not bad for around 3000 miles.

But let’s say I want to transfer it to a post-production house in Holywood, a mere 2.6 miles away? It’ll take around 6 hours to do the transfer – however I can load it onto a USB drive and bring it to the Picturehouse in about 10 minutes. By bicycle.

And that’s a load of crap.

Because no-matter how good our upload speed is – and yes it is important as we consume more and more digital media – if we are to become content creators rather than just consumers we need faster uploads.

So, my proposition is for our government, for InvestNI, for NIScreen, for Momentum/Digital Circle to get involved and light up one of those dark fibre pairs. That’s the cost of running a few LED bulbs and a few repeaters.

Then install wireless repeaters in every city at the local POPs. And get high speed connections into that ring via wired or wireless; a 50 Mbps wireless link is not expensive to run.

This ring doesn’t need to go to the Internet, though carriers should be able to sell their internet service portals across the ring. The point of it is to provide really fast access between points on the ring. So provide that, without throttling anything on the internal network.

If you can’t pass fibre into each home, then each POP should have a regional office hub (belonging to the Local Enterprise Agencies, the Libraries, InvestNI) which provides direct access to the ring. Make it so that it’s a five minute journey to these hubs and then the upload can be loaded directly onto the ring, transferred to a datacentre on the ring or direct to a POP at the other end, ready for receipt.

The aim here is not to compete with commercial offerings. Indeed there is nothing commercial about the offerings we are presented with. The aim here is to provide a use for the existing ring which will work to the benefit of digital creative companies and provide increased opportunity for ISPs to sell their services.

It’s my belief that government should provide the basic infrastructure for commerce. Whether that is money, music or uncompressed high definition video. And once the substrate is in place, commercial interests can ply their wares across the ring.

Yes, I am deliberately simplifying everything except the costs, which are incredibly low. This solution means the ring will be useful to everyone and there would be reduced reason to locate your business in Belfast or Derry, when Armagh or Irvinestown has the same access.

annihilating the insidious truths of the herd

From Wikipedia:

The “Übermensch” is the being that overcomes the “great nausea” associated with nihilism; that overcomes that most “abysmal” realization of the eternal return. He is the being that “sails over morality”, and that dances over gravity (the “spirit of gravity” is Zarathustra’s devil and archenemy). He is a “harvester” and a “celebrant” who endlessly affirms his existence, thereby becoming the transfigurer of his consciousness and life, aesthetically. He is initially a destructive force, excising and annihilating the insidious “truths” of the herd, and consequently reclaiming the chaos from which pure creativity is born. It is this creative force exemplified by the Übermensch that justifies suffering without displacing it in some “afterworld”.

This describes the people involved in StartVI. They are the lightning from the dark cloud.