In through the outfield blog

Neil Infield on business and intellectual property

19 February 2013

22 June 2011

Will falling forward get me to the top of Kilimanjaro?

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KilimanjaroWith just a few days to go before my big trip (hopefully) to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, I have been told about a revolutionary new way of walking.

Apparently all I have to do is ‘fall forward’. and I will be at the top without even realising it. This ‘new’ technique is called Chi Walking (with a Chi Running offshoot).

What I find interesting about this idea, is how even the most basic of human activities can be re-invented and turned into  a commercial product or service.

As one of the videos explains, when we are children we run by leaning forward, but by the time we are adults we have unlearned the natural way to move. you can now buy a range of books, ‘five-finger’ shoes, or join classes to re-learn from the experts how to walk or run properly.

I am aware than many runners do get injuries from their activities, especially road running, but my scepticism is still high on whether this whole thing is some kind of Snake oil charm. Try watching this video of Master Stephen Hwa’s Tai Chi Walk Lesson, and see what you think.

However, I am prepared to try pretty much anything reasonable that might aid my path to top of the highest mountain in Africa, so will try it for a while.

Although my climb was not planned to raise money for charity (more to prove I’m not quite over the hill yet), quite a few people have asked if they can sponsor me. justgiving_logo_detailSo I have created a JustGiving page with a choice of charities to donate to if you would like to contribute.

What is Chi?

Master George Xu, our T’ai Chi teacher, asks us to focus on our dantien, our center and to allow all movement to  come from that place. The energy moves from the center into the body and into the  limbs to create movement. Why? Because Chi is stronger than muscles, and movement that comes from Chi is more deeply powerful.

More powerful than muscles? In the West, muscles are almost akin to a god the way we worship them and what they represent. Covers of magazines and TV commercials extol rock hard abs and buns of steel. What is stronger than rock and steel?

In T’ai Chi we quickly learn that muscles are no match for the power of Chi. Like the flow of water that created the Grand Canyon the power of Chi takes you much further and faster than vulnerable muscles whose duration is very short lived.

Your dantien is the best home for your Chi and the best place for you to focus your energy so that you can come from a balanced, whole place in yourself. Your dantien is just below your navel and a few inches in toward your spine. In Chi Running, Chi Walking and Chi Living we encourage all movement, all action, all choices to come from this center, that deep place in yourself that is home to your greatest potential and power.

07 June 2011

Get Out of this World at The British Library

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wells-jun-130I’ve only managed to spend a few minutes so far exploring our exciting new exhibition Out of this World: Science Fiction but not as you know it, but I will definitely going back for more soon.

It has already had a great deal of positive coverage in the media, and there are some great events associated including Sci-Fi legend Alan Moore.

The exhibition has some first editions and manuscripts of some of the great stories I discovered in my youth, such as John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids.

One of the most memorable short stories I read way back then, was about an anti-gravity device (always a popular topic in Sci-Fi… and with some of our inventors, now I come to think of it).

The concept is that a selection of scientists from various disciplines are shown a grainy film of a working anti-gravity device, unfortunately the machine crashes and the inventor is killed. They are then shown the inventor’s study with  books on range of disciplines such as physics, biology, religion and witchcraft. They are then asked to try and re-create the machine. After many false starts they manage the impossible, and are only then told that the film was a fake, designed to help them get over their mental blocks.

The story is called Noise Level by Raymond F Jones.




12 December 2007

When Things Start to Think by Neil Gershenfeld

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This is one of my favourite non-fiction books which I reviewed when it came out but have updated.

When Things Start to Think by Neil Gershenfeld - 1999

When Things Start to Think coverThis amazing book by Neil Gershenfeld the director of the Center for Bits and Atoms at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was so futuristic when it was written in 1999 that we are still waiting for many of his predictions to come true.

The book was written while Gershenfeld was the co-director of the Things That Think project at the MIT Media Laboratory. Here he was exposed to futuristic technologies on a daily basis and so gained an insight into the world of technology to come.

For example if you think the current state of computing is pretty advanced, what about a computer in your shoe that can communicate intelligently with others ‘wired’ footwear when you pass by on the street? Or the printer which produces three dimensional ‘printouts’ which will be your personal desktop factory.

My favourite chapter concentrated on the future of the book (surely a topic close to many of our hearts). He describes an electronic book containing around twenty or so pages of digital paper ‘printed’ using computerised ink. The text and images can be refreshed from the inbuilt memory or downloaded from the internet. The pages are fixed on the page and don’t disappear when the power is turned off. The real challenge for the technologists is to produce a page that has the readability as existing printed text. Gershenfeld spends several pages detailing just what a fantastic medium the ‘old’ technology of the printed page is for acquiring information. A book can contain a vast amount of information, you can jump to any page almost instantly, your can read it in the poorest of light, it needs no power and it is remarkably cheap when produced in large volumes.

I like the way the books is written in a chatty non-technical style with lots of clear and simple explanations, which is a rare ability in a technologist. Also, despite having seen quantum leaps in computing in over the years Gershenfeld realises there is still a long way to go before computers can be regarded as intelligent. Humans shouldn’t have to adapt to computers - it should be the other way around. For instance does your computer even know when you are sitting in front of it, let alone what kind of mood you are in, or how hungry or tired your are.

However I believe that Gershenfeld does fall into the scientists traditional mistake of thinking that we will reach a kind of technological nirvana. He fails to note examples from history where scientific developments have been abused to the detriment of humankind. For example, on the one hand we have nuclear power and genetically engineered medicines but on the other nuclear bombs and chemical warfare.