The Darwinistic Approach (and why everything worthwhile boils down to Natural Selection)

In my youth, I was lucky enough to study science, specifically Genetics. My thesis was about the change in populations due to natural drift – assuming a small rate of random mutation and some selection pressure. Selection pressure is what we would probably describe as “something going wrong” but it can also be a simple filter. Using a Darwinistic approach allows us to evaluate and iterate on a problem. What we are trying to achieve is “whatever can happen, will happen”. That’s the basis of Evolution and has led to a dizzying array of biodiversity in the natural world.

Mathematician Augustus De Morgan wrote on June 23, 1866: “The first experiment already illustrates a truth of the theory, well confirmed by practice, what-ever can happen will happen if we make trials enough.” In later publications “whatever can happen will happen” occasionally is termed “Murphy’s law”, which raises the possibility — if something went wrong—that “Murphy” is simply “De Morgan” misremembered.

The thing to remember about Evolution (and by extension Darwinistic Natural Selection) is that the possibilities generated must come before the selection pressure or nothing survives the selection filter. If the organism doesn’t survive to reproduce, then the line ends. The bank of possibilities must be there already.

This translates into “innovation” easily. An organisation must populate itself with a wide heterogeneity of minds in order to generate the ideas (the fundament of innovation) with sufficient diversity that can survive the selection pressure filter. The ideas should not initially be fettered by the selection pressure criteria (otherwise every problem that looks like a nail results in a solution that resembles a hammer).

After the ideation is complete (though, in truth, ideation and iteration should never stop – just like cell mutation), the selection filter can be applied. Ideas which don’t at first make the grade should be subjected to further iteration before they can be discarded. Only this way can you have a truly Darwinistic natural selection.

Natural selection in this way resulted in modern humans – but also resulted in pilot whales, baboons, golden eagles and bumblebees. Each of them adapted to the niche they occupy. If you apply your selection pressure with the single-minded aim of producing something that looks like a human, you’ll miss out on the entirely practical solutions that resemble bees, monkeys, birds and dolphins. In business terms, this means discarding every solution that doesn’t resemble “we have always done it this way”. What happens to organisms that discard new things? They die out.

We are in an unprecedented era with worldwide biodiversity loss. Organisms are simply unable to adapt to the new way of the world quickly enough. Evolution is simply too slow. Unfortunately for us, we are part of that. Humans are tremendously adaptable – mostly due to our brains and the technologies we develop – but it would be arrogant to assume that we are not under selection pressure right now. Humans continue to evolve but, like our counterparts in nature, we will not evolve quickly enough and, due to the way natural selection works, many of us won’t make it. The Selection Pressures of a changing climate (whether you think it is man-made or not is somewhat irrelevant) are presenting new challenges that we need new ideas to resolve.

Our technology may save us, but we are only fielding ideas that look like old ideas, under the same selection pressures. Great ideas (the baboons, bumblebees, eagles and whales) are discarded because the selection criteria are not fit for purpose. The Legacy pressures from “we have always done it this way” obstruct the effective solutions by discarding innovative ideas.

for example

Statement: We need food to survive
Selection Pressure: Food is not distributed equally
Legacy Pressure: We must grow food for profit not to resolve hunger
Result: A lot of people starve to death but we generate some value for shareholders

Statement: We need food to survive
Selection Pressure: Food is not distributed equally
Legacy Pressure: Only solutions resembling beef steaks will be considered
Result: A lot of people starve to death, but some people get steak

As you can see, Legacy pressures are artificial selection pressures. They limit innovation, they hinder success. They leave us without workable solutions and instead present us with short term distractions that bring us no closer to the result we need (avoiding mass extinction).

We have the opportunity to generate all of the ideas we need before the real selection pressure starts. But we have to rid ourselves of Legacy pressures.


First they came for the writers, but I was not a writer.
Then they came for the artists, but I was not an artist.
Then they came for the customer success agents, but I did nothing as I was not a customer success agent.
Then they came for the developers and support, but as that was not my function, I did nothing.
Then they came for the sales team and I did nothing. Maximising efficiency sometimes means sacrifice.
Finally they came for the C-team, but as I had invested everything in the shareholding portfolio, I did nothing.
Finally I am a major shareholder in this company that no-one works at, where no-one can afford our products because we replaced all of the jobs with AI. Why won’t someone do something to help us poor shareholders?

Moderates are Assholes

It’s true. Moderates are assholes.

Moderate people let insane people roam over Facebook with batshit insane conspiracy theories about buildings falling down or vaccines making you magnetic. You just ignore it.

You cowards.

Turning a blind eye to these things is why we are in a situation where the fucking air is on fire. Italy just recorded the hottest temperature in Europe, ever. 48.8ºC.

Is it fair to make money (a markup) off selling stuff? Is it right?

So, lets say I spend 400 million to buy in some technology in the late 90s. I then spend millions refining it into a product, indeed a series of products. I spin one bit of it off and use that to miniaturise the technology meaning my big tech now runs on something in your pocket. It’s a substantial feat that requires the best engineers and the risk is huge. Everyone, especially incumbents, are saying I’ll fail. But I don’t fail and I then spend time building content and a store for other people to sell stuff on the platform I’ve literally invested billions to build.

Just like a brick and mortar store, my investment has created a place where people come to shop. Where they come to buy products, not just the ones I make, but others too. And just like a brick and mortar store, I charge a commission on every sale. Considering the markup on similar stores to mine in the early 2000s was 70%, I figure 30% across the board will make me super-competitive. And it does.

The combination of my stuff plus the stuff I’m selling on the store is a winner. Now….I’m not the biggest seller of stuff. I have competitors who own 90% of the market – one in particular who licensed out their tech and have dozens of manufacturers making stuff for them and they alone command about 70% of the total market – and they operate a store with millions more people.

But I’m doing ok. I built this platform from scratch, built the store from nothing, took the risks when everyone else was saying no and watched as the government let everyone steal from me. But it’s a dog eat dog world. I’ll just go on. I just want to know where the government was when I was struggling. Nowhere. As fecking usual.

But there’s trouble in paradise. A couple of the folks who sell on my store and on other stores want me to remove my commission. In fact, they actually want to take space in my store and build their own little concession stand to sell stuff….and I lose out on my commission and I don’t even get rent for the mini-store. And this is after they used my store to grow bigger, after they made my customers pay for their stuff. They’re calling it unfair that I make money off of the thing I built while, paradoxically, making money off the thing I built.

Someone please explain it to me, because I’ve removed one dude for literally setting up his mini-mart inside my store. I mean, these aren’t people who are struggling. They’re doing really well, even with my commission.

And now this….

EU Likely to Charge Apple With Anti-Competitive Behavior This Week

You see, the danger to innovation doesn’t come from not allowing folks to sell stuff for free on my store. And there’s no danger to competition because these folks are sharecropping on my store, they’re not building an entire platform for sales.

The danger comes from regulation like this meaning that I’ll be less likely invest the 400 million in the first place and the billions later. The danger is that we would then end up a world where the Blackberry was still viewed as the height of technology sophistication.

We aren’t in the 90s any more. The internet is a dangerous place, full of malware and scams. I struggle with keeping my own store clean, what’s the chances that others would do it better. I like to keep my store clean because it attracts in customers. What’s to stop bad guys from putting in their own mini-concessions once we open those doors?

BEO raves about dateless drivel, ignores big obvious data

Business Eye Online are shouting at the sea with their latest article, “Eye View – Freedon (sic) is a state of mind”.

This is the problem with ignorance.

If we had been working from the data, we’d have been out of lockdown months ago. Instead, we worked in dates and didn’t bother to lock down properly. Photographs of Seapark and Newcastle show that these seaside destinations are packed. And if you don’t know how it works it means that in somewhere like that, with a single infected individual, the R-number (the transmission rate) can leap into the hundreds.

“To say that the business community around here was disappointed by the Executive’s much talked about ‘Pathway Out Of Restrictions’ – to give it its full snappy title – is a bit of understatement.

Except that a three-pack of underpants might just be preferable to the pile of directionless data-driven, dateless drivel that our political leaders served up for our delectation on Tuesday afternoon.

So they’ll be telling us when we can eat, drink and sh*** for the foreseeable. They even laid out, in humourless, tepid prose for their hapless but dutiful citizens what kind of delights they could look forward to.”

But this sort of drivel from a business publication highlights why we will still be living with Coronavirus in 2022. It’s the sort of mentality that would have us open our doors in a zombie apocalypse. It’s the sort of thinking that the bad person, Carter Burke, in James Camerons seminal ALIENS would have espoused. Go on, open the doors, don’t mind the problem, just as long as we have something to look forward to.

With a lack of a byline it’s hard to point the finger, but you have to wonder what mentality would create such a whiny article. The mentality that encourages people to break quarantine, to go ahead and have a house party on a birthday (a date) rather than waiting for covid-exposure results (the data).

At a time when we are desperate, rather than having journalism, we have death-cult prose from a business publication. Don’t pay attention to the dying, get the pubs open. Don’t mind those suffering from long covid, there’s a big steak in Commercial court waiting. Death cult? Is that a little strong? I don’t think so – the worst consumers to have to serve are dead ones. They aren’t great at repeat business.

Forcing Serendipity: not the oxymoron you might imagine

13 years ago, while the economy was in the grips of the inexorable slide into recession, I wrote a short article about them need for entrepreneurship in the face of adversity. In this current world, restricted by pandemic conditions, this is probably needed more than ever.

Here’s a sub quote by John F Kennedy (the journalist, not the President):

Enterprise and entrepreneurship are the antidote for unemployment and recession. Encourage people to use computers and broadband to beat the recession, they can work for anyone from anywhere. They can create businesses based on anything from selling stuff on eBay to using their intelligence to write, provide consultancy services or develop technology. This is the way out. Failure to provide them with the tools is economic sabotage. Let’s hope intelligence prevails.

In a Covid-restricted world, none of this is surprising. We have had the technology, if not the means to provide everything that’s been asked for and with business leaders claiming that productivity is up when workers are working from home, this could be a rare opportunity.

But it’s not all roses.

One of the things I’ve noticed from working and studying from home exclusively for nearly a year is that there is a noticeable decimation of serendipity. Those moments which can be inspirational are not happening. The water cooler moments. The flashes of inspiration when two workers collide. We can do our best to emulate these however through direct intervention, even when the only facetime we get is over a videoconferencing call.

My solution when working with startups and larger companies is that serendipity can be forced. This isn’t like trying to force creativity – and yes – I’ve been in the room when a senior manager has walked in and demanded everyone be creative for the next two hours, as they’ve just brought in the sandwiches. You can’t force creativity (it’s a muscle, just like every other muscle, you need to exercise it regularly), but we can force….or engineer serendipity.

We can provide the grist for the mill of creativity by making sure everyone has the opportunity to mix up with everyone. That includes reducing the enforcement of unreasonable company policies about being “online all the time or forcing everyone to turn their cameras on for the company Zoom meeting. It is absolutely about engaging people when they’re in their comfort zone to speak and helping realise that their discomforts are the engine of change.

Are you going to do half a job, like last time?

The Internet is abuzz with the repercussions of the attack on the US State Capitol building by right wing, white supremacist terrorists armed with bombs. Governor Schwartzenegger (himself Austrian) compared it to the Nazi Kristallnacht action and he’s right to do so.

Twitter, Facebook have banned Trump and accomplices. Parler, the latest right wing social media cesspool has been denied AWS processing time from Amazon and Stripe has started to deny transactions from the Trump Campaign.

What took you?

And we have the New Bar Association ready to expel Rudy Giuliani. And the PGA of America and Scotlands R&A ready to exclude Trump and his properties from their future matches.

What took you?

As the attempted Nazi coup of the USA has failed due the will of the people, the continuing coup of the UK continues, faltering only due to the ineptitude of the Prime Minister and his cabinet. The Allies were definitely front and centre in the onslaught. But while we may joke that these idiots are bad people and deserve the odd punch in the face, we have to recognise that we didn’t deal with them properly in the first place.

Demagogues like Oswald Mosley and Enoch Powell in the UK were not put down the way we should have and their interns continue on. You’ll note that some of the young interns from Powells days still serve as MPs in Westminster. My own MP in Lisburn, served as Powells junior. Powell was selected in South Down where, unsurprisingly, the UKIP managed to find a seat as well. Is there a problem in County Down that we simply have not addressed?

And in the US, in 1939, a “Pro-Americanism” Nazi rally was held in Madison Square Garden. 20,000 people attended. That’s 20,000 loose ends who went on to have kids, who then had more kids, indoctrinating them into a way of life that resulted in deaths at the State Capitol.

We have never dealt with the pro-Nazi members of the aristocracy here in the UK, much as the US never dealt with the white supremacy movement or the tens of thousands of active Nazis in their midst. And this is what happens. These people are well organised in a way that the Left cannot comprehend. While the Left are continuing to fragment themselves over rejoining the EU, or whether the plastic bag tax was sufficient; these monsters are designing new ovens. People ovens. They seed dissent through disinformation (yup, anyone denying Covid doesn’t take a lot of scratching to find references to the “great replacement”).

Trump emboldened these people. He made it socially acceptable to be racist in public, with no fear of censure. Is that what we have become on the Left, so willing to accept everyone as an equal that we allow the Extreme Right to do whatever they want? How many people do they have to kill before we stop wringing our hands about whether we are hurting their feelings when we put them in jail forever.

So, what the hell took everyone?

Why did it take so long? And are we all going to let them scuttle back under their rocks to re-emerge with greater numbers in another 50 years?


I don’t think that hydrogen is going to be a satisfactory alternative. We need to get out of the mindset of choosing finite resources (we only have a finite amount of hydrogen on earth). We end up just moving the problem down the road. Remembering that the water on our planet is finite and it’s a thin skin on the surface of the Earth should be sobering. Remembering that every hydrogen transaction is lossy. And every hydrogen escape is a permanent loss to the planet.

It’s the same with nuclear. Hydrogen is not renewable, nuclear is not clean.

Much of the energy we use is tied up in cars – they’re horrendously inefficient. Not just in the energy conversion (~70% loss) but in the transportation of 100 kgs of human, we have to also transport 900 kgs of car (and that’s for an average one). So, when you think about it, only 3% of the energy we put in the tank is used to transport a human. Electric cars won’t save us from this – they’re a band aid (and they’re even heavier)

(I question the symbolism of Wrightbus in the photo. I question the commitment of the minister from a party of climate-disruption denialism. I question the use of hydrogen for storage – after all, it’s not like hydrogen under pressure has been a problem in the past.)

Take the long view. Build civilisations to last.

Is the 30% AppStore tax fair?

The AppStore is a software aggregator. It’s not the first, it won’t be the last.

About 100 years ago, in the early 2000s, I was buying software for my phone and Palm Vx. I used various software aggregators (Handango being one) and I remember what a rigmarole it was. You really had no idea what you were buying, sometimes a “sticker” set was nothing more than clip art and there was zero recourse if it didn’t work or if you wanted a refund. What’s more, Handango was a revolution in itself as it only took 40% of the cover price. Other aggregators for other mobile operating systems took 40-90%. You’re reading that right. If you got significant success, you ended up paying 90% of cover price to the aggregator. It was like the sliding tax rate but you were really just lining pockets rather than paying for roads and schools.

Then Everything Changed

The AppStore came along and everything changed.

It was hailed as a revolution. A single point of access, installed on every device, taking only 30% and people could trust the vendor – it was the same vendor they’d spent the last few years buying music from. What could be better. Developers would get access to millions of customers overnight, for a small fee which included a code-signing certificate and there were all these dev tools. Sure, it wasn’t perfect by any means and it still isn’t but it’s a damn sight better than it was.

So what’s the fuss?

Some vendors who rely on tight margin subscriptions aren’t happy with the 30%. They’re just pissy with it. It’s hitting on an underlying business model of tight margins. (I’m talking mostly about Spotify and Amazon but it would equally apply to anyone). Their models don’t work if Apple takes 30%. But even then they adapted to while I can’t buy a Kindle book through the Amazon app or the Kindle app, I can just pop onto the web site and it works fine. But it is a little bit of friction.

So, what’s to be done for sharecroppers who are happy to give away an app for free and then use the platform for promotion and distribution without contributing to the baseline? Surely most developers who charge a reasonable amount for their apps would be thinking “No….Amazon shouldn’t be getting a free ride at all!”. But instead it’s really focused the camera on whether Apple’s 30% is reasonable in this day and age.

What percentage would mollify the masses?

There’s really no right answer for this. Some people would only be content with 0%. Thinking that they bring so much to the Apple ecosystem that Apple shouldn’t be making money off the ecosystem. Others might think that 20% or 10% is a good number considering that storage, network costs and compute costs have dropped considerably in the last 12 years. Some folks are happy enough with the 30% but would like the option to offer their own stores, with their own payment systems or the ability to side-load content. There will, like Brexit, be no one single solution that would make everyone happy (and by everyone I include Apple here).

But it does feel like the time is ripe for Apple to rethink the model. To re-evaluate what makes developing on their platform so compelling and to reward those who have made great apps. Maybe it’s dropping the percentage for those who support universal binaries? Or who have switched to Swift 100%. Or those who stick to some other set of rules? Maybe those who do well should get a sliding scale?

Gruber and Gassee used to agree with the Apple Store but have things changed?

Betteridges Law Applies. As Ever

I’m a fan of Betteridges Law. This rule of thumb decrees that the answer to a headline question is always “no” and so I’ll have to apply it here.

Times have changed. Costs have changed. The market has changed. So maybe it’s time to cut developers a bit more slack.

Dear Government, Just Do One Thing….

Dear Government,

I’m really only talking to the Northern Ireland government here, but if the rest of you want to take a leaf, then do something about it.

Everything is “Covid-Paralysed”. I just see inactivity in every area. People holding their breath. It’s not good enough. We have to be pro-active. But as a “cultural hand grenade”, I figured I’d write a list of things our government departments could do while they’re waiting for society to re-open.

  1. The Executive Office. – frankly, I have no idea what you do anyway other than argue and be ineffectual. This isn’t a personal dig – the EO has always failed to deliver. Look at the unspent social investment fund.
  2. Department of Education. – We have been constantly training more than 200 teachers than we need every year and we have a large bank of supply teachers. So rather than having parents killing themselves trying to educate children, get your act together and use this resource. Yes, not everyone has and iPad or whatever, but that doesn’t mean you do nothing. Find out who needs resources and work together. Use the existing teacher pool, the supply teachers and the unemployed grads to deliver education over Zoom or your tool of choice and take the pressure off parents.
  3. Department for the Economy. – Every skills program that can be opened over Zoom should be opened over Zoom. The lecturers are being salaried. We are in exceptional circumstances and much of it can be delivered over Teams or Zoom. So do it. Make it free and allow people to upskill quickly.
  4. Department of Health. – Be honest, we haven’t yet sorted this crisis. So make sure there’s enough PPE, find more staff to re-open the wards force to close because of sick nurses and doctors and let’s beat this thing.
  5. Department of Justice. – Start preparing law suits against employers who fired or made redundant workers rather than furlough them. And maybe a case against the UK government for wilfully endangering millions of people resulting in the deaths of thousands of people
  6. Department of Infrastructure. – You know, I’m never going to step into a taxi and I’m damn sure it’s going to be a while before I’m on a bus or train. So change the narrative. Convert parking spaces into bus and bike lanes. Do it now while you still can. And while you’re at it, a Greenway from Lisburn to Belfast would cut down on traffic. Plan it now. Execute when lockdown opens up a bit.
  7. Department of Communities. – it’s time for more parks, more leisure facilities, more public art (by local people, not half a million quid to somewhere else). You have a month before the summer starts properly. Are you going to watch the tourist industry completely fail? Get a move on.
  8. Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs. Take some leadership and sort out broadband. Thousands of families are struggling without connectivity and if Education get their act together then the families will need it. Do it now.