This Time for (or from, rather) Africa

I know it s old, but – does this song ring any bell?


“Waka Waka” – theme song of the 2010 football world championships, written by Shakira, Wikipedia says.

The FIFA website states that “the song was written by Shakira, the world-famous singer from Latin America”.

This topic might seem unrelated to what i normally write about –

but, there are some connections anyway:

1. Sony Music is one of those corps that defend so-called intellectual property against “pirates”, with claws and teeth. Right.

2. It might also be a side somment to the (grossly oversimplified) question sometimes asked: why is Africa poor? Maybe, because we have yet to see african comapnies make millions with stolen european songs?


Anyway, there was a song that s always been one of my guilty pleasures – the kind of song you wouldnt admit to liking,
but yes, i have always liked it a lot.

No wonder i thought it sounded really african …
Well hey, if we steal the continents minerals and energy, why not take its music too.

I read that many Cameroonians are really proud this song was chosen as the 2010 anthem – and i ll respect that feeling, of course … but it s almost ironic.

I also read that the original songwriters have been paid some amount of money – i cant help but wonder what share of the total revenue.


Others have researched this in more depth than i have – here s some starting points for reading:

the higgs boson

today is a big day for science.
we found a new particle.
just dont get confused – it has nothing to do with god.

also, the fact that we found it doesnt mean it is any more real
than the dreams or thoughts in your head right now.

as the bbc article so aptly said, it might be “something else entirely”.
but it proves our technological ability to design experiments according to our theories,
which then find the objects we designed them to find.


if we drill down deeper, we will find more of these.


hundreds of years ago there was a man in india, and many after him, who knew all these particles.
they just didnt feel they had to build big big accelerators to prove their existence.

stop acta demonstration 25 feb 2012, copenhagen

Diaspora* structure – simplified


Diaspora, websockets and nginx

I am installing a #diaspora #pod in Ubuntu 10.04 LTS,
and configuring it to run behind an #nginx (reverse) proxy,
as suggested in

Everything works fine, except for some problems with websockets.
While not really essential for diaspora functionality,
#websockets are doing nice things for the web interface,
like updating pages without reload –
e.g. websockets are placing the little “checked” mark when you are adding a person to one of your aspects.

websockets in action on diaspora

As long as i connect direct to the app server,

by going to

everything is fine –

but through the proxy, the websockets would “hang” –
the little rotating circle would circle for minutes before bringing up the check mark.

The reason for this:

A default install of nginx from Ubuntu repository comes with the following settings in /etc/nginx/nginx.conf:

#keepalive_timeout 0;
keepalive_timeout 65;
tcp_nodelay on;

It is the keepalive_timeout that makes the socket wait –

Slicehost support explains this setting like this

*”The default is very high and can easily be reduced to a few seconds (an initial setting of 2 or 3 is a good place to start and you will rarely need more than that). If no new requests are received during this time the connection is killed.
OK, but what does it mean? Well, once a connection has been established and the client has requested a file, this says “sit there and ignore everyone else until the time limit is reached or you get a new request from the client.
Why would you want a higher time? In cases where there will be a lot of interactivity on the site. However, in most cases, people will go to a page, read it for a while and then click for the next page. You don’t want the connection sat there doing nothing and ignoring other users.”*


So, changing this value to something low or disabling altogether, by doing

keepalive_timeout 0;

will solve this little problem.

sans title


Google+ and the nymwars – or why ad agencies do not build good social networks

Note before i start:

Much of this little post i wrote yesterday might be made a little obsolete by today’s interview with Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt,

in which he basically explains exactly what i am saying – just in Google speak.


A while ago, while everybody was getting worked up about facebooks privacy crimes, i wrote down a note:

“Any attempt at social networking by organizations whose fundamental interest is not social but profit oriented

will always be flawed. Some will work for us, others we will dump. That is how simple that is.”











Some months on, facebook isn’t so much the issue anymore, and we are testing G+.

And getting really annoyed with it.



One interpretation might be that Google once more is about to demonstrate its incredible ability to get social networks completely wrong,

and sink their next promising attempt in this field, after Wave and Buzz.


Sometimes i think they must be running an internal competition in which various subteams come up with great new things

and other departments are asked to wreck it by means of marketing, policy, or timing.

Like some “kill a good idea” shootout.

Anyway, i m sidetracking.



My old note from above may be formulated even more generic:


Problems arise when intention and action are not aligned,

when the reason for a certain activity is not aligned with the motivation behind.


These problems typically take the form of increased levels of bullshit, insincerity, misunderstandings, open conflicts.

Many in my field of work (technology, science, networks) see Google as a technology company,

a network company, and – maybe even – a social network company.

It is not.


We classify companies according to their core business, their major source of income.

We dont say a pizza shop is in the car business, or in road infrastructure business,

just because they drive out pizzas in a car, via streets and roads.


Google is an ad agency with an amazingly strong tech department.


Many of Google’s tech products benefit my work incredibly, from search to calendar to G+.


I am often enthusiastic about what they come up with in the field of technology, and what other fields they move into –

for example, when they invest in wind and solar farms or networks for the less privileged.

There s a lot to be grateful for.


However, that should not obstruct the view on what Google is,

and why they fail at stuff that doesnt align with their core business.


Google has a pizza to deliver.

Google has ads to sell.


So Google has to be interested in products, profiles, real consumers, real wallets.






They d like to rank – up with Lady Gaga (despite the name), down with a woman who educates about abuse problems (because of her name).


They are not interested in social qualities.


(Here, we obviously ignore the naive viewpoint of some mystic upcoming merger between business and social interest – much as we d like to see that coming.)


For online security, often abused as a motivator, the “real name” of a person is without any meaning.

Nobody with an understanding of network security will claim that G+’s crusade for true identity adds any protection against cyber evil.


For an online community interested in meaningful communications, it s no problem not knowing the “real name” of who you are talking to.


For an ad agency, it is.


They way they are trying to enforce their interest will mean


they ll lose some 10% of their customers (not the world, but significant)

and fail miserably for the other 90%.



nymwars 1

Explaining the Fibonacci solar breakthrough (that isn’t one) – UPDATED



 (updated 28 August, 2011)


It is no fun being negative, especially not when it is about something one cares for.

A number of people have seen the need to debunk what looked like good – even fantastic! – news in the first place: a solar power breakthrough.
Original post here, and my first comment here.
Unfortunately, there s no breakthrough – just a chain reaction of one website after the other, one tweet after the other copying the good news – without checking.
I would like to offer a more positive view on these measurements
i.e. not just state that they are not saying anything,
in particular no breakthrough and no solar revolution

but instead,

i would like to explain why one is getting these results
that seem to indicate an improvement,

why Aidan was seeing what he was seeing.


This is only an attempt, and there is some guessing involved,

as Aidans article does not provide the necessary information – e.g. we do not even know what solar cells were being used.
So, here is my best guess :) .. hope it is useful to some – maybe we can even discuss it?

We have to start with looking at the

IV curve of a solar cell:

IV curve of a typical solar panel, at different light intensities

IV curve of a typical solar panel, at different light intensities















This curve shows

current I

voltage V

power p

at different light intensities.

Note that voltage is the fat line, power is the thin line.
Power is what we really need from a solar cell.

The experiment measured the so called open circuit voltage, that means,

no load is connected,
the current is ZERO: I = 0.

This open circuit voltage is almost independent of how much light precisely you have – as long as you are above a certain threshhold.

I have tried to indicate this area in which we are moving with some orange dots.

More orange, more light.

But the important point is: as long as there is just some light, there will be some voltage –
and it does not matter very much, how much light that is.

(As a reminder, the power produced is zero – as there is no current, and no load.)

Now, we can see from the pictures that the panels were placed in an environment with lot of diffuse reflection –
in front of a wall painted white, it seems.

The test setup, picture from original post

The test setup, picture from original post



This means, that as the sun wanders around the cells, the fibonacci cells will always catch some light – from the side, from behind, and so forth.
The optimized normal panel arrangement will only get light as long as the sun is within its angle, i.e. in front of it.

So, it is clear that the fibonacci arrangement will collect some light for longer hours each day.

At peak time, around noon, there will be enough reflections to bring all individual cells above the limit –

it means, all of them will be able to produce the open circuit voltage.


So, both arrangements can produce roughly the same voltage while the sun is up high,
and then, while the normal panel arrangement will go dark at some point, the fibonacci setup will still catch some light.

This is exactly what you see when you put the two curves on top of each other.

Aidans 2 measurements combined

Aidans 2 measurements combined












But – the longer days of the fibonacci setup will not produce any more power than the normal setup.
The total power in this measurement is always just zero.

Take a look back at our first picture – the IV curve – and see how high power output only occurs when there is a lot of light!

So IF we connected a load, we would see how the normal setup outperforms the fibonacci setup.



To conclude: the experiment’s two main flaws are

  • The experiment measured open circuit voltage, believing it to be equivalent to power/energy. However, open circuit voltage says nothing about power/energy.
  • The experiment assumes that the sum of N suboptimal values can be larger than the sum of N optimal values. This is plain wrong.

13-Year-Old finds Fibonacci Solar Power Breakthrough, or: Media are so in love with the good story they shut down their brains

 UPDATE: Trying to explain how the misunderstanding/hoax comes about: Explaining the Fibonacci solar breakthrough (that isn’t one)  



A couple of days ago, a story made the rounds on many of our usual suspect technology, environment and entrepreneurial media:


a 13 year old takes a fresh view on solar panels and the way nature arranges leaves and branches, and finds “solar breakthrough”.

Try a search like this and you will see.

Or see the tweets.

The original post was here.



Readers’ comments celebrated the “genius”, quote Schopenhauer and drown in a flood of general “awesomeness”.


Now, the disappointing truth is that there is


no solar breakthrough, no new finding


just a wonderfully enthusiastic young boy who does all the right things: ask questions, allow a fresh view, experiment, illustrate.


Before him, mathematical beauty as the result of optimization has been admired by many.

And there are wonderful findings to make:

Plants optimize many factors by realizing the fibonacci series, not just sun exposure – a fact that we could learn from indeed: that we need to optimize many factors, not just one. In the case of solar power, there s many more things to consider, like social optimization, operation costs, etc

With all that beauty, reality is that any 1 percent improvement in cell efficiency and any 10 cents drop in price per watt would have more real impact than any romantic breakthrough story.


On an even more fundamental level, a breakthrough in humankinds’ intentions and motivations would have more impact that any revolutionary new technology.

So, there s many interesting aspects to talk about, for young curious minds.



However, instead of getting competent sparring with good scientists and practitioners, he gets a wave of misled/misleading media attention.

Layers of the TED generations’ technology folklore get put on top an interesting little experiment, like the human body realizing the golden ratio (no it doesnt), and so forth.


This article explains some of the reasons why the experiment is mislead and not saying anything

(blog entry seems to have been removed – archived version is here)

for example the fact that

  • measuring open circuit voltage is no measure for power generation, and
  • the sum of N suboptimal values will never be bigger than the sum of N optimal values (at least not for photovoltaic power output).


But the point is not so much what is wrong with the experiment, or the boy’s approach, or the enthusiastic readers’ comments – the point is what is wrong with our media?


We are so wishing for the good news, especially when it comes to our darkest chapter (energy consumption), we so wish to see the new magic, the new mythical entrepreneur –


so strong is the wish that we shut down our critical brains. Over the past months, TED has become a regular and major source of annoyance – with  “awesome” tech stories like Wifi over light waves.


This frenzy is doing nobody a favour.


Creative young explorers get no chance for critical dialogue (what, if we applied fibonacci optimization to nano structures? There is intense research on optimizing efficient surfaces in nano cells – maybe Aidan Dwyer should get a chance to visit a nano lab?)


If ever a young genius should arise and find the magic truth, chances are we would not notice it as we are so busy getting carried away in TED tweets.


Fibonacci series in succulent plant

Fibonacci series in succulent plant



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