Author Archive | Ian Robinson

Interesting Stuff – Week 29 2020

Blackboard with maths statistics, equations and ideas


Prospect Magazine list and poll on the top 50 thinkers in the Covid-19 influenced world right now. Interesting list. Many new to me.

Wired UK article on why we should be wearing transparent face masks. To help people who have hearing issues. And also everyone else, as we use facial cues in everyday speech more than we think.

First, be kind – Your feedback has the power to encourage another person, or shut them down, possibly forever. Excellent advice for everyone. When giving feedback or advice, or even just your opinion. Be nice. 


Nebula is a subscription video service for content creators to post educational and information videos without having to worry about ads and the vagaries of the YouTube algorithm. To surface their content. Also, as it’s not YouTube, you won’t be lead by the hand to videos showing the worst of humanity. Only $3 a month. Bargain. I subscribed. They might need to throw more server capacity or network bandwidth at it though. Time will tell, but I’ve had a few buffering issues using it. Issues that I don’t get on YouTube. 

WindowSwap opens a random video taken from someone’s window in their house, apartment, or office. The videos are showing what’s happening in that place when the video recording took place. Looks to be recordings rather than live webcams. But still fascinating, and brilliant.


The EU introduced new rules for mediation between businesses and online marketplace providers. The latter include online marketplaces, social media and creative content outlets, app distribution platforms, price comparison websites, professional collaborative platforms, and search engines. In effect in the EU from 12th July. Some interesting stuff, like having to give companies 30 days notice before terminating access to a service. Some are interpreting this as Apple and Google will need to provide 30 days notice before removing apps from their app stores. A summary of the provisions is available here. The full regulations are available in multiple languages and formats here.

M. G. Siegler on how much change there has been in personal computing over the last 20 years. From a desktop PC with a 20 kg (44 lb) monitor to a 0.45 kg (1 lb) iPad Pro. Remarkable.

Wrong About the Apple Silicon Mac – Rene Ritchie outlines why most people are thinking incorrectly about the Mac Apple Silicon migration. Watch on Nebula or YouTube.

Apple are updating their API’s, documentation and contributions to open source projects to remove any exclusionary terms. Nice one. 


Quanta Magazine article on the incompleteness theorems by Kurt Gödel.

Conrad Wolfram has a book and project to try to update the teaching of mathematics to take heed of the fact that computers exist and can be used to enhance the curriculum. Most people in the future will have access to computational power that they can use to do calculations for them. And with knowledge engines like Wolfram Alpha, and AI systems they will often be able to ask questions in plain language. There is a sample lesson for the new maths curriculum they are developing on the Wolfram blog.

Dea Matrona – so good!

There is a lot of good music coming from many new and upcoming bands and musicians right now. That’s always been the case of course. I don’t buy into the idea you hear that there is no good music “these days”. People who think that aren’t exposing themselves to new music. I discover most new stuff via Twitter or the Apple Music recommendation posts on Instagram stories or weekly email. Some recent examples of new discoveries for me are Yonaka, Alice Merton, Ariana and The Rose, Charly Bliss, Du Blonde, Ina Wroldsen, Klara, Soak, and Wild Rivers. All great.

The latest discovery came via Twitter. Barbara Whearty posted a video of the band Dea Matrona busking a version of the Fleetwood Mac song Go Your Own Way in Belfast city centre at Christmas. Wow! It is so good. The video has since gone viral, and at the time I write this has been viewed over 480,000 times. After seeing this video, I listened to their original music and their other videos on YouTube. Two of their songs from last year made it into my top 10 list.

I love it when a new band or artist comes out of left field for me. Although in this case, the fact that I’d never heard of Dea Matrona before is entirely my fault. They have been playing gigs in Northern Ireland and beyond for a couple of years. As you can see from their videos on YouTube. I might need to get out more!

You can tell when a band is the real deal. And Dea Matrona are the real deal! Their playing is tight, and they have that crystal tone that all good bands have. Their vocals are excellent, with both singers voices having slightly different characteristics that complement each other. Their own songs are terrific, and the mix of classic rock covers they play with them is spot on.

I was lucky enough to see them live at their Black Box Belfast Out To Lunch Festival gig last week. They are superb live. Lots of bands simply play music at the audience when performing. Sod that. We can listen to the music anytime. At a show you want a performance, and Dea Matrona deliver. They are colourful and kinetic on stage, and best of all they look like they are having fun playing the new and the classic tracks. They also have good crowd interactions between songs, with anecdotes about how songs got written, and things that happened at other gigs. It is astonishing how much stagecraft and musical ability they have for such a young band. Not forgetting that the two singers also swap lead and bass guitar duties a few times during each gig. Literally handing their instruments to the other. From what I could see this meant that when Molly McGinn was playing bass, she was operating the guitar pedal effects board for Orlaith Forsythe on guitar, as they didn’t change stage positions. Remarkable. I’d bet that drummer Mamie McGinn could probably play guitar or bass as well if required! Of course, we only see the tip of the iceberg (hat tip to Scott Flanigan on this point) and not the thousands of hours of study and practice that all three band members have put in to get this good. Kudos to them as it has really paid off. They are a remarkably good band and they will be huge in the future. Rightly so. They deserve it.

Check out their upcoming Ireland gigs here, and their YouTube channel. And have a look at this cover version of Joan Jett’s song Cherry Bomb to see a band having fun!

2019 Walking Stats

My Apple Watch and Activity app on iPhone tell me that I took 1,963,261 steps in 2019. This equated to 1,087 miles walked in total. I think I was hoping to hit 1,200 miles. Setting that target again for 2020. 

2019 Steps per month chart
Steps per month in 2019
2019 Miles walked per month chart
Miles walked per month in 2019
2019 Steps and miles walked data per month
Monthly data 2019

Favourite Tracks from 2019

Don't Wait Until Tomorrow album artwork
Bad Company - Yonaka
Live at Troxy cover artwork
Triangle Walks Live - Fever Ray
Away From The Tide EP artwork
Just Wanna Rock - Dea Matrona
Away From The Tide EP artwork
Nobody's Child - Dea Matrona
Supermoon single artwork
Supermoon - Charly Bliss
Where's My Tribe artwork
Where's My Tribe - Charlene Soraia
Mint album cover artwork
Trouble In Paradise - Alice Merton
Love + Fear Acoustic album artwork
Orange Trees (Acoustic) - Marina
Feels Like Love album artwork
Feels Like Love - Chrysta Bell
I Do single artwork
I Do - Wild Rivers

Click on the Apple Music section below to a playlist with these ten songs. Click Play to hear 30 second snippets of them if not subscripbed to Apple Music. 

Favourite Podcasts from 2019

Here are the podcasts that I enjoyed the most in 2019.

Sean Carroll's Mindscape Podcast Artwork
Sean Carroll's Mindscape
Curious Cases podcast artwork
The Curious Cases of Rutherford & Fry
No Such Thing As A Fish podcast artwork
No Such Thing As A Fish
Accidental Tech Podcast artwork
Accidental Tech Podcast
BBC Inside Science podcast artwork
BBC Inside Science
Chemistry in its Element podcast artwork
Chemistry in its Element
Song Exploder podcast artwork
Song Exploder

Favourite Films from 2019

One film per week continued during 2019. Since starting it in February 2015 I have seen 263 newly released films. This year I saw 56 new releases in the cinema. From these 56 here are my favoutite 10. They are listed in the order I saw them during the year.

Happy Death Day 2U film poster
Happy Death Day 2U
Five Feet Apart film poster
Five Feet Apart
Booksmart film poster
Anna film poster
The Sun is Also a Star film poster
The Sun is Also a Star
Good Posture film poster
Good Posture
Farmageddon film poster
Last Christmas film poster
Last Christmas
Knives Out film poster
Knives Out
Motherless Brooklyn film poster
Motherless Brooklyn

I’m hoping to see 100 new films in the cinema during 2020. Taking advantage of MyOmniPass that gives you a ticket for every film for a flat monthly fee.

Mini review – Sandworm: A New Era of Cyberwar and the Hunt for the Kremlin’s Most Dangerous Hackers

We hear a lot about how state actors are using cybercrime techniques in order to influence opinion and attack infrastructure in other countries. But we rarely see a well-argued analysis that backs up this assertion. This book provides just such a well-argued analysis that outlines persuasively which organisations, and which country, were behind the devastating cyberattacks WannaCry, NotPetya, and others. And it outlines who is gaining malicious access to the control systems for the infrastructure that powers our modern world. Such as the electricity generation and supply systems, transport systems, communications and broadcast systems, and other industrial control systems. It also provides enough evidence to support the conclusion that the same, or closely associated, malicious actors were behind attempts to influence elections in Europe and the USA. Probably in other countries as well.

The case against the perpetrators, who are identified in the book, is built up logically and comprehensively. Everyone should read it and then draw their own conclusions. I know I have. One of the best books of 2019. Undoubtedly the best on cybersecurity.

The audiobook is really good.

Resisting the San Francisco siren call…

Summer is in full swing (in the northern hemisphere), and that means that it’s almost time for the VMworld US conference. I’m hearing the San Franciso siren call. Must resist this year! I love San Francisco and have been to a lot of events there. Several Apple Developer Conferences, a few MacWorld conferences, and VMworld. I was there so often from 2006 to 2012 that the staff in the Courtyard Marriott on 2nd Street recognised me and knew my favourite drink in the bar!

San Francisco skyline from the end of the peer at Aquatic Cove
Cupid's Span sculpture on The Embarcadero
The Golden Gate Bridge

VMworld is the technical, networking, and socialising highlight of the year for everyone interested in all forms of virtualisation, hybrid-cloud, multi-cloud, modern application deployment, intelligent storage, and more. With over 20,000 IT professionals in attendance, along with all the important IT vendors, a week at VMworld delivers a fire hose of industry innovation and best practice that it’s hard to get in such a pure form anywhere else.

Pyramid Building in Financial District
Gateway to Chinatown
Coit Tower

The 2019 event returns to the Moscone Convention Centre in San Francisco and will occupy Moscone North, South, and West in the SOMA district of the city. So, in addition to the full-on technical and business information available, there is ample opportunity for extracurricular activities. From craft beers in the Thirsty Bear near Moscone South, strolls along The Embarcadero from the Oakland-Bay Bridge. Past Pier 39 to Fisherman’s Wharf, then on to Fort Mason and the Golden Gate Bridge. With many more city delights like dinner in Chinatown, a week at VMworld in San Francisco is not to be missed. I’ll maybe go to another one in the future…

VMware has a Convince Your Boss page if you are looking to justify attending. Some advice: plan to wear layers, bring a hat, and wear comfortable shoes!

Review: The Science of Fate by Hannah Critchlow

The Science Of Fate book Cover

The Science of Fate book cover

I’m always wary of books that address the concept of free will. Many people assert that we don’t have free will due to the deterministic nature of the physical universe, or due to evidence from experiments that shows our subconscious brain makes ‘decisions’ before our conscious mind performs an action. Such as flicking a light switch. It’s still our brains making a choice though. Our subconscious is part of us. The deterministic universe arguments against free will just annoy me. There is plenty of space in the layers of reality above the quantum realm for emergent behaviour that includes our ability to act as agents that can choose. We have free will in that sense. So I went into the audiobook edition of Hannah’s book with some trepidation. Would it be another book advocating that we don’t have free will? Thankfully my fears were unfounded. This is a book about how our biology shapes our behaviour via biochemistry, neurobiology, and psychology. It’s an excellent survey of how behaviours have been shaped and honed by natural selection and evolution. It’s undoubtedly a fact that there are many behaviours that humans (and other animals) exhibit that are predetermined by our biology and environment. The level of this predeterminism varies depending on what is being discussed. Most humans (without medical or psychological problems) can override the higher level impulses that our biology shapes. My take after reading this book is that humanity in the round does have free will with respect to the higher level activities such as “will I eat this apple or throw it over the fence into my neighbours garden.” Our free will emerges with the complexity in the underlying biology, which in turn arises from chemistry and physics. On a technical note: the audiobook is excellently read by the author who is experienced in audio delivery from many science podcasts and other media activities. I highly recommend this book. In whatever format you like the best.