Financial Innovation – Alternative Finance 2014

November 12, 2014

alternative-finance-2014-spread-1500px

Facts about Alternative Finance in the UK (click to enlarge)

I’ve been looking at alternative finance schemes for a few months now. There’s a lot of them and it’s not always straightforward comparing and contrasting them. Consequently it’s helpful that Nesta, partnering with the University of Cambridge, have just produced a large scale survey of the sector (the report is a free download, see links below):

Say ‘financial innovation’ and what comes to mind for many is the investment banks and complex products that were at the centre of the financial crisis. Yet in recent years we’ve seen the term become associated with a new type of finance provider, those businesses and online platforms gathering under the banner of alternative finance.

Finance models such as crowdfunding and peer-to-peer lending are at the heart of this as they harness internet technologies to bring those with money and those who need it closer together and aggregate numerous small investments or donations to meet large funding needs. Businesses, community groups and individuals are using this industry to either get funding they cannot access elsewhere or to get it quicker and on better terms.

Full details here (incl. the report) and there’s a handy summary-type blog post here.


Teaching To Learn

November 9, 2014

how-we-learn-slideshow-1-728

In this context it’s also invaluable to remember that:

“You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.” – Albert Einstein

Doing the latter is actually not common or easy as people often take lots of things for granted eg jargon. This is related to the so-called ‘curse of knowledge‘.

See also a previous post on the role of collaborative conversation in education.

Topic first spotted on the blog of Nick Milton.

Picture credit here.


Thinking Differently With Feynman

November 3, 2014

“Study hard what interests you the most in the most undisciplined, irreverent and original manner possible.” – Richard P. Feynman

I wonder how many times a teacher or lecturer says that, or something similar, in class!

Of course it’s necessary to try to follow and understand the accepted way but there’s no harm and probably a lot of enlightenment in trying to think about things differently or originally as well.

Here are some other Feynman quotes to think about (click to enlarge):

Feynman Quotes

You might also be interested in:

Feynman Day At The Bloomsbury

Feynman And His Multifaceted Communication Skills

Picture credit here.


New Ways To Fund Science

October 22, 2014

Sean Carroll is a research physicist at the California Institute of Technology specialising in general relativity and cosmology. He’s written a number of well-received popular books on the subject (eg The Particle at the End of the Universeand is certainly media savvy.

In an interesting development, he’s currently trying to raise private funding for interdisciplinary research projects in his areas of expertise.

From Benefunder:

Your contributions will support Dr. Carroll’s research as he investigates fundamental challenges in theoretical physics. Funding will allow him to bring together researchers to tackle interdisciplinary questions that are not funded by traditional funding sources, and pioneer new and risky approaches to big questions. All contributions are useful – a few thousand dollars would support graduate students, while hundreds of thousands could fund postdoctoral researchers at a crucial stage in their career.

It’ll be interesting to see if this type of approach takes off as it may lead to viable new ways of carrying out leading edge scientific research.

Again, from Benefunder:

Benefunder is a marketplace that allows donors to find, fund, and follow researchers and other university initiatives in a simple, efficient way.

Benefunder partners with top universities to gain access to top researchers and initiatives across all disciplines to ensure that your donations go to the intended use. Researchers create and manage their profiles on our site, which must be approved internally prior to getting published. This way you always get the most up to date information regarding their work and can rest assured knowing that all our causes are in fact vetted.

See also Ten Things About Time You May Not Know.


Making Your Own Road

October 9, 2014

01998_routetocastlemountain_1920x1200

Castle Mountain in the Canadian Rockies

A great way of procrastinating is looking for and trying out different (screen) wallpapers. As a consequence of this I have loads of them. I was wondering the other day why some appeal to me more than others. One theme I like is ‘roads’ although admittedly this doesn’t immediately sound very exhilarating.

An example is given above. In some ways it makes me think of a target/goal (lofty, in the distance, although seemingly achievable) and a path to get there. It also makes me feel that the target is drawing me towards it (but maybe that’s just me).

Of course, the real world is rarely so neat, and last weekend I came across the stunning image below which reminded me of the fact that you often have to make your own road and a clear target may be nowhere in sight!

Go Your Own Road by Erik Johansson.

Go Your Own Road, 2008, by Erik Johansson

A bit more on following the ‘indirect path’ in life and work can be found here (examples) and here (the theory).

PS If you feel like a diversion, some outstanding (free) wallpapers, such as the one at the top, can be found at InterfaceLIFT. A wide variety of resolutions and screen sizes are readily available…enjoy!

Photo credits: top and bottom.


Potential For Greatness

September 23, 2014

In the light of the recent launch of the iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch, a prior article on the importance of innovative design came to mind. It was a review of a new smartphone coming out of China (I’m looking for a new one so I’m considering options, including those that might possibly appear in the future):

This review was not supposed to go this way. When we decided to order the Mi4, we wanted to learn more about Android in China, but we also expected it to be kind of a laugh. It’s easy to look at the pictures and dismiss the Mi4 as a cheap iPhone knockoff, but it is so much better than that.

Everything here is top notch: The best specs, fantastic build quality, a beautiful screen, a dirt cheap price, and software that, while different, works both aesthetically and functionally. If only the company came up with its own hardware design. If Xiaomi ever does apply itself with some original designs, look out world, because this company will be going places.

The review ends with:

Watching a company with a potential for greatness hamstring itself because it just can’t get over its Apple envy. Xiaomi would do great in the West, except that the derivative design would possibly get it sued out of existence.

The challenge then is to out-design rather than out-manufacture Apple and not be too intimidated by their daunting reputation and achievements in this area, an interesting psychological position to be in.

By coincidence, there was an article in Fast Company yesterday complaining about a lack of innovation in Apple design! Here’s an extract:

I miss the chunky playful plastic designs of the past, especially the Pixar-lamp-like iMac G4. I miss the toy-like references to plastic Swatch watches (the clamshell iBook) and the Memphis Group of the 1980s (the original iMac). That was idiosyncratic, ballsy design; that was a design aesthetic that some would loathe. It was design that a shamelessly style-free megacorporation like Samsung could never really copy in the hopes of being considered “good design.” Samsung, or HTC, or LG, or Motorola, they can all copy modern Apple. It’s easy. Make it thin, use a single block of aluminum, use glass. Presto: now you have design. Bullshit. Innovative design isn’t just about adhering to rules set out by someone else.

There are companies who are actually trying. In addition to the aforementioned Lumia phones, the Jawbone Jambox managed to combine industrial materials (hard rubber, metal grilles) with repeated patterns and bold colors to give them a sense of play, and even Apple’s own Mac Pro is weird and thoughtful enough to grab my attention: never before has a computer shaped like a garbage can seemed like such a good idea.

So maybe there really is an opening in a very standardised marketplace for someone brave enough to take it?

More generally, and at a more mundane level, it’s interesting that when you’re setting up a venture, are you in reality trying to emulate an existing and successful business (with a slight variation) or aiming for something that goes beyond that, even if it’s in ways that you yourself don’t yet fully understand? See also previous post below.

 


The Perfect Mix: Age And Creativity

September 12, 2014

quote-Vinod-Khosla-in-my-view-its-irreverence-foolish-confidence-189576

Interesting article by Ben McNeil in Ars Technica on creativity, age profiles and funding systems including:

Although unconventional and risky research can be pursued at any age, it seems to come much easier to younger scientists. That may be because they have more time to allocate to one idea and are less susceptible to the “curse of knowledge”—the cognitive bias that tends to make experience stifle one’s ability to come up with or accept new, unconventional, or creative ideas.

The 30- to 40-year-old period has often been described as “the golden years” for creative discovery, a perfect mix of time, enthusiasm, naivety, and just enough experience to produce optimal creativity.

Whether the age correlation is widely true or not, I like the list of ingredients, especially the inclusion of the word ‘naivety’. It’s probably true that after a certain age, cynicism and a ‘been there/seen it’ attitude all too easily creep in and innocence and naivety make a rapid exit.

However, as mentioned in the quote above, the continual ability to learn and change is also an important factor – not to mention luck of course!

On a related theme, there’s a discussion of ‘lean periods’ in research here.

Picture credit here.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.